Flexible programs — Workers are even less likely post-pandemic to want to come into the office and adhere to rigid schedules. It’s no accident that hybrid online programs, even more popular during the pandemic, are becoming the norm. Being able to learn on one’s own schedule and location can be very empowering. Therefore, flexible resources that accommodate individual or group learning, such as those provided by FFCH, will continue to be important and valuable strategies going forward.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert.

Dr. Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert, MAPP, PhD had a 26 year career in higher education before quitting her dream job to start a nonprofit called the Foundation for Family and Community Healing. (www.HealingEdu.org). She’s a life, leadership, and intuitive coach, speaker, consultant, blogger (Psychology Today and Brainz Magazine), and radio show host (theworkfm.org). She envisions and creates a pathway for a beautiful future for us, future generations, and Earth through her work.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

I have been so fortunate to have had many challenges in my life, which forced me to deepen my sense of authenticity around who I am and what I do. The first major challenge was when I got tenure at a major research university and everything I ever wanted. I was supposed to be happyhappy, but I was miserable. My health and marriage were in ruins, and I was emotionally and physically depleted. This is a classic case of “be careful what you wish for.” I had to do a turn aroundturnaround which led me to discover my calling — leadership and professional development. I realized that by following our calling we can promote our health, energy, achievement, fun, and even our bliss. My calling had been expressing itself throughout my life; what I did at work I naturally did for my loved ones in a way that was impactful and meaningful to me. I believe that our callings are always right before our eyes, ifeyes if we would just take notice.

I faced the next disaster when my sister and (second) husband passed away from cancer in 2018 only 2 years after moving to a small college town. Though I was living in the heart of bliss until that time, I was then called to a deeper purpose which I accessed through divine inspiration. I felt called to give up my dream job and return to Richmond VA where I spent most of my career, andcareer and start a nonprofit (Foundation for Family and Community HealingFoundation for Family and Community Healing; www.HealingEdu.org) focused on helping us all to heal our relationships with ourselves, everybody, and everything. We do this through interactive online educational modules that are focused on skill development. It seemed audacious at the time, but I felt I had nothing to lose, so here I am. Three-plus years into it, it doesn’t seem so audacious. It seems inevitable to me now and since it is deeply authentic, I feel excited and inspired every day. I’m truly following my bliss, to quote Joseph Campbell.

What’s so beautiful about this process, is that each breakthrough emanated from rock-bottom moments, which are so pervasive now in this uncertain time. It’s the same thing that gives me hope, and I want everyone in the world to understand that this is the opportunity being presented to us during this extraordinarily challenging modern era.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

A close cousin to wellness is wellbeing, which is creating life satisfaction and thriving throughout the domains of our life. FFCH’s mission and culture is all about relationship wellbeing, where we create a healthy and resilient relationship with ourselves, each other, Earth, and the loving force that connects us through skill development. After 26 years in higher education, I see too much knowledge failing to translate into power (knowledge=power) or behavioral change, and it’s time that we really focus in on changing what we do or how we do it.

In the end, it’s our behaviors that will determine our level of wellness in each domain. FFCH is not only living relationship wellbeing through our culture and practices, but also by creating the tools needed for everyone in the world — youth and adults, regardless of income — to create these changes in their lives too. We especially endorse discovering and employing your strengths; as a certified strengths coach it’s a joy for me to help others use them to their best effect.

There are many measures for wellbeing, such as the Satisfaction with Life Survey, but in the end, I can tell whether our team is doing well by their level of engagement, energy level, productivity, and to some degree, retention. The Great Resignation is making it easy to measure the quality of your culture. You either have people asking you for jobs or you’re having to compete for the small pool of talent out there.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

The quality of the FFCH family’s energy will determine the quality of our products and interactions with our stakeholders. For example, when we feel valued, seen, trusted, and cared for, we feel energized and inspired,. We then bring our best selves and work forward. Many employers treat the workers like a cog in a wheel and there’s nothing more de-motivating than that.

Because we’re so new, I cannot use the traditional metrics like income to measure success, yet. Income for sure is important because we have to be financially sustainable, but it’s not the most important metric. Impact and touching the hearts and lives around us is more important, but much harder to measure.

I know my team is excited and inspired by the work we do and how we’re going to be changing the world. As we experience the impact and ripples of our work, it motivates and inspires all of us. I’m not sure there will ever be a metric that can accurately capture that, and we need to be careful that the metrics do not replace what we know and feel in our hearts to be the most important aspects of our work.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

In my view, we collectively seemed to have decided that our minds are wiser than our hearts, and that they’re capable of taking in all relevant variables and computing the best strategy. Nothing is farther from the truth. Our minds tend to be fearful and judgmental and keep us small, and our hearts guide us to the path of becoming our biggest selves. Hearts also determine how we feel, which influences our motivation, energy level, and behavior towards a situation or task. It also tells us how we should treat each other. We ignore our own and others’ hearts at our peril because if we choose poorly, our hearts will have the final say about whether we have the energy to succeed or can bring others along in the process.

That’s not to say we take our brains out of the equation. It’s more about balance, taking both into account, and knowing that doing what’s best for the people and Earth is, in the long run, the right thing to do.

In the end, those employers who take a fear-based approach that benefits the organization in the short term at the expense of their employees may see their employees getting sick, becoming unproductive, acting out in the workplace, or just voting with their feet. Such organizations will become increasingly irrelevant, and the organizations who put their employees first will prosper. Those who are resisting are probably already starting to see the signs, and eventually it’ll break through their denial. But will it be too late for them to change course?

This is a complex problem, and it can be confusing as to how to proceed. Fortunately, FFCH offers skill development modules that capitalize on these opportunities., We operate using and based on a gift economy. Thus, resources do not have to be expensive or unaffordable, and so resistance to investing in employee wellness is no longer about money. Change itself is challenging, so take small steps, let the employees lead it, and provide what they need to be successful. You don’t have to know it all. In fact, humility is the only sensible approach to dealing with complexity.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

As a small startup nonprofit, wWe don’t have programs per se. This culture is embedded into the way we do business.

For example, I don’t tend to hire to complete tasks. If a need is identified, I ask around and the right people step forward and raise their hands. Often, people ask to be a part of the organization because our mission and culture resonates with them. I might just hire them if they show passion and energy for our mission, and find responsibilities based on their talents, interests, and dreams. That’s not to say that everyone only does passion work 100% of the time, but everyone should be engaged in their passion project at least part of the time. It tends to bring fresh energy and creativity to our work, and we get to enjoy unexpected breakthroughs as a result.

We also foster our connection to ourselves, each other, and our purpose as much as possible. We make time for personal check-ins at the start of each meeting, keep in mind that people’s health and hearts are more important than our To Do list, and monitor productivity and engagement to guide allocation of responsibility. We have ongoing learning opportunities such as…,. Aafter all, we are an educational organization!. FFCH family members are afforded as much flexibility as possible, and we focus on how to help each other to be successful.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

FFCH’s learning modules are innovative and new. They are available to learners 24/7 on our beautiful, interactive platform that teaches behavioral change on subjects that schools and workplaces often leave behind. They can be used by learners as tools to learn on their own, in pairs (parent/child, mentor/mentee, employee/employer), or by groups in schools, workplaces, or community groups andor organizations, since the modules are self-guided and self-facilitating. The module discussions are easily led by your own organization’s facilitators, or we can provide one for you.

Our content spans the spectrum of relationship with ourselves, each other, Earth, and the loving force that connects us, and we are expanding our content every month. A holistic approach is needed for this array of topics because we are in relationship with literally everything. For example, I have a relationship with inanimate objects too, like my house, car, and career, not to mention all the people, flora, and fauna that are in my life.

We also offer modules on a gift economyeconomy, so no one is left out. We have individual and organizational subscriptions available for unlimited module access so that a rich array of resources can fulfill the wide-ranging needs out there.

Our module topics currently include:

  • Mental Wellness: Relationship Wellbeing, Navigating Anxiety, Consciously Creating Wellness, Happiness 101.
  • Emotional Wellness: Relationship Wellbeing, Consciously Creating Wellness, Happiness 101.
  • Social Wellness: Relationship Wellbeing, Hearing4Healing, Race Through Storytelling 1&2.
  • Physical Wellness (including Environmental Wellness): Consciously Creating Wellness, Implementing a Zero Waste Lifestyle, Reducing Your Carbon Footprint.
  • Financial Wellness: Coming soon.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

Learning is not one-size-fits all, so learning options should be flexible with lots of options. As mentioned above, employers can really empower employees to take the lead on what works for them, whether it’s individual or group learning. The latter has the advantage of group accountability, which is important for creating behavioral change;, behavioral change which is often necessary for real improvements to occur.

Flexible skill development tools, such as FFCH skill development modules, should provide an array of topics that can be done alone or in groups, and accessed 24/7. Employees can either learn on their own on the subject of their choice, or the modules can be used by mentor/mentees, peer groups, or HR-led programming. FFCH can also send a facilitator if you’d prefer to have an outside person lead the discussions.

Modules can be purchased individually, or as an annual subscription for individuals or the organization as a whole. We can also help you get engagement going and support group formation if that’s what your employees prefer.

Leadership can ensure the ROI by practicing what they preach, andpreach and holding others accountable for this investment too. The culture of wellbeing should also be infused throughout all you do, since a siloed effort is less likely create the desired outcomes.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

We encourage leaders to Work Well through mentorship and role modeling. Each person has different needs and hopes/dreams, and we make those a priority as much as reasonably possible. We support each person’s unique approach to their own wellness, both with moral support and encouragement, flexibility, and other resources (time off, coaching, mentoring, learning and development) as needed.

No task is more important than someone’s mental or physical health; if the task is important, someone else will pick it up. If not, we let it slide, or even let it go if needed. We trust that our path will unfold as it is meant to be, and we flow with circumstances and opportunities as they arise. We can best do that if we’re energized and flexible, because being stressed and rigid is not conducive to floating in and moving with a changing tide.

We also make decisions using both head and heart information. We’re explicit about that process because if the decision is harmful to people, it’s probably not the right path. That’s not to say that there cannot be mitigation and even opportunities that arise — creativity is needed — but in the end, the hearts of our stakeholders are as important as traditional bottom lines.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

Mindfuless is the most important practice and way-of-being that we can cultivate. When we’re mindless we make choices that are fear-based, often unhelpful, or even harmful. Being mindful helps us be calm in the present, aware of ourselves, each other, and our environment, and gives us access to insight and creativity that evades us when we’re thinking too much. It helps us avoid stress and focus on what matters most, including kindness to ourselves, each other, and Earth.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

  1. Purpose-driven focus across work and life — A sense of authenticity and authentic purpose fuels motivation, energy, and success. Pursuing endeavors that feel meaningless, or meaningful to someone else, is a recipe for burn-out. Our personal metric for authenticity is how we feel, and greater awareness, acceptance, acknowledgement and integration of our feelings throughout our work will become increasingly important and valued. My own pursuit of a traditional academic career lacked authenticity, and so I burned through my energy battery and started to do harm to my body, mind, and life. Being deeply authentic brings energy, joy, ease, a sense of meaning, and success unlike anything achieved by just working hard.
  2. Grass-roots wellbeing programs — Top-down programs can sometimes be successful but oftentimes workers feel they are voluntold to participate. What’s potentially effective as an adjunct strategy is for workers to define what matters most for them. Then, leaders can and to enable and empower them to organize and implement their programs of choicehem with the support of management. When they decide what they need and how to make it work for them, it has a better chance of being a good fit, and provides the workers an opportunity to develop new skills and competencies. For example, the Meetup.org concept works because the programs are organic, open, and supported by the platform. Programs that are effective and desirable survive and grow.
  3. Flexible programs — Workers are even less likely post-pandemic to want to come into the office and adhere to rigid schedules. It’s no accident that hybrid online programs, even more popular during the pandemic, are becoming the norm. Being able to learn on one’s own schedule and location can be very empowering. Therefore, flexible resources that accommodate individual or group learning, such as those provided by FFCH, will continue to be important and valuable strategies going forward.
  4. More holistic view of wellness and wellbeing — We are all unique, especially in terms of what we need for wellness and wellbeing. Some people are acting as caregivers, have chronic illness, have demanding commutes, health issues, financial pressures, and things we can’t even imagine. Employers can’t be all things to all people, so a more expansive and more holistic view of wellness combined with flexible options is important so that workers can get what they need to care for themselves and their loved ones. EAPs should be designed to offer as many options as reasonably possible, with HR personnel available to help the worker identify and access the resources they need to be successful.
  5. Leaders role modeling integrative practices — It’s not just low income workers that are feeling the pressures of modern life. People of all income brackets are realizing that money doesn’t buy happiness, andhappiness and suffering from the mental health issues. Now that it’s a worker’s job market, employers will have to put their money where their mouth is and start to live and breathe the culture change that younger generations have been asking for. Lack of commitment and paying lip service only to such promises will be viewed for what they are and can do more harm than good. In the end, leadership, the organization, its workers, and stakeholders will all benefit by integrating wellness principles throughout their culture and practices.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

Challenge = opportunity. For better or for worse, we are experiencing great challenge across all sectors of society. Workers are demanding — and deserve — change, and successful organizations will step up and do what they should’ve been doing all along. Though technology has its downsides, it also can help scale learning to be accessible and affordable.

The mental health crisis in our country is making wellness an imperative. I feel it’s going to cause great shifts in our culture about what matters most, and it’s a change that is long overdue.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

They can join us at www.HealingEdu.orgwww.HealingEdu.org, and on social media. (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube: @FamillyandCommunityHealing, Twitter: @ffchhealingedu) on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Youtube. I also have a blog on Psychology TodayPsychology Today and Brainz MagazineBrainz Magazine. They can also stay appraised of my personal work on SusannaCalvert.com, or write to us if they’d like to access our modules and/or workshops for their organization.

PHOTO CREDIT: Rebecca D’Angelo

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.