‘The Great Awakening.’ People all around the world have woken up to the inequalities of human life and are demanding change. In business this means making diversity, equity and inclusion central to everything you do.

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 Wendy Appel.

Wendy Appel, a founding partner of Trilogy Effect, is a globally respected advisor, executive coach, and facilitator with a passion and presence that is immediately felt by her clients. Wendy has an advanced degree in social and cultural anthropology and is a gifted participating observer.

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?

One of the key things that contributes to overall health and wellbeing of employees is the opportunity for growth and development. This means being able to learn new skills and to develop as a leader. When an employer invests in their team members this way, it’s a big boost to morale overall,and brings personal confidence to individuals.

I work with a range of clients from large companies and global brands to fast-growing start-ups to not-for-profit organizations. And what I’m seeing across all organizations right now is that workforce wellness is THE top priority.

All the fear and stress surrounding COVID, the social isolation, integration of home and work life, and now perhaps returning to work in less-than-ideal circumstances has people suffering emotionally and mentally.

From the USA Today Article: COVID burnout fuels quiet quitting: “The health crisis dramatically intensified the trend, HR officials say. Early in the pandemic, workers were pushed to the limit as they filled in for their millions of colleagues who were laid off during business shutdowns and the millions more who stayed home to care for relatives or avoid contagion. As recently as April, 51 per cent of workers surveyed by the Harris Poll said they continued to feel burned out.”

For me, being well means you are able to be your best self and have the internal capacity to show up for others. Right now, a lot of people are having a tough time.

The leaders I’m working with are acutely aware that their people are not feeling well, and while they are keenly aware of the need to provide people professional and personal development opportunities, they also investing in new ways to support the emotional, social, psychological, physical, and financial health and well being of their teams.

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?

Many executive leaders are rethinking their personal priorities and are choosing to retire early. This is so costly to the organizations they lead as they take with them a world of experience and a depth of knowledge borne of up to 35 years in the workplace. All those skills, all that insight is walking out the door too early. It can blunt an organization’s growth trajectory or even worse, knock it off course completely.

Leaders working in senior and middle management are also leaving their employers in droves. Much like the executive leaders mentioned above, they are making the changes they feel are necessary to lead better, more rewarding lives that align best with newly defined or rediscovered values that support wellness, family life and overall quality of life.

In short, people today want and need an employer which prioritizes wellness and helps employees set appropriate boundaries between work and home. This is actually what is meant by quiet quitting — resetting appropriate boundaries between work life and homelife. And those companies that invest in such programs will reap the rewards of having an engaged workforce.

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?

That wellness could come at the cost of business is highly disputable. 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’s an excellent return on investment.

Companies must see their team members as being abundantly resourceful, not merely as ‘Human Resources.’ In this context, people are not just objects to be used, rather they are contributors and resourceful partners and collaborators to the purpose and vision of your organization. Words matter and people are keenly aware of feeling used. This comes through actions and words. Both matter.

But the commitment to wellness has to be integrated into the very culture and fabric of the business. Culture comes from the top and should be cascaded down and reinforced throughout every part of an organization. It’s leadership’s responsibility to support and invest in team wellness, and communications should be focused on encouraging everyone to participate.

And when someone does come forward, there should never be any judgement. For example, people should be encouraged to take their vacations. These breaks are necessary to get distance and perspective; to refresh and renew, and to connect with family and friends. This allows people to lead happy, well-rounded lives which, in turn, brings a myriad of employer benefits.

If someone says they need to take time to deal with a personal health issue or one of a family member, they should be able to do so almost immediately. Don’t ask for a doctor’s note. Don’t subject them to any kind of company sponsored examination. Just trust them to take the time they need to get well. It’s all part of creating an environment that is psychologically safe, which is such a big part of wellness.

This safety also creates enormous opportunity for growth and innovation. If someone feels safe to contribute and to share their ideas without fear of sanction or retribution, that’s when they can be their most creative and do their best work. Conversely, someone who doesn’t feel psychologically safe will withdraw and contribute less. They may feel sad, angry, or anxious. This creates a risky situation because moods catch. It can take just one disgruntled individual to bring down the morale of a whole team. Low morale means low productivity, high staff turnover, and higher staff recruitment and retention costs overall.

As an excellent example of investment in wellness, I’ve been working with a mid-sized media company on building team trust. Because generally, two and a half years of isolation and remote working has eroded people’s trust in each other. We’re giving company leaders the skills and tools they need to create a psychologically safe workplace as a foundation to build trusting relationships between team members. And trust fuels high performance.

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?

We are a boutique consulting firm and so we don’t have the same hiring concerns as many of our clients, which tend to be large corporations. But in response to this increased interest in wellness we introduced new, therapeutic practices into our executive coaching services which serves as an example of how to integrate wellness into existing programs.

Throughout the pandemic we’ve found ourselves often being called upon to provide mental health support to leaders who were themselves struggling, stressed, and feeling depressed all while trying to manage teams that were feeling traumatized.

We’re using Internal Family Systems (IFS) a therapeutic model that helps people reclaim their authentic self and calm stress-induced reactivity. It allows a person to become present, clear, and creative.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative 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.

I’m in a position to witness innovative programs and pilots being implemented by many of our clients. I’m happy to share the learnings here.

  • Mental Wellness: Mental health is a serious health concern and often requires medical treatment. Many clients ensure their employer insurance programs offer the necessary coverage for team members to gain access to all the health services they need. Others, like the one mentioned above, are instilling a culture of psychological safety that allows people to avail themselves of the supports and services on offer without fear of sanction. In addition, some are providing their leadership teams with therapy informed coaching sessions to help them cope at work.
  • Emotional Wellness: One client I’m working with has brought in a trauma-informed specialist whose job it is to recommend the best path towards emotional wellness for individuals on the team. It could be a referral to a specific therapist, some recommended reading, training in yoga, meditation, or other mindfulness practices, for example.
  • Social Wellness: This is always an important part of work and perhaps now it’s even more so. Many of our clients have invested in online tools that support their employees in creating connections and forging friendships with their colleagues. They are adapting how they work too. For example, one client has made a commitment to never hold a meeting that ‘could have been an email.’ Some have “no meeting Fridays.”

Many of our clients have team members who have never met in person. So, they are creating space for people to come together for important conversations and to think through provocative questions, develop strategies, and to innovate. They are encouraging people to disagree and to improvise. It makes for an exciting environment and an engaging work experience — one that’s worth the commute or travel. And now that many teams are returning to work, employers are investing in fun events and activities designed to create community. One company I work with recently held a picnic in their parking lot and invited their team’s family and friends to come along. It was 100% social with no shop talk. The goal was to let people get to know each other better and learn about their colleagues’ lives outside of work.

  • Physical Wellness: Workplace gyms are becoming more commonplace because having access to exercise equipment at work improves health, reduces health care costs, and supports social connections. A San Francisco company I work with is in the same building as one of the big gym chains. They buy a full membership for every member of their team and encourage everyone to take the time they need to work out. And as an added bonus, the gym memberships also give employees access to physio and massage therapists as well as chiropractor treatments. All this contributes to a highly motivated and productive workforce.
  • Financial Wellness: This is table stakes. If someone has financial worries, they will not feel well. It they are worried about providing adequately for their families, they will not be happy at work (or anywhere else!). I’ve coached highly paid executives who are living large and are enjoying all the benefits of success. Yet, to maintain their high standard of living they have become heavily in debt and with no provisions for retirement. Some companies retain the services of financial advisors or executive coaches that specialize in personal finance to help their employees with money management and financial planning.

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?

The central thing that underpins all of these ideas is creating a culture of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is critical to psychological safety. It is crucial in building trust. In fact, mindfulness is the doorway through which people become more present in their lives and in their work. It helps us break away from our automatic patterns of thinking and behaving. The rewards are legion and cover everything from boosted morale, increased productivity, and reductions in employee churn. It fuels creativity and innovation and can truly transform an organization into a high performance, high achieving, and highly effective enterprise.

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

I work with a company in Austin that took drastic steps when the pandemic hit. With their global workforce suddenly all working from home, they threw their strategic plan out the window and funnelled lots of resources towards team wellness. They offered coaching that had, until then, been reserved for executive management to everyone. We held both team and individual coaching sessions virtually and this support played a significant role in keeping the business both operational and profitable.

Specifically, this company offered two personal development programs. One was designed to help employees understand their own emotions, reactions and feelings using the Enneagram framework. These group coaching sessions not only built the self-awareness of individuals, but they also supported teamwork as colleagues came to understand each other better and learned to communicate more effectively.

The second development program included coaching on call for individuals. Having this extra support helped the company’s leaders ensure their teams were getting all the mentoring and coaching they needed while working from home. This support boosted productivity and helped keep morale on an even keel, even when pandemic life was at its most stressful.

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?

The first step for individuals could be to use a life balance wheel to graph out where they are in various areas of life, such as career, health, family, finance, and recreation, against where they’d like to be. It’s an easy to do exercise that illustrates areas that need the most attention to bring life back into balance.

For teams, an Enneagram exercise, such as the one described above, can open the door to some great conversations. It depersonalizes behaviors and promotes team collaboration.

For organizations, and this is where we started this interview, they must make team wellness THE top priority if they are going to survive and thrive during the next several months of economic recovery. The competition for skills and talent has never been fiercer and employees who don’t feel they are seen or heard are voting with their feet. Prioritization means making a solid commitment to wellness through investment in development and infrastructure.

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

  1. The number one trend could be called ‘The Great Awakening.’ People all around the world have woken up to the inequalities of human life and are demanding change. In business this means making diversity, equity and inclusion central to everything you do. Look at what JPMorgan is doing. They’re investing $30 billion to address racial injustice by boosting the number of Black and Hispanic homeowners and creating more affordable housing and supporting community businesses through loans. A thriving community underpins workforce wellness.
  2. Businesses as full community participants. Companies are providing much needed resources and services through various investments, donations and by supporting volunteerism. For example, Salesforce gives its employees seven paid days off to volunteer in their local community and has a program that matches employees’ donations to charitable causes. A thriving community underpins workforce wellness.
  3. And to align with employee values, more employers are taking on important social issues. Pharma company Johnson & Johnson illustrates this perfectly. Their initiatives range from investing in alternative power sources to providing safe drinking water to communities around the world. They’re aiming to have 100% of the company’s energy needs supplied by renewable resources by 2025. Employees that feel heard when it comes to important issues become a well workforce.
  4. Related to the №1 point above is “The Great Resignation” and “Quiet Quitting,” which started last year but will continue as workers demand flexibility and seek workplaces that offer a lot more than just a paycheck. People come to work to contribute meaningfully, to learn and develop, and to connect with others. Empowerment is a big part of life for employees of the retail giant Target. The company recognizes that their staff are all individuals and there is no one-size-fits-all for how people work best. Employees are given flexibility to work the way that’s best for them and they feel supported in their growth and development. People with meaningful work feel well.
  5. Business as trusted leaders. For the first time in an exceptionally long time, probably decades, trust in private enterprise is on the rise. It’s true that this is due, in part, to plummeting trust levels for government, the media and faith-based organizations. According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer report, people globally see business as the most ethical, competent, and effective drivers of change. They want to see business leaders take on climate change, economic inequality, skills development, access to healthcare, systemic injustice, and truth and integrity in communications. When they can trust their employer, people feel well.

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

I feel really optimistic about workplace flexibility along with outcomes focused accountability. People have been clamoring for flexible work schedules and work-from-home options — for years. We have family responsibilities and in many cases, long commutes too. No wonder a lot of people never have time to look after themselves by working out or spending time relaxing.

In the ‘before times’, most employers didn’t trust their teams to work from home. However, COVID has shown that yes, people can and do work when they are not under the watchful eye of management. But I firmly believe we should never infantilize our employees. Treat them like the adults they are, and they will deliver! Trust but verify by taking an outcomes approach to evaluation. Let’s go beyond watching the clock and instead, set expectations and hold people accountable.

With this approach everybody wins. Employees are happier, more engaged, and reliable. Families get the care they deserve. Employers get the results they need.

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