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

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Karen Mangia
Authority Magazine
Published in
14 min readApr 12, 2022


Let the younger ideas and ways of working together grow and blossom in your organization. Make room, mentor, provide resources and healthy culture then get out of their way. I experience joy when I see what these next-generation leaders are capable of. Now is our Great Opportunity.

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 David B. Savage.

David serves organizations by creating better ways to work together internally and externally. Clients have David assess, design, coach, train, and evolve their collaboration, negotiation, dispute resolution, and business development capacities and successes.

Conflict, misunderstanding, misalignment of organizations and their leadership, lost productivity, wasted time and wasted resources resulting from limiting perspectives, distraction, and hard-line positions are damaging our today and our future. David serves organizations in creating better ways to work together internally and externally. Clients have David assess, design, coach, train, and evolve their collaboration, negotiation, dispute resolution, and business development capacities and successes.

Stop wasting time, resources, people and reputation on poorly managed projects in handcuffed organizations.

David coaches leaders through complex challenges to turn them into significant opportunities!

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.

Nobody gets to be right. Yet, all of us can be far better working together.

Early in my career, I would invest a great amount of time and energy into researching, crafting, generating ideas and then selling them to others. Two major barriers to that approach became obvious;

  1. Most others were trying to do the same thing, and
  2. I failed to learn from the wisdom within my organization.

The outcome of the hero leader (I can do this myself! I must be seen to have everything under control.) style is very often a disconnected, tired and lonely “boss” in a space where the people “below” that boss feel they don’t matter.

A leader evolves a healthy organization by being curious, open, inclusive and courageous.

With this approach to work, work is a wonderful learning opportunity and evolutionary experience. No day is the same as another. In an organization that focuses on building a culture of collaboration, we play together and succeed far more often.

What if we started our day in wonder. And not in “to do” lists buried in one hundred emails. Be in wonder.

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?

In that HBR article, both wellness (8) and purpose (9) are highlighted. I assert that leaders, organizations and everyone involved must understand the strong linkage between wellness (“this is how we are”) and purpose (“this is why we are”).

Further, wellness can’t be a Human Resources Department program. Wellness must be at the core for every person. Leaders may measure wellness through the lens of success. When a team, leader and/ or organization thrives there is joy. When there is joy, there is wellness. There is engagement and belief. Success, joy, wellness and purpose are the culture. Wellness must not be a separate program.

I hope to be as clear as I can. When people feel a strong connection to the purpose of the organization, feel the freedom to debate, know they are safe and are given the resources to succeed, they are “well”.

In 2022 and the future, we witness a growing loyalty and desire to be part of an organization (or purchase from or donate to an organization) that is committed to the community, the environment and the well-being of its stakeholders. Businesses that create shared value and have strong and clear values have a real advantage over those that simply employ people or sell stuff. Business serves the interests of the community and not the other way around.

Wellness is a direct link to working with a business with a purpose. “I see that my work is valued. I am proud to be part of this organization. I love the way we collaborate. My network admires what we do.” Yes, that is wellness.

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?

Let’s move away from scientific “proof”. We know we are more productive by the stories we share within and outside our teams.

Quoting the HBR article; “Employees have been asked to bring their whole self to work as organizations try to create a more inclusive and productive work environment. This is fundamentally different than a decade ago when employees were expected to leave their personal perspectives “at the door.”

A great form of “proof” is that we have more fun! We enjoy what we do together. Is there humor in your workplace? Do people seek out others’ perspectives? Are they free to get outside to throw out fresh ideas? Or are they chained to their devices, places and routines?

Organizations that have a command and control regime, at times, are more successful than collaborative and learning organizations. Situations requiring quick action benefit from this leadership style; however, it is rarely successful for an extended time period. Collaboration takes longer, requires more investment and can be ‘messy’. The benefits outweigh the challenges. Collaborative culture is more effective and efficient over time.

When I talk about Nobody gets to be Right, I am talking about playing together, listening to diverse perspectives, designing how we collaborate, and developing clear success measures and accountabilities. When the leader doesn’t have to be right, the team can innovate beyond expectations.

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?

I do not focus on programs, applications, and HR initiatives. I focus on building and continually improving our organizational culture of collaboration.

Of course, when one of us is suffering from mental and/ or physical health disorders, we ensure real and present care is shown and resources are given. When I hear “common mental health disorders”, I ponder organizational dysfunction. If one is feeling it, others are feeling it.

I just don’t separate persons that are suffering from the culture. Both are directly linked.

What advice do I have to offer to organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact? My advice is to better understand the work life of your people.

In pre-pandemic years, leaders would come back from outside training or a new leadership book and layer that onto their staff. No more how well intentioned and how appropriate, that extra layer, too often, was “one more thing we have to add to our load” to many employees. The better approach is to listen to your people at every level, discover the root causes of challenges, explore alternatives to address those “real time” obstacles and friustrations and then empower the people to fix or eliminate the root causes. Whatever the outcome, the people in your organization build trust in their leaders, build loyalty, build skills and have greater ownership of the work they do. That means improved wellness.

With many of my clients coming out of the extreme multiple challenges of the pandemic, management and staff at all levels are suffering. The “unwellenss” is from overload, lack of resources, lack of confidence that things will improve and lack of honest communication with leadership and/or ownership.

The challenges of business are constant and getting even more complex. Since March 2020 and the arrival of this centuries pandemic, already lean organizations faced reduced revenues, increased costs, employee separation, a resticted available workforce, constantly changing regulations, and huge uncertainties. Let’s call this the Big Squeeze or the Covid Crush.

Today, the pandemic appears to be abating even if just for a while until the next wave arises. So the challenges we just listed remain, the uncertainty remains and finding a delicate balance between expenses, revenues and keeping your team alive has not ended. The Big Squeeze continues.

Here is a current and real example of the Big Squeeze leaders and organizations face in 2022. The Human Resources Manager of one of my clients has faced massive challenges at all levels. Pre-pandemic these management and staff challenges were related to poor communication, failure to engage in difficult conversations, refusal to hold people positively and negatively accountable plus a Chief Operating Officer that acted as if these challenges were HR’s problem (not problems they needed to be directly involved in).

Now in mid-2022, this highly respected and hard working HR Manager is under the heavy load of too few resources, inability to attract new people, significant uncertainty, and increasing demands from “above” and “below”. This HR professional has been under increasing stress for years and their are no magic programs available or affordable to address the Big Squeeze. This professional has been at significant risk for many months. They are doing their very best. And their wellness is low. Burnout. Dissatisfaction. Sense of limited ability to make a positive difference. When these judgments are in the hearts and minds of our Human Resources people, we must simplify, be brutally honest, find new ways to work together and collaborate to survive before we can thrive. Hunker down together. Focus on the intelligence, abilities and resilience in our teams. Apply resources to our most important objectives. Drop or park the others. If my client fails to respond directly and immediately to the significant and increased challenges faced by their own Human Resources Manager and so many in their organization, loyalty, trust, belief and satisfaction will continue to erode. In this particular scenario, the CEO has been slow to read and react. That CEO’s immediate challenges rise as well. A key point is that at all levels, people are faced with The Big Squeeze and they must come together in collaborative learning rather than attempting to fight their individual fires. Focus on the real, highest impact challenges and opportunities together.

Focus. Simplify. Be strategic. And let go of the things, programs, people that no longer serve us. In some spiritual traditions, a time of uncertainty and instability is referred to as “quaking” (like an earthquake). In these times, we have the opportunity change. In times of greatest uncertainty, we have the greatest opportunity learn and change. If everything was certain and stable, why change? When our world is quaking, we must change. As the Chinese blessing states; “may you live in interesting times.” Now is your time to lead.

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?

In the past year, The Great Resignation has been a key concern for leaders, organizations and employees.

Yes, employers may give staff a 7% raise. A raise doesn’t make them a better, more committed, and productive member of your team. That is a bandaid on the real flaws of employment relations. Consider the root causes of the Great Resignation.

Think of my client that I just described. An empowered culture shift energized from all your people is the answer.

A fresh perspective is to let go of the fear of The Great Resignation and view it as The Great Opportunity. This mindset focuses away from the fears and on the great opportunities to retain and attract the best. To level up.

Think about how you and your business will pay more attention to how we;

  • Negotiate with one another,
  • work together,
  • make decisions,
  • how we meet the needs of our families,
  • protect our environment,
  • mentor our future leaders,
  • innovate,
  • collaborate,
  • hire diverse skills and demographics,
  • include diverse perspectives,
  • align with our values and ethics,
  • are flexible to the needs of our people, and
  • create and strategize to achieve our vision for a better future.

Actively performing this strategy to advance your organizational culture is a powerful force for change, profitability, and employee attraction and retention.

Becoming an organization with purpose and a healthy collaborative culture is not a short-term strategy. Doing it well must become your organizational energy that flows to and through every part of your body. The more energy you have, the greater attraction for customers, staff, clients, and stakeholders. You are creating fresh life for your business.

Retain and attract the best. Wellness is not ensured by fear or the naive application of more money. Money is good but will not solve the very real underlying challenges in many companies. A healthy culture thrives. A healthy body requires sustained energy.

Think of the short-term blast from a “caffeine-laden energy drink”. Now think of the sustained energy from a robust smoothie with your own favorite ingredients. No more ‘quick fixes, thank you.

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?

People are challenged by ever-changing demands, limited resources and siloed projects. Coaching members on how to embrace conflict, engage in difficult conversations and create “do not disturb” times during the day and week so that they can simply get their priorities accomplished remains a key benefit.

To get the important initiatives completed, we must allow people to say no most often. Staff at all levels are far more productive when they can have clear boundaries on when they are not to be interrupted, can control their schedules and remain focused.

What must you say “no” to in order to say “yes” to success? Your “no” builds your relationships and future. Think about then practice saying no most often. After a day, a week, a month of saying no most often, I promise you that your will achieve more and have greater respect.

Recently, I asked my son about his three year project that is scheduled for a global release within the next six months. He shared that the usual last minute demands from all levels are now hitting his team. Other teams or departments or outside businesses are really focused on their deadlines. I asked my son how he responds to these demands. “Dad, I say no. If the person making the demand is important to my project, I will negotiate what they will do about my requirements from them and then we come to a shared understanding and accountability. If I said yes most often, we would all be overwhelmed and never complete our project.”

In addition to training, support and respect for boundaries on our time and resources, here are two useful strategies that my organizations have clearly benefited from;

  1. Every member of our organization gets the same bonus when we exceed our goals and net revenue. In one of our companies, a key component of the corporate incentive plan was for success in exceeding net revenue (ie. more income and/ or fewer expenses), fifty percent of the incentive pool was allocated equally by every employee. That inspires collaboration and awareness of what impacts the bottom line at every level. The receptionist in our field office received the same bonus as I did as Chief Operating Officer. The other fifty percent of the incentive cash was allocated to the exceptionally productive teams with break through results.
  2. One workday every week plus two hours every workday, people are not allowed to have meetings or phone calls. We find that in those two hours and in that one day, people get far more done. So much so, that on that “do not disturb day” each week, many were free to not work at all. Happiness went up along with productivity. Greater freedom from experienced respect creates improved wellness and outcomes.

Busy-ness and overcommitment to appear valuable is a road to failure. Your people that are overloaded and/ or never get things done are signs of organizational sickness.

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

My long term search for strategies and stories that support a “Work Well” culture is the core reason I wrote, published, speak and coach leaders and organizations on;

  1. Break Through To Yes: Unlocking the Possible within a Culture of Collaboration, and
  2. Better by Design: Your Best Collaboration Guide.

Wherever people work, provide them with an easy reference to planning their projects, brainstorming and accountabilities. I offer my 10 Essential Steps to Collaboration. Your readers can find it and many other resources on my website for free.

Before arranging that meeting, planning that initiative or bringing resources in, have you set your true intention, clearly linked this to your top five annual goals, designed the composition of the team, established how you will collaborate, and much more? Conserve your resources, focus your energy and ensure that it flows to achieving what is most important.

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?

Think about the reality of today. My organizational effectiveness mentor, Cheryl Crich, talks about the realization that situations, opportunities, challenges and cultures are in continual shifts. Ms. Crich uses the metaphor of you standing on a balance board on top of a large hard ball. For you as the leader, shifts are unexpected from any number of angles. Shifts are not right/ left, slow/ fast or linear. The opportunities, challenges, and situations that are coming are often unplanned and unexpected.

With a “Work Well” workplace, identifying, being responsive, agile and innovative are important characteristics that promote the ability to change as the environment for your team changes. Building a culture of collaboration and innovation is similar to training for that next event when you know that you are on the balance board (and not on solid concrete).

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

The generations that have been joining our organizations in the past ten years and will be joining in the next ten years are brilliant, passionate, artistic, and wise dreamers. Leaders that can focus those hearts and minds on “purpose” within a collaborative learning team will generate ideas and a reality that we are unable to envision alone.

Two of my current and favorite volunteer initiatives (the Canadian Energy and Climate Nexus plus the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group) have evolved so that young female leaders are now a critical force in energizing and realizing our vision. These next generation hearts and minds are increasingly leading with our mentoring. Our role is to design, resource, build the team and then let them lead.

Let the younger ideas and ways of working together grow and blossom in your organization. Make room, mentor, provide resources and healthy culture then get out of their way. I experience joy when I see what these next-generation leaders are capable of. Now is our Great Opportunity.

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?

Thank you so much for this time to explore together.

I believe in and energize healthy teams creating great outcomes.

I offer my eBook “Better by Design: Your Best Collaboration Guide” to the first twenty of your readers that email me, refer to this interview, and tell me one thing they have learned in their career about how to make positive change in their organization.

I am a collaborator and wish to learn much more.

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



Karen Mangia
Authority Magazine

VP at Salesforce | Author | Keynote Speaker