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

An Interview with Karen Mangia

This article’s focus is on creating a wellbeing-focused workplace culture and it includes programs that support Mental Wellness, Emotional Wellness, Social Wellness, Physical Wellness, and Financial Wellness. This trend is only going to increase in the future.

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 Sara Sheehan.

Sara Sheehan, PCC, is a consultant and Executive Coach who works with C-Level executive leaders in designing organizations, developing business strategies, managing change, optimizing talent and leadership development, and solving complex human performance problems. Through executive coaching, Sara helps leaders sprint their way up the corporate ladder and increase their performance.

During Sara’s 25+ years in business, she has worked with leaders, teams, and organizations in Fortune 100 companies and individuals. Sara specializes in change management, talent and leadership development, executive coaching, and organization design. As a collaborative, results-orientated coach, Sara provides support and practical feedback to help clients effectively navigate change and address business challenges. She also integrates coaching techniques, methods, and approaches to help her clients develop change capabilities and learn to apply them right away. With a servant leadership mindset, she supports her clients in building new skills and customizes frameworks to her client’s project needs. Sara works with clients based on her network, referrals, and appointment.

Sara has been featured both nationally and internationally on podcasts as an expert on topics of change management, talent and leadership development, executive coaching, and organization design.

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.

The pandemic caused an automatic shift in work from in-person, remote, and now hybrid. It was about this time that I also realized that I can’t work until midnight every night and stay operational, healthy, and productive. This was a tumultuous time as we were able to return to our restored home following a fire and it at least gave us more comfort and space. I was looking for my next opportunity during this period and I knew that I was being led to change my relationship with work and how I show up in my career. The pandemic really caused me to take a hard look at how I could create a path to success that would be aligned with my core values, protect my well-being, and deliver great work for the clients I love. Then the right people started coming into my life that supported me whether it was clients, smaller specialty firms I could partner with, referral partners, and people that connect me to the people I needed to know. Consulting projects began to come my way and executive coaching clients started scheduling time with me. One thing has led to another and I am grateful that my business is currently growing.

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 fully embrace the holistic view that wellness encompasses mental, physical, and financial health. I also believe it is possible to be a successful company without having employees working a 70-hour workweek. There are a small handful of firms out there that do excellent work where employees are not working overtime. My goal is to build an organization that is aligned with this way of doing business. I don’t have employees yet, but I intend to support the removal of barriers to access. Stipends for wellness, access to employee well-being programs, expectations around work style, and authentic care for the individuals and families we touch are all important to me. Measuring wellness means we are accountable and taking advantage of the opportunities to take care of ourselves. I envision a survey that documents what well-being programs people like, use, and tell others about, as well as find out what people would like to change, or remove from the well-being menu.

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?

Based on my work with a team and organizational performance, a good workforce is directly correlated to higher employee engagement, higher revenues, higher customer satisfaction, more creativity, innovation, increased productivity, improved delivery excellence or quality, increased business benefits, and more profit margin. By assessing team and organizational performance regularly, you can address issues and keep your organization in a healthy state from a well-being perspective, as well as from a financial perspective. This is a smart way to do business.

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?

This ROI is significant and needs to be the fuel for change in health and wellness. I am talking openly about asking your employees what they need to be supported from a mental health and well-being perspective, as well as encouraging employees to speak up if they are not getting what they need. With the struggles brought on by the pandemic, the stigma in mental healthcare is diminishing, thankfully. The hard truth is a mental health issue is a medical issue that must be addressed as it can be debilitating and potentially life-ending. We need to support our employees from a health and wellness perspective.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank well-being as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

Providing options in wellness is very important to me. I am currently getting educated on what’s available, what’s developing in emerging well-being offerings, and thinking through the kind of well-being culture I want to create. Well-being offerings are something that would be a critical foundation for the recruitment and hiring processes in any organization.

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.

There are 5 core programs and/or principles that I am passionate about offering that help guide employee wellness. You can find those 5 programs/principles below, as well as the benefits they offer to an employee’s mental health and overall well-being in the workplace.

  • Mental Wellness: I love the opportunity that on-demand mental health services provide through ease of access, privacy, and support.
  • Emotional Wellness: I support making sure people take real vacations from work even if they don’t go anywhere. Turn off the laptop and the cell phone for a week and do something you love outside of work or travel the world. I am not sure about unlimited PTO, but I want vacation time to be honored and taken rather than storing it up over the years.
  • Social Wellness: I am open to emerging programs in this area! I am in a small group at church and this serves as one community I am involved in. I’ve also got other groups where I gather with friends that provide support and make a huge difference in my life.
  • Physical Wellness: I support a stipend for a gym membership, or an annual amount that you could use toward a physical piece of equipment in your home, like a peloton bike. For a benefit like this, I’m good with someone using the stipend every year and creating a home gym or just staying engaged at their local gym.
  • Financial Wellness: I love companies that provide wealth planning services! Everyone can benefit from this.

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?

Investing in employee wellness has a huge return on investment and business benefits, including higher employee engagement, higher revenues, higher customer satisfaction, and more creativity. Workplaces would also benefit from investing in employee wellness as it increases innovation, productivity, improved delivery excellence or quality of work and increased business benefits to the bottom line. All in all, these aid in elevating and increasing higher profit margins in the business.

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

I support setting boundaries through the workday and week by setting a standard of no overtime. There may be a once in a blue moon situation that requires a later than average finish to deliver a proposal for a client, but I literally can’t work until midnight every day anymore. I’ve done this regularly at previous firms and I do not have any interest in working this way ever again. My goal is to work in a good culture that is focused on personal and organizational wellness. If we are well, we will succeed. This kind of reskilling is behavior change at its essence. Some people may need to go through a 90-day or more process to detox from this way of thinking and being, and they may need a playbook to support them in this transition to wellness-oriented behavior.

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?

Set some basic standards for what wellness means for your organization and get people aligned on what behaviors they can start practicing to make it come to life. It could be as basic as exercising regularly, meeting with a wealth planner twice a year, contacting a mental health professional when you need it, and/or finding some communities outside of work where you invest your time and talents.

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

  1. Remote and hybrid workplace:

In March of 2020 when the COVID-19 shutdown began, the world changed how it worked. Workplaces that can support remote and hybrid work immediately shifted. Now that we are at a different stage of the pandemic, some workplaces are shifting back to in-person, opting to go with a hybrid approach, or shifting to a permanent remote workplace. Hybrid means for some companies that they are in the office a certain number of days a week with the rest remote. For some businesses, hybrid means that a global meeting happens in one location with part of the participants in-person and part of the participants on Zoom or Teams. The decisions around what is best will continue to be a moving target based on COVID-19 variant activity and the focus on wellness the business world takes.

2. Wellbeing-focused culture:

This article’s focus is on creating a wellbeing-focused workplace culture and it includes programs that support Mental Wellness, Emotional Wellness, Social Wellness, Physical Wellness, and Financial Wellness. This trend is only going to increase in the future.

3. Technology and online tools to support remote and hybrid workplaces:

To make the remote and hybrid workplace work smoothly, the critical thing starts with a reliable internet connection, laptops, and computers that work, both of which were already table stakes in the modern working world. However, now we need tools and platforms that make it run smoothly like cloud-based collaborative platforms such as ClickUp, Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Monday, and Mural.

4. Focusing on talent optimization as a business strategy driver in the great resignation and restructuring:

Talent Optimization is the process of aligning your business strategy with your talent strategy to achieve the desired business outcomes. It involves hiring strategically, designing balanced teams, diagnosing issues with employee engagement, and inspiring leadership engagement. As a certified Predictive Index partner, the power of an established, statistically reliable, and valid tool that takes only 6 minutes to take, includes a behavioral and cognitive assessment, along with a cutting edge software platform is an unmatched combination and adds tremendous value to the organizations that utilize it.

5. Developing more leaders at more levels of every organization:

Besides prioritizing well-being, organizations need to focus on developing more leaders across every level in their organization. The business results of developing leaders are significant. It creates leaders that can plan better, delegate work, make decisions, act, and manage quality better. More leaders are willing to step up and get experience. Cross-functional teams deliver more business benefits and more profit margin. Whether you are working in person, hybrid, or remotely, organizations can benefit by developing more leaders at more levels.

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

Following the pandemic, as we continue to see new variants of COVID-19, workplace wellness is now on the top of the list of what employees are looking for in their employer of choice. This means the workforce across every generation desires a good culture to work in. From graduating seniors in college, all the way up to our most experienced Seniors that are still working, everyone is interested in being healthier, being part of a healthier lifestyle, and contributing to a good workplace culture.

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?

To connect with me, you can visit my website at www.sarawsheehan.com as well as send me a connection request on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/Sara-Sheehan. I look forward to connecting with the readers!

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.

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Karen Mangia

Karen Mangia

VP at Salesforce | Author | Keynote Speaker