Working Well: Debbie Goodman Of Jack Hammer Global On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Karen Mangia
Authority Magazine
13 min readMay 25, 2022


You can’t support something that is not spoken about and is not normalized. It’s all of our responsibility, as leaders, to remove the stigma surrounding mental health & wellness.

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 Debbie Goodman.

Debbie Goodman, Group CEO of Jack Hammer Global, is a global executive search and board advisor, high-impact leadership coach, speaker, and published author. Firm in the knowledge that companies depend on great leaders to accelerate growth and create thriving cultures, she has dedicated more than two decades to helping boards and CEOs with their most strategic people, leadership, and talent decisions. Her most recent book, ‘The Living Room Leader — Leadership Lessons for a Hybrid Future’ became an Amazon Bestseller and is helping prepare leaders all over the world for the future of 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 had a pivotal experience in late 2012 that truly transformed my relationship with work, as well as influenced many of the current policies that are in place at my company, Jack Hammer Global. I found myself working at 4 am for the 5th consecutive day, as that was the only time I had available to complete a piece of work for a client. My kids were still babies, and I was burning the candle at both ends in an effort to achieve and maintain my success both as a mother and a professional. As many of us have experienced at certain points in our lives, I was burnt out. Overworked, overwhelmed, and completely, unequivocally exhausted.

As I mentioned, this was not the first time I had found myself working into the wee hours of the morning, but it was the first time that it occurred to me how utterly unsustainable this pace was. Even when I was able to complete a professional objective by holding myself to those extreme, unrealistic work practices, it didn’t feel good. And it certainly didn’t feel healthy, or like it was in the best interest of myself, my children, my clients, or any aspect of my life.

That formative moment sparked a journey that eventually led me to develop a mindfulness meditation practice, as well as prompted more engagement with the idea of using mindfulness-based principles on a daily basis. In turn, this transcended my personal use and became a team ritual called ‘IntheFlow’, a daily check-in incorporating mindfulness-based practices to increase connection, communication, trust and empathy.

What I gained that morning at 4 am was the awareness that there is indeed a cost to ‘productivity-at-all-costs’ mindset, and the price is high.

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?

Wellness is such a dynamic and occasionally ambiguous term. A massive part of wellness and wellbeing is having a healthy relationship with work, which essentially requires a healthy relationship with one’s key ‘stakeholders’. This translates into engagement that is respectful, supportive, and empathetic, both internally with peers and managers, as well as externally with clients, vendors, suppliers, and so forth.

I believe that when people are healthy and happy at work, performance and achievement is ultimately enhanced. In a nutshell, when we have wellbeing we also have productivity.

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?

In my organization, our utilization of the ‘IntheFlow’’ practice that I mentioned earlier serves as an excellent point of reference to observe, connect, and know one another, so that it becomes fairly easy to see when an individual is having a hard time and might need extra support.

Because we have this daily open communication with one another, we have achieved a level of interpersonal trust and authenticity that allows us to respond accordingly to any issues before they have a chance to negatively impact productivity — or profitability — in a drastic way.

We believe that emphasizing wellness and a healthy relationship with work above productivity and profitability actually leads to more of the latter. Our team members are humans with whole lives, which everyone in the team respects first. And psychologically safe humans make more successful, creative, connected, and inspired employees.

A ‘well’ workforce is directly and inextricably linked to an organization’s profitability and productivity. We see this demonstrated through numerous analytical studies, and we see it demonstrated in real life, time and time again.

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?

Get unstuck. The data is there. If we reframe this in the same way that we view physical health benefits; it is completely acceptable, and on some levels expected, for organizations to provide health insurance and other systems and initiatives to support employees’ physical health. We do this because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s an additional benefit for talent attraction, and of course, the knowledge that physically ill employees cannot perform optimally.

Mental health is no less important, and should not be viewed as any less vital to a well workforce than physical wellbeing. All of the incredible ROI and benefits that businesses receive from doing their part to ensure employees have the tools to maintain their physical health, are multiplied tenfold when that same consideration is given to mental health.

Meaning, employees who are able to feel psychologically safe at work and are able to seek professional mental health care & support without stigma or exaggerated cost, simply and unequivocally produce better work, and thus build stronger, more agile businesses. And of course, the talent attraction benefit of providing holistic wellness programs cannot be overstated.

Implementing wellness programs is not only an investment into your workforce, but is a vital and necessary investment into the business itself that will result in a massive ROI in areas that include and transcend your bottom line.

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?

At Jack Hammer, we implemented a program with great success which allows every single member of our team to access funds for a therapist. It’s fully confidential and empowers team members to either choose their own therapist, or receive in-house support in selecting a mental health professional that aligns with their needs. We’ve found that not only has it been an incredible benefit for our existing staff, but has also been a fantastic part of our benefits structure for new talent acquisition.

I’ve been encouraging all of my clients to consider integrating a similar program into their own organizations, especially as it pertains to their value proposition for new talent in today’s uber-competitive job market.

We also offer unlimited PTO, which is not unheard of, but we have taken our leave structure a step further by implementing synchronous leave. Offering employees extensive or unlimited leave is wonderful, but synchronous leave, meaning extended time off for the entire team outside of holidays, has a measurable impact on employee wellbeing and resilience. What this looks like for us, is days off for the entire team multiple times a year, and a full two-week break for everyone at the end of the year.

It’s a known fact that rest and rejuvenation are key to both mental and physical wellness, and I believe that it’s our responsibility as leaders to create the space for our team to truly get the full benefit of extended rest. In turn, our organization receives the benefits of employees who are energized, rested, focused, and less stressed.

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?

  • Mental Wellness:
  • Psychotherapy fees.
  • Unlimited PTO.
  • Synchronous Leave.
  • Buddy System.
  • ‘IntheFlow’ daily connection exercises.
  • Emotional Wellness:
  • Prioritizing a psychologically safe work culture.
  • Cultivating an environment of respect, individuality, and connection.
  • Zero tolerance policy on interpersonal disrespect, gossip, bullying.
  • Healthy conflict resolution practices.
  • Expectation of kindness and empathy.
  • Implementing healthy boundaries around work expectations (no working late, answering emails after hours, separation of work time & personal time).
  • Social Wellness:
  • Acknowledging that ‘leaving your personal life at home” is unrealistic. We are whole humans, and all of our worries, stresses, traumas, etc. don’t simply disappear when we come to work.
  • The opportunity to connect & interact with one another in ways that are not work-centric.
  • Allow for organic activities together, without imposing mandatory ‘happy hours’, team bonding activities, etc.
  • We encourage 15-minute check-ins once a month, where each person checks in with another for a 15-minute conversation that is not work-related.
  • Physical Wellness:
  • I do not believe that physical wellness is a separate entity from the categories above. How you are mentally, emotionally, and socially, impacts physical wellness. Sickness is often a result of stress. Poor physical wellness (often) the outcome of the compromisation of mental and emotional wellbeing. Regarding physical fitness & practices, I believe that is up to the individual. However, we do have ‘walking meetings’, and pre-pandemic we’d go on group walks.
  • Financial Wellness:
  • All of these categories impact each other. A lack of financial wellness can contribute to a lack of physical, mental, emotional, and social wellness. It is important to view these programs as interconnected parts of a larger whole.
  • I feel that it is my job to make sure that every member of my team is earning well. Additionally, we have a financial bonus structure where the financial success of the company is also passed along to our team members.
  • During the pandemic, we had a severe downturn in volume & revenue. I asked my team if they would either prefer that we eliminate a position, or have everyone take a small temporary decrease in salary. They voted unanimously to receive a temporary salary decrease, rather than have another team member’s position be eliminated. Involving your team members in some of these major company decisions not only gives them a sense of ownership, but empowers them to feel secure in their value to the business.

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?

I think that the benefits are really quite simple. When you invest in your team members as individuals, they will, in turn, invest in your business. They will invest their time, their creativity, their energy, their passion, and so much more. We know from both studies and practical applications that when there is an emphasis placed on employee wellness, and a concentrated and strategic effort made to improve the quality of life of your workforce, the business benefits. Happier, healthier people mean creative, driven, loyal, and more productive employees. Not every wellness program is easily integrated or even possible for every organization. It’s important to not only ensure that whatever programs you choose to implement are sustainable and scalable from a systemic standpoint, but to also make sure those programs are not being created and integrated in an echo chamber. Empowering your team members to be involved in the process ensures that whatever benefit programs you implement are actually beneficial to the people receiving them.

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

Leaders model behavior. On a weekly basis, my leadership team and I spend time trying to identify situations with individuals who might be overly stressed with work, as well as managing workflow and delegation. We make a concerted effort to see where each individual is from a stress-level point of view in an effort to prevent burnout and readjust workflow as needed.

Personally, I feel that it’s my responsibility as a leader to model daily wellness habits such as eating well, getting proper sleep and rest, moderate exercise, and meditation. All of these aspects are part of a work-well culture that allows people to take charge of their wellness.

It’s also our job as leaders to make sure we aren’t pushing people to their limits. Part of this is knowing and understanding the different limitations, strengths, and weaknesses of each individual. Everyone has a different range, work style, learning style, communication preference, etc. We demonstrate the importance of a hyper-personalized work environment.

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?

Boundaries and downtime. Nobody is good about boundaries all the time, but when we get a solid understanding of what everyone’s individual preferences are, and what their boundaries and expectations are, we can take the first step in building a foundational work wellness culture. Any team leader can start, today (for free), by asking their team what their preferred boundaries and expectations are regarding how they want to be working. That includes their hours, sending emails, being buzzed on slack, and what is ‘okay’ and ‘not okay’.

It’s also important to note that this is not a one & done. People’s boundaries & preferences can shift and change, so it’s essential that these open communications surrounding individual work preferences become a continually evolving practice.

Another easy step is setting a boundary with your team around overworking themselves. For example, if you have an employee that is pulling all-nighters, you should be concerned about their judgment skills & wellbeing, not applauding their commitment. Let your team know that rest and time unplugged from work is mandatory, and detail what those expectations are.

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

  1. Support & Normalization of Psychotherapy & Mental Wellness.

You can’t support something that is not spoken about and is not normalized. It’s all of our responsibility, as leaders, to remove the stigma surrounding mental health & wellness.

2. Synchronous Time Off For Teams.

In addition to allowing PTO beyond the bare minimum, implementing extended and synchronous time off for teams is key to providing employees a chance to truly rest and rejuvenate.

3. Emphasis On Sleep.

We’ve seen the trend, which has now become the norm, of gym memberships, fitness programs, and other physical wellness benefits being integrated as part of an organization’s employee offerings. But sleep support, and the promotion of optimal sleep habits is the next step in that physical and mental wellness trend.

4. Support for Stressful Life Events.

We know what kinds of experiences add stress to the lives of an individual, including death of a family member, moving to a new home, having a child, partner job loss, etc. When these events occur, there should be greater support for individuals through a range of structures that specifically apply to this sphere of experiences.

5. Education Around Specific Mental Wellness Challenges.

It’s commonplace for leaders to receive continuing education regarding top leadership practices, workflow management, and other leader-based skills. The integration of education that is focused on the ability to identify mental and emotional challenges that their team members may be experiencing should be, and will become, part of that leadership training. As a leader, being able to see when someone is under tremendous strain, and knowing how to identify, anticipate, and then support that individual is vital to maintaining a well team.

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

Workplace stress is not new, just as suffering at work is not new. But there is finally a spotlight on not only seeing the struggles of employees, but understanding the greater impact those challenges have, removing the stigma, and making the changes that have been necessary for a long time.

We are beginning to see a growing awareness that organizations have to take responsibility in supporting not just physical safety and fair compensation of their employees, but the psychological safety and emotional wellbeing of their workforce. Including creating a healthy work environment, offering dynamic and personalized mental health support, and more extensive benefit integrations.

Once you see something, you can’t unsee it. Now that we’re finally focusing on these challenges and the innovative solutions that address these issues, I am optimistic that this focus will continue to grow.

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

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success A Success From Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.