Working Well: Daniel Juday On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Karen Mangia
Authority Magazine

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A shift from professional development around competencies to holistic personal development around health.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Juday.

Daniel Juday is an inclusion educator and culture coach, working with corporations, nonprofit organizations, schools, and individuals, helping them make the spaces they influence more inclusive and innovative. He’s worked with global brands like Honda, Wendy’s, and Discover, as well as local community groups and schools, and everything in between. He is energized by the messy middle of things, where the tidy binaries of everything we categorize and quantify fall apart, and what’s left is the challenge of figuring out how to design and capture something truer, fuller, and better.

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.

My last two jobs significantly informed how I show up today to work in the professional development space, coaching companies and organizations toward greater inclusion, deeper collaboration, and healthier culture. Though I loved them both dearly, I ended up leaving them for something new.

As a high school English teacher, I came to the realization that being bound by space and time felt too constrictive to me. Being in the same place every day, and being married to a curricular skeleton developed by someone else, simply felt like the edges of a box that was slightly too small. Though I absolutely loved much of what I got to do in that role, and adored my team, something simply felt off. I was working with a group of the most incredible educators, who were undoubtedly working smack dab in the middle of their sweet spots, and that helped me realize that perhaps I wasn’t. It wasn’t that I was wrong; I was just in the wrong role. It became clear that the playground of work I was looking for was expansive and evolving, never the same from one day to the next.

In my next job as a nonprofit leader, I came to the realization that parameters and limitations aren’t just structures of space and time, but of leadership and systems, as well. I had the most incredible experience building a member-driven organization across my state, mobilizing a massive group of activators and supporters, and hiring a team I couldn’t wait to be with in the office each day. And, again, the role ended up feeling too restrictive. My work was fulfilling and exciting, and growing fast — faster, perhaps, than we were able to adequately manage, being a state chapter of a larger organization. The nuts and bolts of managing the relationships and guidelines weren’t fully worked out. I wasn’t experienced at navigating the politics of layers of leadership, and the overall leadership team wasn’t experienced in remotely managing a large state chapter. No one was the bad guy. It just became clear that setting vision and chasing it were a big part of the work I wanted to do, and that I needed more freedom to do that.

And so, I opened up my own little speaking and consulting business, with the vision that our companies and communities be expansive spaces — full of opportunity and belonging for all.

Every day now I examine my relationship to work, as every day I’m thinking about how the challenges that many companies share show up differently given the changing dynamics of team members, geographical space, industry, and hybrid work options. I often tell my clients that, “Work is hard, and people are complicated.” This is an acknowledgment we must make as we seek to learn, grow, and get better together. By “work is hard” I don’t just mean the task list that must be accomplished, though for many that is hard, or overwhelming, or too constantly shifting. I also mean, though, all the other moving parts that come into play as we try to get that task list done: relationships that need to be built and managed, office politics we must understand and navigate, particular stakeholders we must woo and win, circumstances and constraints we must overcome, societal norms we must acknowledge and challenge, and on and on. So much about “work” is actually about people — who we are, where we came from, what we think we want, and how all of that informs how we show up each day. I think too many people think about work as the things to do versus the people gathering to do it. I realized early on in my life that the thing that would interest, compel, and excite me forever was not a specific task, but people. If I could work with people, helping them get better in ways that were meaningful to them, I knew I’d find my own satisfaction. And, from working abroad, to teaching, to the nonprofit space, to now running my own little shop, I’ve continued to find that to be true.

I don’t always have “the answer.” In fact, I often tell potential clients that I’m not their answer guy, and that if that’s what they’re looking for they should move on. I want to be the question guy. The person that comes alongside companies and teams, and, in the context of relationship building and mutual learning, asks questions that allow us to explore new territories of growth and development. I want to invite people into an expansive playground of work that works better for everyone.

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?

I think the most important metric for wellness is the ability for every individual to be able to articulate and re-articulate what wellness looks like for them. No company is ever going to find the perfect composition of physical, mental, financial and emotional wellness markers, because they don’t exist as a formula for a group. Rather, each person as an individual has a unique makeup of needs, and one that evolves with them over time.

It’s true that every person shares some amount of basic needs: food, water, safety, etc. That’s not what we mean by wellness, though, and if a company is trying to establish basic needs as wellness markers they aren’t talking about wellness; they’re talking about simple survival. When we talk about wellness we’re talking about thriving. And, the conditions that each person needs in order to feel like they can thrive, and keep thriving, are slightly different. Therefore, one of the most integral metrics in the wellness conversation is the extent to which individual team members have the ability to speak into the process of describing their own wellness, and prescribing what they need to get there. And, in order for this to be a reality, the resounding cultural signal must be safety — psychological, emotional, and job. It can be a scary, or triggering, or overwhelming conversation for people to entertain, especially if they have been a part of toxic work environments in the past. Every metric they come up with for their own thriving can feel like a new lever management can pull to coerce or manipulate. When we tell people what is most important and dear to us we tell them how they can hurt us the most deeply. That’s scary, and it takes a consistent demonstration of empathetic and earnest leadership to set the environment where those conversations can actually happen. It takes leadership security to hear that employees don’t feel the conditions exist for them to thrive, and to not react with defensiveness or counter-claims. And, it takes engaged leadership to figure out how to start curating and nurturing those cultural elements for all team members.

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?

To say that wellness and productivity are correlated is probably to weaken the link between the two. At the very least, you’re always going to struggle to see sustained productivity from teams and people that feel unwell. This is why turnover is so painful for everyone. As soon as someone learns enough to do the job well, and to start being truly productive and innovative for the company, they’ve also learned that this place may not be a place where they can show up and fully be themselves; or a place where they feel seen, heard and valued; or a place that is serious about dismantling harmful structures; or a place where they can try without the fear of repercussions from failing; or a place that draws intentional boundaries to protect their work/life balance; or myriad other concerns. And so, just as they are ready to really “produce,” they leave. Everyone loses in this situation. For companies and teams that truly want to leverage the very best efforts and highest potential of each of their team members, developing a space of psychological safety and holistic wellbeing is crucial.

Every leader, by the way, says they want this. It’s in every company’s vision statement, in core values painted on a thousand walls, and written on the opening pages of nearly every company’s onboarding packet.

And yet, there remains a massive gap between what organizational leaders say they want to create, and what plays out day to day in many organizations.

The disparity between our intent and the impact of it almost always comes down to our assumption of what the “other side” needs or wants. So, leaders getting clear on what their team members want and need is integral to their being able to deliver it. And, there are lots of ways this message can get muddy. Generationally disparities, differing lived experience stemming from race, class, sex, gender expression, ability and other identity expressions, education or learning backgrounds, personalities and work styles, and myriad other factors can make it easy for one’s intent to get lost in translation.

One of the greatest tools for fostering wellbeing across a team is to acknowledge that a team is a very distinct kind of entity, made up of individuals, with highly unique needs, but functioning as a unit, experiencing wins and losses, challenges and opportunities, corporately. To really “do team” well, team members must feel that they authentically belong to the team, and the team to them.

A legitimate feeling of belonging may very well be the core need necessary to survive and thrive. We simply show up differently based on whether we believe we’re an integral part of the team or not.

If I’m a part of the team, and feel like I am, I show up to win. I work hard to make my best even better. I bring my best ideas, information, and innovations to the team. I assume the highest levels of risk possible to achieve a win. I root for my teammates; I celebrate their wins. I rally my teammates; I encourage and exhort them through their losses. I commit to my team; I stay engaged, through thick and thin.

If I don’t believe I truly belong on the team, I don’t do any of this.

Rather, I hedge. I build and maintain barriers. I protect myself. I mitigate risk. I bide my time.

And I should. After all, it’s not my team, right?

Belonging creates the way for team members to build a team that allows for wellness, and wellness paves the way for productivity, innovation, shared ownership, collaboration, and profitability.

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?

We often get asked for the business case of belonging, healthy culture, wellness, or other similar ideas.

We don’t see the reverse very often, though, do we?

When was the last time you saw someone prove a business case for exclusion? For a toxic culture of dissociation? For apathy? For disengagement? For a team what feels unwell, overwhelmed, or chronically uncared for?

When we don’t feel the need to prove a business case for something it means we assume that that “thing” is the natural order of business, and is the de facto float line of organizational normalcy.

That’s a serious peek behind the curtains of what we think work has to be.

What would happen if we asked our leadership teams to provide business case arguments for the practices, decisions, and policies that create an environment that produces an unwell workforce?

I guarantee all arguments would be short term wins based on “this is how we’ve always done it,” and that we could easily uncover the long term losses they incur as a result of not figuring out how to do it better.

One series of questions that uncover these losses is around “pain points.” What hurts in the business right now? Where is the pain being felt? What isn’t working like we’d like it to? What are people unhappy with? Perhaps there are policies that are muting people’s creativity, or processes that are killing innovation, or practices that are stifling collaboration. Perhaps the culture of the workplace is toxically inhumane — too much asked, too little given. Or, perhaps the pain points originate in the success of a particular product, and now teams are overworked trying to produce, and reproduce, that success. Perhaps team members have legitimate questions, or meaningful ideas, but are afraid of the stigma of asking or the sting of failure to try.

We can push through those pain points, and see our production numbers where we want them to be. In the short term. Sooner or later, though, those pain points turn into injuries, and now our teams are walking wounded, unable or unwilling to produce, leaving for safer territory, or simply shutting down to ignore the pain. This is a lose, lose, lose situation.

Perhaps, then, the burden of proof shouldn’t rest on those arguing for wellness, but on the policies and practices that create environments of un-wellness, of un-belonging, or disengagement. Those are the real roots of un-productivity.

Seeking wellness and belonging, by the way, isn’t a targeted system of trying to make work better for a select few. It’s not a political agenda. It’s not artificial wokeness.

It’s a rising tide of cultural health that will lift all boats, creating an environment in which each team member feels better, gets better, and can do better.

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?

I don’t recruit or hire myself, but do spend a lot of time with HR managers and other people-leaders involved in the employee life cycle, particularly at the front end. And, there’s no question about it, potential employees are trying to determine how “livable” a given company is before they make any kind of commitment.

Consider this: neighborhoods rank themselves by determining their walkability score. That is, a neighborhood ranks “better” if there are more opportunities to move around in it without needing a car. Access to parks, trails, restaurants, bars, cultural institutions, and other high interest points must be within walking distance to achieve the highest score possible.

How would your company do on a “livability” score, and what metrics should determine it? Access to professional development and education? Hybrid work flexibility? Cross-functional training? Access to leaders and decision-making spaces? Fluid work arrangements? Progressive benefits packages?

Importantly, who gets to choose which metrics make it?

It’s likely that as we continue to shift demographics in the workplace, our understanding of what work is, how it fits into one’s life, and how blurry those edges are will continue to shift. Wellness programming of the past (free blood pressure checks at work, gift cards to lose weight, etc) will probably have to make room for cultures of wellbeing, meaning rather than instituting a specific initiative aimed a specific target or goal, companies will redesign themselves to make holistic wellbeing a part of who they are and how they function. This could look like policy changes — more parental leave, looser PTO rules, hybridization of schedules, etc. Or, it could, perhaps more complexly, also look like a place where many of those things are in flux, and up to the team or employee, all the time. It could look like a place where trust is so highly regarded and carefully curated that employees are empowered to actively take stock of their wellbeing and make decisions to protect it in any number of ways, all without endangering the team goals or bringing accusations of disengagement or apathy.

This is going to be hard work, and companies can’t earn this kind of reputation overnight. It’s going to come from the lived experiences of those employees who live it long enough to start talking about it. Ultimately, though, the most effective and consistent recruitment tool of the future will undoubtedly be culture as described by employees rather than by vision statements, value words, or employee handbooks.

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?

If companies are serious about investing in the wellbeing of their employees, they are going to have to start listening to them differently. I’ve not met many executive leaders that want to create toxic workplace cultures, but I’ve talked to lots of employees that have felt like their workplaces were toxic to them. So, the first step is to stop defending intent and start trying to see and hear impact. To do this, leaders have to become eager in their question-asking and earnest in their listening.

This is often aided by outside support. Much of my work is in the gap between the strategy at the “top” of an organizational hierarchy and the execution toward the “bottom” of it. There’s a lot of translation and interpretation that organizational culture coaches can do, particularly in companies in which that gap feels wide and impassable.

In my work I use the idea of creating space to have the kinds of conversations and to do the kind of work necessary to mitigate those gaps. And, the idea of space has developed into an acronym that allows us to engage in these efforts along a journey of 5 steps:

  • Support reflectivity: Change starts with individuals. Every leader, manager, and team member is invited and inspired to explore their who, their why, and their what’s next.
  • Provoke engagement: Stepping into the discomfort of tough conversations is hard — we know that. But embracing new perspectives also allows us to shift from conflict to collaboration.
  • Accept ownership: It’s not about us versus them; it’s about us. We acknowledge and own our shared challenges and opportunities with courage and conviction.
  • Cast vision: The power of “what’s possible if…” is compelling and palpable. We lean into and leverage that power when we dream beyond our current ruts, risks, and rewards.
  • Enact change: At the end of the day, it’s about getting better. We empower and enable individual change-agents, and redesign organizational practices, policies, and procedures.

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

We’ve got to dismantle this myth that psychological safety in the workplace is a sign of weakness or an unwillingness to do hard work. It’s neither.

There seems to be this sense that psychological safety, a place that prioritizes wellbeing, is somehow anti-company or anti-profit. It’s not.

Rather, the desire for psychological safety — including ideas like belonging, trust, security, and the ability to try and fail without repercussion — is actually deeply pro-company, pro-team, pro-collaboration, pro-innovative, and pro-result.

It’s everything organizational leaders want their companies to look like. Every single person shows up differently when they believe they belong, and that their participation is an integral part of the team’s success. That’s just the way humans work.

A workplace culture of “working well” capitalizes on that. It leverages the idea that wellbeing is perhaps the most important ingredient to team and company success. Wellbeing means team members feel heard. Feel seen. Feel valued. Feel respected. Feel believed. Feel trusted. It means they believe they belong.

Reskilling our leaders to promote and curate cultures of wellness begins with a reframing of what ingredients they believe it takes to do good work, and an honest look at what creates the environment necessary for those ingredients to flourish.

For example, the so called “soft skills,” things like communication, empathy, listening, how long been at the bottom of managerial training systems, but have long been at the top of corporate “this is what we don’t have” lists. There’s simply a massive mismatch of what we’re training for and what we know we ultimately need.

Professional development is great. Employees should be upskilled in the competencies required by their jobs, and the jobs a level above them. People should be able to get better at the skills they exercise to get their tasks done.

But professional development divorced from personal growth has limited utility. I can learn to run a more timely meeting, but if I haven’t learned how to really hear my team members, what good is the meeting. I can learn to ask for feedback on exit surveys, but if I haven’t learned to assess my emotions, observe my responses, and find learning opportunities, what good is it for someone to tell me what didn’t work for them?

I believe the most ignored piece of professional development is the professional themselves, and that the next wave of “upskilling” will look more like personal growth coaching and emotional health assessment health than like task-oriented training or competency-sharpening.

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?

At the most granular level — the individual — folks can start by determining what wellness looks like and feels like to them. This doesn’t necessarily have to correspond to a particular role or company policy. In fact, it’s probably better if it isn’t bound by those parameters. Rather, a person can ask themselves questions like, “What makes me feel the most energized?” “When do I feel the most rundown or out of creative juice?” What makes me care about things?” “How do I recharge when I’m feeling spent?” “What values do I aspire to?” and so forth. It’s going to be really hard for a team to curate a culture of wellness if team members aren’t great at knowing what wellness looks like and feels like for themselves. Team leaders can support in this process by modeling their own journey of wellness “discovery,” and by facilitating team conversations around this topic. Again, the most impactful and sustainable versions of wellbeing for a team are going to come from the members of that team, so leaders must be able to draw out those ideas with care and earnestness. This process will certainly require the support and engagement of senior-level leaders, and may also require support from outside facilitators and those familiar and competent at creating safe spaces.

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

  1. The move of wellness from an HR initiative to an organizational culture fundamental.
  • This is at the heart of all of the following shifts. Overwhelming, wellness initiatives and strategies aren’t going to work if they represent another task to accomplish, require an explanation or defense by the employee, or feel divorced from the employee’s authentic experiences and life. A “culture of wellness” will be reflected in the values and vision of the organization, and will show up in a plethora of ways: shorter meetings, built-in buffers between meetings, no meeting days, remote and hybrid work options, PTO unattached to specific reasons, managers that pay attention to team stress levels, celebrations of effort and collaboration rather than ust production, increased attention to process rather than just product, cross-functional teams and opportunities that allow for team members to exercise creative engagement, mental health benefits with no stigma attached, DEI work that address both interpersonal and structural issues, and much more.

2. Psychological safety and DEI becoming integrally linked with wellness.

  • The reality is, people can’t be well when they don’t believe they belong, aren’t valued, or aren’t believed. There is myriad research that details the devastating effects of sexism, ageism, racism, homophobia, ableism, and more. And, it shouldn’t require us to do much soul-searching to see the truth in this. However, companies and organizations that move beyond this are going to more fully and effectively create spaces of wellness. It’s not just those who are oppressed or muted that suffer when spaces aren’t inclusive; it’s everyone. Everyone loses when the “isms” are at work. We lose collaboration, joy, relationship, expectation, innovation, and ideas. We experience higher turnover, and more significant recruitment challenges. We cut off our succession plan at the knees. Inclusion is an “everyone wins” game. Period. Organizations that are serious about creating cultures of wellness will get serious about inclusion and equity, knowing that as long as some are undervalued, all are.

3. The ability to call off work with increased autonomy and less explaining.

  • Every step, no matter how small, that is put between an employee and their decision about what they need to be well could be a barrier that adds inertia to their decision to not take care of themselves. This includes the need to explain or categorize PTO requests. Employees must be able to easily and seamlessly choose to own their time with increasing autonomy. And, organizations must create cultures of opportunity for them to do this. We’ve all seen or heard about companies that offer unlimited PTO, but few of the employees ever even use any of it. If the culture of the company is such that taking time off is seen as weak, or selfish, it doesn’t matter how many PTO days one gets. They won’t use them. If, however, team members feel truly free to make choices for themselves, and are educated about what those choices mean for the team (taking PTO without regard for the team creates distrust, but taking PTO when needed allows one to come back into the team recharged and ready), they can take the time they need to be as healthy as they can be, for themselves, and for the organization.

4. A shift from professional development around competencies to holistic personal development around health.

  • For as long as there are companies offering services and making widgets, employees are going to have to receive training about how to do it, and how to do it better. I’m not saying they won’t. However, an organization that is serious about creating a culture of wellness isn’t going to see professional development as divorced from holistic personal growth and wellness. Rather, they’ll see professional development as an outgrowth and manifestation of personal growth. All of the attributes that companies say they want — all the soft skills, the leadership abilities, the innovations, the collaborative energies — none of those can consistently come from people who legitimately feel unwell at work. So, companies will start offering development tracks that are more in alignment with holistic health and growth than they are with task competencies. Time, money, and energy will be diverted from development opportunities that only speak to getting more done faster and toward opportunities that allow employees to flex their best selves, learning and growing with others within and outside of the company, and pursuing overall growth. Wellness and growth are inextricably connected.

5. An increase in team members being able to speak into the design process and stable of offerings around wellness.

  • This is true of lots of aspects of organizational culture, I think — that companies who want to operate at the very highest levels increasingly create channels of voice and ownership for employees. Who better than those who do the work day in and day out to speak to how it might be done better, faster, or cheaper? This is true of wellness, too. Who better than the employees themselves to speak to what they need to truly feel well? This means, too, that employees must be able to give voice to what isn’t work — to what is creating toxicity in the workplace. This is often tough for leaders to hear, acknowledge, and act on, as it’s interpreted as an attack on the leader rather than as a comment on a leadership practice. One is an indictment; the other is an invitation. Companies that want to create and sustain cultures of wellness are going strategically and thoughtful design ways for employees to lead what this looks like, because every time circumstances, teams, or work load shifts, so too may what is required to practice wellness. Leaders will have to earn the trust of the employees, and give that trust back every day as they listen, believe, and act.

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

Perhaps it’s too soon to tell, or too close for comfort, but currently I think the greatest indicator that wellbeing and belonging are the future of organizational culture work is the Great Resignation. Employees are leaving companies in droves, and they aren’t being shy to tell us why. This is perhaps the greatest mass exit of corporate America, and one with the most data about why it’s happening.

Overwhelming team members point the finger to toxic workplace cultures, emotional abuse in the form of no work/life boundaries, lack of support from team leaders, structures and systems not designed for diverse teams to thrive, and other wellbeing indicators.

I don’t claim to know everything about culture, or employees, or about the Great Resignation itself. Neither am I feeling the pain that so many leaders are feeling as they watch their people leave, and wrestle not only with “why,” but also “now how are we supposed to get things done?”

I do believe, though, that the solutions are found precisely in the places many don’t want to look, because it’s personal and painful.

And, that’s when we know growth is going to happen — when we feel the discomfort of how things are. That’s when we get serious about designing, pursuing, and capturing how they could be.

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?

Your readers can find me on my website (www.danieljuday.com) where they can learn more about my work and read my blog, LaunchPad. Additionally, I’m active on LinkedIn, posting, commenting, and sharing. I’d love to connect with them there as well.

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

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