Wellness for the Whole Self

Last week I took part in HR Transform’s online summit, The Future is Now.  It was an incredible day of conversations with HR leaders who are leading the field in wellness, leadership development, DEI strategies, and remote culture initiatives.  It is so beneficial for peers to come together, especially in 2020, to share their experiences and hear from others.  In one roundtable I was leading, several people mentioned it was just nice to know they weren’t the only ones struggling with something at their company.   We are all in this together my friends!

One thing that I was so impressed by was the focus on wellness.  And all areas of wellness.   Not just mental health or physical health, but financial wellness and even what I have started calling relationship wellness (the need to be connected to people and the broader ecosystem of our world).  It kept tying back to a theme that I try to focus on both in my life but also within HR, as individuals we need to recognize the whole self.  And if one area of our life is unwell, it will impact others.  I truly believe that as HR leaders, coaches, and partners, we need to help create environments where people can feel supported discussing the wellness of their whole self.  

Below are some ways we can help create a safe environment for our employees and help managers have these conversations without going down a rabbit hole we are not qualified to travel!

Physical Health – Physical health is both the prevention of illness and the support when people do get sick.  How can your organization promote nutrition and physical activity?  I have worked with companies that only had healthy options in their kitchens or at events. Now, that could be a special delivery of a healthy snack box as a surprise and delight for your team.  You can promote a “steps” contest or offer group exercise classes (there are millions of online classes you can stream together).   At Ordergroove, we moved to a wellness allowance people can use each year to apply to any wellness program they follow.  But that hopefully helps prevent illness.  You also want to provide information about what people can do if/when they are sick or need to care for someone who is sick.  Make sure to post links to your health insurance plans, paid sick policies, paid (or unpaid) medical leave policies, and other helpful program information is easily accessible and publicized with your teams.   Often people want to do a little research on their own first before coming to their manager or HR to talk about the support they need.  And speaking of managers, take the time to train your managers on what is available for their team members should they need time if they are ill.  Help them understand when they need to loop in HR or that they know to come to you if they don’t know the answer (saying “I don’t know” is way better than giving incorrect info).  Coach them to be prepared for that conversation.  As humans, it’s easy to promise the moon and the stars before they understand more about what the person needs and what the company can support.  Help them understand the balance of empathy and listening with business need and risk.  They should also be careful not to either probe for more information that the employee is willing to share.  Physical health is very personal and some people may not want to share details for a variety of reasons.  Finally, managers should also avoid starting to diagnose or suggest a treatment.  Leave that to the experts   If you give managers some talking points or guidance as part of manager training, they hopefully will manage that conversation better if they find themselves with a team member needing support.

Mental Health – Before diving in here, I want to clarify that when I speak about mental health, I am not just referring to a diagnosed mental illness, but also burnout, stress, or when someone is going through something that is impeding their mental health.  Yes, someone with a mental illness may need to discuss ongoing support, versus someone who is struggling in the moment. Obviously there is a real difference in how it impacts their lives and how they may work with a doctor or therapist.  But in the workplace, the importance of creating a safe space to share concerns and struggles is the key, no matter the “cause”.  How can you leverage your values to create the expectation of a safe, open, listening focused, non judgemental and supportive conversation?  At OG, authenticity is one of our core tenants.  We want people to be able to be their authentic self at the office and have a sense of trust with their team and their manager.  I have shared many times with new hires or in open forums that I am an advocate and ally for people struggling with their mental health so people know they can come and talk to me.   To support the importance of self-care, we have added days off to our company calendar when we realize the team as a whole is burning out or not taking the time they need to refresh.   One thing we are going to focus on this fall is further training for managers on how to create space for these conversations (esp as we continue to be remote) and how to respond to (or how to initiate) uncomfortable conversations about race, mental health, or anything else that they might not know how to talk about.  We need to know that if a team member opens up to their manager or myself, we demonstrate the values we live by, or we will immediately break that trust.

Financial Wellness –  Several years ago I was in a very tough spot financially.  That stress was impacting my work and I did not feel comfortable talking to my manager about it.   I was worried how it made me look as a person, I was embarrassed and I didn’t want to admit that it had gotten that bad.  But by not talking to anyone about it, they had to treat it as a performance issue and I was at risk of losing my job (which clearly wasn’t going to help my financial situation).  Just like anything in someone’s life, their financial situation can add a lot of stress to their lives and impact how they make decisions.  While managers should obviously not be asking about someone’s personal finances, recognizing that there are a lot of different reasons someone can be struggling is important.  Understanding what motivates someone or why they stay at a job (for example money or financial stability) is important before it becomes an issue.  If an employee is willing to share, there may be help you can provide without getting into the middle of their financial concerns.  For example, many EAPs (Employee Assistant Programs) offer a free session with a financial advisor.  Or, depending on what is driving the financial strain, even a complimentary session with an attorney might be helpful.  You can also offer financial planning lunch and learn events where you invite an expert to speak about savings, budgeting and long term planning.  Just be very careful with any assistance you offer people (for example recoverable draws or advances).  While those always have the best intention, it can be very hard to manage, especially given any state laws or if you also have people at risk of leaving, or start to open up a lot of gray areas around performance depending on the rules of the policies.

Relationship Wellness –  This final category can encompass several different elements of our life.  No matter our personalities or how we go about our lives, we all want to be part of something greater.  And if we feel isolated, disconnected or out of sync with others, that impacts our overall health.  Especially right now as we continue to work remotely or in an adjusted office setting, it’s important to build a sense of community and find new ways to help people stay connected.  That might mean more small group events, or social distant picnics.  At OG, we have tried themed zoom hangouts including learning to cook, book clubs, trivia & workouts.  We have also tried some offline things like home office contests, submitting recipes for a cookbook, new non-work slack channels and making homemade cards for seniors.  We all have different ways we like to connect, different calendar constraints (and tying back to mental health) different energy levels to connect with people outside of work meetings.  But as HR leaders and managers, we need to make sure we are providing different ways for people to stay connected.  And keep an eye out for people retreating into the shadows.  Reach out to your team members every morning and before you log off at night as a person to say hi, ask how they are feeling, ask how they day was.  Send a random “hello” to someone you used to see in the office all the time but haven’t interacted with that much lately.  Be a role model of connectivity so people see the importance of keeping relationships strong before they feel lost.

The above ideas are just the tip of the iceberg.  It’s important you find the right way to create a safe space based on your culture, your values and your community.  But however you design it, you must live it.  In HR we can be the role models but our leadership & management teams must be aligned as well.  They don’t have to be perfect, we will all find ourselves reflecting on a conversation and realize what we could have said differently.  But if we lead with empathy, listening, asking questions and support, our team will recognize that their wellness is important to the organization and be more willing to be open about their struggles and the support they need.

How to Discover Your Whole Self