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Working Well: Tracy L Lawrence Of The Lawrence Advisory On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

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 Tracy L. Lawrence.

Tracy L. Lawrence is the Founder and CEO of The Lawrence Advisory, a leadership consulting firm that advises Fortune 500 clients, major nonprofits, and financial services firms on executive recruiting, organizational effectiveness, and creating healthy work cultures. Lawrence recently served as the first Executive-in-Residence at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, advising faculty, administration, and students on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. She holds a BA in Economics from Stanford University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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.

When I entered the working world after graduating from Harvard Business School, I thought that my value was determined by how hard I was willing to work. My education and experience at that point taught me that putting in long hours was the pathway to success. You wanted to be the last person leaving the office at the end of the day, and you wanted everyone to see that you arrived early in the morning, too. I worked weekends and even pulled a few all-nighters in order to get ahead. I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do, but I was miserable. I had no passion in my work life. One day, I looked around the office and realized that I couldn’t identify anyone at the senior level whose job (or life) I would ever want. Why was I even there?

It took me many years to realize that I had to define my own measure of success, and that ultimately self-actualization comes from living your purpose. I always felt a pull towards becoming an entrepreneur, and when I started my business my stress level came down significantly and my health improved. Although I have more responsibility than I had when working for a company, now work doesn’t even feel like work. It feels like I just show up as myself, and I am adding tremendous value to my clients. I am living and working in a state of flow more often, and through my work I have found a way to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

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 have a boutique consulting firm with a team of professionals who have chosen to do this work because they love it. We define wellness for our team as making sure that work supports and integrates into the personal life. We enjoy each other and treat each other with respect. When I started my business, the first rule I discussed with one of my coworkers was the prioritization of hiring people who are emotionally healthy. I would never employ someone who would be disrespectful or act out of any kind of dysfunctional behavior. I believe that work should enrich the lives of my employees. We work virtually, and offer unlimited time off as long as we discuss it in advance. I trust the people who work for me to know how to prioritize, and they have never let me down.

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 advise corporate clients on how to create inclusive and engaging work cultures. I have seen toxic work cultures result in millions of dollars in cost overages, not to mention the high cost of employee turnover. Most notably, toxic workplaces cause employees to focus more on self-protection as opposed to making decisions that are right for the business. It’s just an incredible waste of time and resources, and can be disastrous to the bottom line. In our consulting work, we are often able to pinpoint the financial costs of this kind of culture, and work holistically to address the root causes as well as identify financial remedies.

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?

Toxic work cultures result in greater absences, higher turnover, and an inability to execute against your strategy. On the other hand, there is substantial research that highlights the benefits of having a highly engaged and inclusive workforce. We advise clients that these are issues that have a direct impact on the bottom line.

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?

In our executive recruiting practice, we find that questions of quality of life are by far the top concerns expressed by attractive candidates these days. This is one of the most challenging environments for recruiting that we have seen in many years, so the ability to offer workplace flexibility and a culture that supports overall wellness is a huge benefit in acquiring and retaining talent. Before beginning a recruiting assignment, we identify what benefits, policies, and practices the company has to offer to candidates that support both emotional and physical wellness. Benefits like this can be even more important than salary in some cases.

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.

  • Mental Wellness: Many of our clients offer resources like therapists or counselors to employees to support them in difficult times.
  • Emotional Wellness: Hybrid work schedules are something more and more employees are looking for. Offering employees this flexibility resonates well with women as well as people from marginalized groups who may have unique challenges in the workplace.
  • Social Wellness: We train managers in conflict resolution and inclusive leadership practices so that they can play a leadership role in creating a healthy work culture that encourages engagement and a sense of belonging to all employees.
  • Physical Wellness: One aspect of physical wellness that is often overlooked is the development of support for employees with disabilities, whether visible or invisible. Many employees with disabilities don’t even feel comfortable reporting them, despite protections offered from the Americans with Disabilities Act. This is an important aspect of developing an inclusive workplace.
  • Financial Wellness: The availability of financial education and outside experts in the office can go a long way towards addressing this source of stress for employees.

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?

Many large companies adopt policies designed to support wellness, but they fail to train their senior leaders to practice these values. Shifting an organization’s culture really has to begin with taking an honest look at leadership to understand what behaviors are truly rewarded and how those rewards are expressed. Culture happens one interaction at a time and if organizations are not intentional about this, they can undermine efforts initiated through their human resources and benefits departments.

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

We are consultants with expertise in building and maintaining healthy cultures. We focus on staying on top of industry trends and developments from this standpoint.

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?

Take inventory of where you want to be vs where you really are with respect to building a culture that emphasizes wellness.

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

  1. The evolving role of the Chief Human Resources Officer: The combined impacts of the pandemic and resulting hybrid work environment, an elevated interest in DEI, and the Great Resignation have elevated the role of human resources professionals, highlighting the need to incorporate the shifting needs in the workplace in the organization’s strategy at a much higher level.
  2. More explicit focus on mental health: Many organizations are embracing the prioritization of mental health through flexible work schedules and allowing employees to work from home when possible. In addition, for the first time, organizations are more open to discussing emotional well-being at work.
  3. Stress Management: We are finding many clients implementing policies like “meeting free Fridays,” or even rules about sending emails after certain times of the day. Respect for the stress levels of employees is now something that is incorporated into policies and programs.
  4. Paid Time Off Policies: More and more organizations are expanding their Paid Family Leave policies, and allowing for unlimited time off. In a time of unprecedented resignations and difficulty attracting candidates, such policies can be tremendously helpful in attracting and retaining talent.
  5. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging: More explicit focus on DEIB efforts increases morale and mental health among employees. These programs are continuing to grow and expand.

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

As younger generations enter the workforce, they naturally bring an interest in mental health and wellness, and are more likely to speak openly about these issues. I love the enthusiasm and candor that they have introduced into the workplace.

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?

You can follow us on our website for updates at https://thelawrenceadvisory.com

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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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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