Working Well: Dr Lindsey Godwin Of Champlain College 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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Organizations have slowly realized that it is important to tend to the whole person when supporting their employees (as evidenced by the multidimensional conceptualizations of wellbeing that include supporting individuals mentally, physically, and financially). A natural extension of whole person wellbeing is family wellbeing. While not many organizations yet extend wellness support to employees’ families, I think this is a shift that is on the horizon.

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 Dr. Lindsey Godwin.

Lindsey Godwin, Ph.D. is a sought-after international speaker, consultant, and facilitator, who has taught & facilitated over 10,000 people around the world. She holds a Master of Science in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution George Mason University, and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, where she studied with the founding thought leaders in Appreciative Inquiry. She currently holds the Robert P. Stiller Endowed Chair of Management in the Stiller School of Business at Champlain College (Vermont, USA), where she also serves as the Academic Director of the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and the lead faculty for the MS in Leadership and MS in Organization Development & Human Relations programs.

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.

Three years ago, I was enjoying one the best job perks in academia: the sabbatical. By definition, the word sabbatical comes from the Greek word sabbatikos, meaning “a rest or break from work.” However, over the course of my sabbatical, I realized that a sabbatical is not actually about a “break” from work, but rather an invitation to think about work differently. It is about doing different work and learning to work differently.

During my sabbatical, one of the most formative experiences that inspired me to change my relationship with work came in the form of an abstract art class that I gifted myself. Having fallen into the mental rut that things in my life (personally and professionally) needed to “look a certain way,” I was eager to tap into my inner artist, free myself from the constraint of realism and explore what emerged when I just enjoyed playing with colors and shapes.

Following my sabbatical, I was asked to deliver a presentation to my colleagues when I returned to campus on what I did over my “break.” Titled “All I needed to know on sabbatical, I learned in abstract art class,” I shared the following 10 lessons I gained by getting in touch with my inner abstract artist (these continue to inspire me to be a better colleague, professor, and person in my post-sabbatical reality):

1. Good news/Bad news: There are no rules!

2. It is not always about adding something; sometimes you need to subtract something.

3. You know how much surprise you can handle, so respect that.

4. More is not always more. Resist the urge to replicate something you really like all over the place.

5. If you are scared of something, perhaps try it.

6. Get something down so you have something to react to.

7. You won’t love everything you do, but you will learn from it to inform your next work.

8. Your tools are full of endless potential. It is up to you to see it and use them accordingly.

9. We work in community so we can learn from and influence each other.

10. Get in touch with how you are feeling in the moment. If you don’t, you will be an obstacle for what is wanting to emerge.

Over the course of my semester-long sabbatical, in which I spent time writing, presenting at conferences, collaborating on new projects, painting, and simply taking time to think and reflect, I decided that a sabbatical is not a timeline, but a state of mind. I realized that I can constantly think about doing different work and working differently. Like an abstract artist, I always have the freedom to change the paint colors I am using to create myself and my work.

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?

While slightly different, at Champlain College, we look to measure wellbeing. Inspired by the book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath and Jim Harter, which includes leading research done by Gallup, Champlain College defines wellbeing as “the combination and interaction between our love of what we do each day, the vibrancy of our physical health, the security of our finances, the quality of our relationships and the pride we take in what we have contributed to our communities.”

Drawing upon the findings from the book’s study that identified the core elements that shape individuals’ wellbeing across 150 countries, Champlain aims specifically to support their faculty and staff across five domains — career, physical, financial, social and community — and has published a resource guide to support these initiatives While the impact of each domain is measured differently, the college tracks participation rates in the variety of programs offered in each domain.

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?

I have been fortunate over the past few years to collaborate with the Wellbeing Lab, a globally renowned team that works to translate the latest wellbeing science into practical, easy-to-use tools and everyday actions for organizations. As their research repeatedly shows, organizations that consistently invest in supporting employee wellbeing find that not only do the employees thrive, but the organization does as well.

Using the Wellbeing Lab Workplace Survey, developed by Dr. Peggy Kern from the University of Melbourne, they have been able to quantify and explore the factors that support and undermine workplace wellbeing. The survey is a variant of The PERMAH Wellbeing Survey and draws upon Dr. Martin Seligman’s (a thought leader in the field of positive psychology) classic six-dimensional framework for wellbeing that measures Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment and Health. As scores on these dimensions rise, so too do other measures such as organizational productivity and profitability rise.

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?

My quick advice would be for them to ask themselves, “How long do I want to be in business?” Yes, there is a real cost to supporting employee wellness, but the costs of not making those investments end up getting paid eventually — with compounding interest.

Organizations that invest in their employee wellbeing receive the benefit of improved recruitment and retention of top talent, increased employee engagement, accelerated innovation, and better decision-making, which all translate into positive bottom-line impacts over time. Organizations who do not invest in their employees’ wellbeing may indeed save a few dollars today, but over the long run they will find themselves increasingly outperformed at every metric by those organizations who have invested in employee wellbeing.

As a starting point, I would encourage organizations to shift from thinking about wellness as a series of programs to the creation of a culture. Start by asking, “How can we create a culture that supports the mental, emotional, and financial wellbeing of our employees?” The answer to that question is not always the implementation of a program that costs a bunch of money, but simply a reimagining of how the workplace operates.

The truth is that many things that can support wellbeing. Creating norms around demonstrating gratitude for others or celebrating successes do not cost a dime but pay back dividends in their impact across the organization!

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?

Many of the organizations I work with are increasingly emphasizing wellness programs as part of their overall recruitment package for new employees. My own organization, Champlain College, highlights a variety of offerings to support employees’ career, physical, financial, social and community wellbeing. Some of benefits include free access to the campus fitness center, as well as discounted memberships to professional gyms, access to telehealth services, and educational benefits for faculty, staff and their dependent children including tuition benefits, on-campus workshops, manager training and continuing education classes.

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? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

Through my work collaborating and consulting with a variety of organizations, I gain the benefit of having an eagle-eye view to observe initiatives happening across different industries. It is interesting to watch how things that were once considered innovative like flexible or remote work have now become almost routine, expected benefits. As a result, organizations are seeking new ways to stand out from the crowd regarding wellbeing. Some of the exciting things I see taking root today include:

  • Mental Wellness: One organization I know of recently implemented No Meeting Wednesdays to decrease disruptions and create more time for reflection and focused work. As a result, teams have reported being more productive, less stressed, and more energized. Similarly, another organization launched an end of day, out of office email policy to help reinforce the norm that emails were not expected to be sent or responded to outside of regular business hours.
  • Emotional Wellness: An organization where I have worked gave all employees a premium subscription to Headspace, an online platform that offers science-backed meditation and mindfulness tools. Employees benefited from access to tools that supported their wellbeing and from a company culture that normalized the notion that investing in one’s wellbeing was important.
  • Social Wellness: An organization I consult with has long held regular days of service where employees work together on a volunteer project in their local community. The benefits are not only a sense of pride and connection to the local community but strengthened bonds with each other as they roll up their sleeves together to accomplish something of meaning.
  • Physical Wellness: One leader I know began implementing “walkie talkies,” weekly check-ins with their direct reports done over a walk outside. This introduced some appreciated physical movement in an otherwise sedentary day of sitting at a desk, and the conversations evolved to be more authentic and impactful when done over a walk.
  • Financial Wellness: My own organization offers a program that provides up to $300 per year to focus on individual health and wellbeing efforts. This program supports employees being able to choose their own approach to wellbeing and engage in activities they otherwise might not be able to afford on their own.

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?

Are you interested in any of the following: saving money through reduced healthcare costs, increasing productivity, decreasing absenteeism, improving recruitment and retention, boosting morale, or simply doing the right thing by your employees? If so, the good news is that there is overwhelming evidence to support that investments in improving employee wellbeing are something that you will benefit from investing in. In fact, there is perhaps no other investment that touches across so many critical outcomes in an organization!

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

I am excited to see that organizations are increasingly investing in education and training for leaders to support their own wellbeing learning, both on how they can be healthier and how they can create cultures of wellbeing for others. From attending professional conferences and workshops to completing certificate programs, I have noticed that more organizations are investing in professional development for leaders to be able to support a “work well” culture.

I personally have been thrilled to be a part of redesigning our own graduate certificate in Positive Organization Development program at Champlain College that includes an entire course entitled, “Creating Cultures of Wellbeing.” The course is designed to provide participants with the science behind wellbeing, and the practical tools and approaches for empowering organizations to cultivate an enduring culture of wellbeing.

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?

A small step that is often skipped (but when done creates tremendous, positive ripples and a strong foundation for creating cultures of wellbeing) is: ask employees what they want and need to support their wellbeing.

It is so simple yet is often a neglected step in many organizations who jump (with good intention) right into implementing new initiatives without ever pausing to involve the employees in the design of those programs. My colleagues have a saying, “Don’t do anything about me without me.” This holds true when it comes to designing wellbeing initiatives in organizations. Rather than assuming that a leader, or even a small team, knows what is best to support employees’ wellbeing and investing time and money into initiatives that may or may not be impactful, start by asking employees a simple question: “What would best support your wellbeing?” You might be surprised by the answer!

The bonus to asking is not only do you discover what will truly matter most to people, but the simple act of asking immediately elevates wellbeing by engaging and including employees, making them to feel valued and heard.

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

1: Increased Mirror Flourishing Initiatives.

An exciting finding emerging from the field of positive psychology is that wellbeing does not just happen from the inside out; it can also happen from the outside in. The concept of mirror flourishing was defined by my colleagues David Cooperrider and Ron Fry to refer to the, “consonant flourishing or growing together that happens naturally and reciprocally to us when we actively engage in or witness the acts that help nature flourish, others flourish, or the world as a whole to flourish.” In other words, when individuals focus their energy on doing good for others in the broader social context, improving the world beyond themselves and the walls of their individual organization, they, in turn, activate mechanisms that support their individual wellbeing and flourishing.

We know that current events, including the global pandemic, equity issues, natural disasters, racial injustice, and economic insecurity have exponentially contributed to the heightened pressures, anxiety, and stress of all. By encouraging employees to do good out in the world — from giving time off to engage in volunteering to launching company-wide community engagement initiatives — organizations can not only help employees increase their own wellbeing, but they can also help to address many of the root causes of the mental and physical stress that wellbeing education is designed to help bolster against.

I anticipate we will see an increase in organizations turning their attention to how they can support solutions to the pressing global issues we face as a society and making it a strategic priority to engage employees in work that benefits the greater good. Because in return, employees and organizations will thrive when they channel their energies toward making the world a better place.

2: Extending Wellness Programs to the Entire Family.

Organizations have slowly realized that it is important to tend to the whole person when supporting their employees (as evidenced by the multidimensional conceptualizations of wellbeing that include supporting individuals mentally, physically, and financially). A natural extension of whole person wellbeing is family wellbeing. While not many organizations yet extend wellness support to employees’ families, I think this is a shift that is on the horizon.

There has long been evidence that when an individual has a healthy home life, they are happier and healthier and, by extension, more engaged and productive at work. COVID-19 only served to exacerbate challenges families face in terms of juggling daycare, school, and caretaking for elderly parents. As organizations seek to support their employees’ wellbeing in the future, they are going to increasingly need to offer broader family supports as well. This might take the form of more support finding daycare (including possible onsite daycare), increased flex time, or allowing family members access to wellbeing programs offered through the organization.

3: Reimagined Workdays.

The concept of flextime is nothing new, but a trend we will see more of in the future is organizational-wide cultures that reconceptualize the work week to help prevent burnout. The idea of the four-day work week may catch on more fully in some organizations, and for those organizations who maintain a more traditional calendar, we will see an increase in setting clear work hours and limits and boundaries on communication outside those times.

Healthy organizations will be those who respect that employees need a separation from work. (Especially for those individuals who are working remotely with their home space and office space one in the same.) Beyond simply suggesting these things, organizations could create policies limiting after-hour work communications, capping the number of hours per week worked, and offering incentives to ensure that employees are regularly taking time off to recharge.

4: Reimagined Workplaces.

With the increased utilization of remote and hybrid work, organizations should ask, “How does the office become a tool to best support the needs of my workforce?” One trend that I suspect will increase is the rise of activity-based working (ABW). As the Academy to Innovate HR notes, ABW “evolves around the idea of giving people the possibility to do their work tasks in a setting that is fully optimized to do that specific activity. Examples of such a setting are silent zones, collaboration zones, learning zones, social zones, etc. ABW is about connecting work activities with an environment that supports or even improves those tasks.”

Rather than having individual offices, with ABW, the office space becomes a multifaceted array of different types of spaces that can be used as needed to support the work to be done — from collaborative team brainstorming to individual work to rest and rejuvenation spaces. This evolution of physical space gives further flexibility to a workforce that is demanding choice in where and how they work. It will not only be a perk that helps in recruiting but will positively impact both employee wellbeing and productivity.

5: Measuring Leaders’ Success Differently.

Recently, in a meeting with a leader at an organization I consult with, the leader shared that they had the flu but were continuing to work remotely despite their ill health. While historically such behavior has been celebrated as commitment to work, in the future we will not see this behavior celebrated or even allowed at work. Increasingly, organizational leaders will be held accountable for being a model of wellbeing for others. From limiting their own out-of-office communications to taking personal time off, from speaking and sharing more fully their own mental health journey to inviting employees to share their own wellbeing needs, leaders will be expected to and measured by their ability to create cultures where everyone thrives.

Wellbeing will not just be championed by designated wellbeing coaches or live within a particular office — leaders at every level will become champions and role models for engaging in wellbeing in its many forms.

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

My greatest source of optimism is that discussions about workplace wellness have moved out of the shadows and into the light of everyday conversations. From the boardroom to the mailroom, the topic of wellbeing is one that is being placed front and center in the world of work today.

While we do not always agree on what it should look like, there is little doubt anymore that we should in fact be taking action to support employees’ wellbeing. There is a crescendo of evidence that should convince even the most skeptical that the ROI on wellbeing is worth the investment.

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?

A great place to connect with me is on LinkedIn where I often share resources and research on topics related to creating healthier workplaces (https://www.linkedin.com/in/drlindseygodwin/) and through the Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College (https://www.champlain.edu/appreciativeinquiry) where I serve as the Academic Director.

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 from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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