How HR Leaders Approach Wellness Programs to Improve Employee Experience

Written by: Team Welligence

April 12, 2022

The Welligence team recently attended HR West conference in Oakland, California. While the team was there to promote the courses, perspectives, and thought leadership Welligence offers for managers and companies, they were encouraged by the conversations, presentations, and focus on employee wellness that they observed at the conference.

The need for more focus and programs that promote employee wellness and improve awareness about various challenges, including mental health in the workplace was evident in the number of vendors in the exhibit halls that were talking about services that somehow related to wellness.

Even the keynotes and breakout sessions were often tied to wellness, with one entire learning track dedicated to the topic. For the Welligence team, it was those learning and professional development sessions that helped them identify trends around how organizations prioritize and communicate their wellness at work policies and programs.

These four sessions were representative of the conversations companies are having about workplace wellness: 

  1. “Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent During the Pandemic”, Panel Discussion

  2. “Creating a Great Human Experience at Work”, Scott Johnson, Motivosity, and Tobias Dennehy, Siemens

  3. “Lessons Learned in Building an Inclusive, People-Centered Strategy for Employee Engagement”, Dee Olomajeye, Senti Biosciences

  4. “Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay”, Dr. Beverly Kaye

As the team reflected on these sessions, they synthesized several key takeaways.

“Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent During the Pandemic”

  • Matt Charney, Community Leader, Talent Acquisition, (moderator)

  • Amanda Townsend, Head of Talent, Canaan Partners

  • Sergio Martinez, Senior Director, Talent Acquisition, Golden State Warriors

  • Alexandra Degg, Senior Human Resources Division Partner, Berkeley Lab

This lively discussion led by Matt Charney featured conversation centered around how each company was able to recruit and retain talent during one of the tightest labor markets seen in many years.

Because the discussion was primarily reflective of the past two years, the first question posed to the panel was “What advice would you give yourself going back to March 2020?” Sergio Martinez commented on the necessity to pivot from pure recruiting efforts to DEI education and other topics that arose through the crisis. He found himself referring to the employee resources groups (ERGs) often in those hardest months to help him navigate employee needs.

Alexandra Degg had several actions she took from learning how to engage with remote employees to getting the IT teams involved in orchestrating fun group events. She talked about how during interviews with candidates she was often asked questions related to how the department engaged with employees and the ERGs they had to support employees. Amanda Townsend found she had to champion a shift in attitudes to treat employees like humans instead of like workers.

From there the panelists dove into the ways they handled recruitment in this new world. They all needed talent and they needed to find ways to widen their talent pools. The question was raised as to whether anyone lowered their requirements during this time to just get people in the seats. The answer is, “no”. They may, however, lean more on experience at a time like this. As one panelist put it, it “wasn’t about lowering expectations, it’s figuring out the non-negotiables, determining what is trainable and coachable, and deciding what you can live without.” Heads around the room nodded in agreement.

The panelists also discussed what it means to be successful as a recruiter in this market. They decided it included an appetite for learning, empathy, and a desire for change. It also means developing relationships with HR business partners and building account management competencies. Most significant to the Welligence team, the panelists noted that recruiters have to learn to speak to DEI and all the wellness-related topics with candidates—it is what they are listening for now.  After all, we are all participating in DEI, we don’t just work in it.

“Creating a Great Human Experience at Work “

Scott Johnson, Motivosity, and Tobias Dennehy, Siemens

Pairing the founder and CEO of a growing employee engagement and recognition software company with the head of people experience for a German multinational conglomerate and the largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe offered a contrasting view of how large companies might handle employee experience initiatives in comparison to smaller companies.

Here are a few of the most impactful statements we heard from Johnson and Dennehy

  • DEI is like a compass, not a destination.

  • We need to call it people experience instead of employee experience. They are more than employees.

  • Companies should co-create solutions for the future with the employees. Employees need to be included in the process.

  • It isn’t enough to listen; you need to take action. Lead workshops, provide resources to react to the input you hear, and consider design-thinking sprints on topics of interest.

  • Companies need to transform from one-size-fits-all to one-size-fits-one when planning solutions and offering resources.

  • Some interactions need to be fun and give you a good feeling. Other interactions simply need to work well – like the software used for administrative tasks.

Dennehy reflected on the fear that some executives have about losing control. He encourages them to trust in the processes and in their people leaders to let the company succeed. As with any large organization that cares about its people, Siemens gathers input, ideas, and feedback from its employees through many different modalities. However, assembling the data from the myriad of sources to identify themes and construct cohesive solutions is admittedly harder than it should be. He knows there are many of the right questions being asked, it is just not that easy to assemble the answers in one single place and to understand the needs and perspectives of individuals in their large employee base.

Managers can sometimes not understand the necessity of changing their style in the name of employee experience improvement. Dennehy recommends gaining the interest of managers by grabbing them by the topics that interest them, and tying initiatives to the topics close to their mission. Demonstrate the connection between their team’s performance metrics and their leadership styles and ability to show concern for team members on a day-to-day basis.

Lessons Learned in Building an Inclusive, People-Centered Strategy for Employee Engagement 

Dee Olomajeye, Senti Biosciences

In this session, the presenters held their audience in rapt attention. It was as if each person was laser-focused on every word Olomajeye said. While her objective was to give the attendees her insights and lessons learned in a human-centered innovative people organization, she gave so much more than that. Everything she said infused the audience with inspiration, awe, and appreciation.

Olomajeye’s 7 lessons learned:

  1. We can do hard things: How are we preparing to thrive in this constantly evolving reality?

  2. Assume good intent

  3. Use your voice

  4. Play your position fully

  5. Make the big ask

  6. DEI: Do or do not: There is no in-between in action

  7. Culture is co-created by everyone: Don’t just have answers

Olomajeye makes it her business to speak up on behalf of other people and is often an advocate for others. She likes to use phrases such as “let’s do this a little differently” and “let’s find ways to…” to get people to think in new ways. She reminded the audience that everyone likes to be talked to and asked their opinion. Leaders can help change practices and speed the adoption of new programs by having conversations about what is coming.

 As one of those rare leaders who both inspire and affirm, Olomajeve demonstrates the rare qualities of leadership that draws people in and makes them want to be part of what you are doing and listen to what you have to say. Olomajeve’s presentation seemed to pass in an instant. Her ability to tie her points to real-life situations and today’s corporate environment made each idea concrete and relevant to everyone in the room. The team hopes to hear her speak again soon so they can continue to learn from this passionate, thoughtful leader in the HR industry.

“Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay”

Dr. Beverly Kaye

The closing keynote speaker, Dr. Beverly Kaye is a force to be reckoned with. Her expertise has been built over a multi-decade career in employee experience. She has written numerous books on the topic and knows how employees must feel and be treated if a company wants to retain them. Her main ideas in this session related to developing people so they can grow, improving relationships at work, and cultivating a strong culture.

Kaye points out that people want to know how the company they are joining will treat them. Whether they ask the questions directly, or try to discern the answer through job sites or on social media, there are a few key areas that all prospective employees want to know.

Here are the 5 key questions job seekers are asking:

  1. Will you use all of my talents?

  2. Will you offer me feedback?

  3. Will you discuss trends and what is changing?

  4. Will you offer multiple ways to grow?

  5. Will you offer to co-design an action plan?

Kaye had each person in the audience consider each question and rate their manager on how well they meet those needs. Then, for the people leaders in the room, she had each person rate themselves on how well they meet the criteria for their direct reports.

Kaye then challenged each manager to listen during conversations in a new way. She asked everyone to listen for input, motivators, challenges, and “blinking” words. The blinking word is the one that a leader can use to say “tell me more about that.” This response during a conversation allows the exchange to go deeper. It encourages everyone to augment their high-level ideas with specific examples.

As Kaye introduced ideas about developing a strong culture within a company, she reminded the audience that a toxic culture is 10 times more likely to cause attrition than low compensation.

While the entire HR West conference was valuable for the Welligence team, each of these sessions made an impact in important ways. Learning from people on the front lines and those who are researching the employee experience, helped to affirm the work they are doing as they build and refine the Welligence course offerings to address the challenges and mental health wellness needs in today’s corporate environment.

On a different note, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the last theme the team observed. Namely, socks. Apparently, the new trend in conference swag is socks. Fun socks, practical socks, tube socks, low cut socks, logo socks. You name it and that style of sock was available from vendors. On top of coming home armed with new insights, each team member also had at least one new pair of socks to help them stay cozy during their workday. And that is a feel-good tool that can feed one’s wellness needs also.

So, whether you are in fuzzy sock mode or intense learning mode, the key takeaway from this conference is to take action that will bring the kinds of employee benefits that will help you achieve your company’s wellness at work goals.

Ready to learn more? At Welligence, we specialize in mental health training programs for the workplace. Our courses are designed to lead companies to overcome the stigma of mental health concerns by way of education and implementation of workplace wellness best practices. Find out how we can help you normalize the mental health conversation in your workplace.