Today, 70% of U.S. employers offer a of wellness program, and the typical motivation behind these programs is not a mystery. When an employer pays for its workforce’s health insurance, an individual’s health becomes a matter of self-interest.
But it’s not difficult to make the argument that providing a path to wellness is just plain human. As a 2015 report by the nonprofit Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) makes clear, there is much to be gained by a more human approach to wellness in our work lives. The HERO authors write that while “senior business leaders turn to workforce [wellness] initiatives in an effort to control healthcare costs,” there is much to be said for a “broader value proposition such as increased productivity and performance, higher engagement and morale, and lower turnover rates.”
I came across one exemplary company that personifies well-being in everything it does–in its mission, its values, and its own wellness. The company, Vynamic, is a Philadelphia-based consulting firm that specializes in healthcare. The goal of its CEO, Dan Calista, is to build the healthiest company in the world. Judging from what I’ve seen, he’s right on track.
Employees choose their own projects
One of Calista’s most foundational well-being initiatives is also his most radical. He allows consultants to select their projects and their locations, instead of the more conventional “go where the job is” and “do what you’re told” approach of most (if not all) other consulting firms. This creates a “no-debt environment” for Calista, where consultants don’t need to do their managers any favors by taking on projects they don’t want. Being asked to go on such projects can foster resentment and an ingrained focus on payback instead of the goodwill Calista wants among the ranks.
I have to admit that when I first heard about this strategy, I was cynical. In my experience as a consultant, as much as leaders want to give employees like me a choice, at the end of the day if the leadership development project I was working on was based in Kentucky, I was going to be on the next plane to Kentucky. Yet at Vynamic, consultants really do get a vote. They don’t have to go to Kentucky if they don’t feel like it.
By allowing his employees to have a say in choosing their projects, Calista is honoring his most important relationship–the one with his employees–and building kindness into the very fabric of the company. Calista believes this commitment to wellness leads to a more loyal workforce. Vynamic’s attrition rate is 10% compared to between 15% and 20% for other comparable consultancies.
In other words, people want to stay. Another plus side is that since employees are working on projects that make them happy, they tell their friends about their amazing job. This opens the door to other quality applicants. At a time when most firms like his are desperate for top talent, Calista hires just 1.4% of its qualified applicants, a full 70% of which come from employee referrals.
Working well-being into the day-to-day
About five years ago, Laura Pappas, one of Calista’s consultants, approached him about her growing interest in the field of wellness coaching. Sensing an opportunity and wanting to encourage his employee, Calista invited Pappas to pursue that interest and even offered to pay for her to become a Certified Health Coach (CHC). This is how Vynamic’s very own “health and care” position was born.
Having an onsite coordinator of health and care makes it clear to everyone that Calista means business in his commitment to well-being. Vinamic started offering wellness benefits like healthy snacks, treadmill desks, ergonomically correct chairs, and special LED lights.
Of course, wellness is more than just taking care of your body. One of Pappas’s “health and care” initiatives is called Be Your Best Self. This is a customized coaching and empowerment program for employees who want to set personal goals–be it financial or emotional–and receive help meeting them. For instance, if an employee wants to start practicing mindfulness, Pappas will help that person find a good program, pay for an introductory class, and then follow up on a regular basis. Recently, Pappas decided she wanted to return to her consulting role. Calista helped transition Pappas back into consulting, and another employee raised her hand to oversee Vynamic’s health and care program.
Vynamic’s “three amigos” communication structure
Vynamic has a communication structure called the “Three Amigos.” This framework refers to three very different relationships employees can call upon in different capacities. The Three Amigos are your “go- to,” your counselor, and your account manager. While all three serve as potential mentors and coaches, each plays a different role. Your go-to is the person who can answer practical questions about your current project (what many companies would call your supervisor or project manager), your counselor is a person you have chosen as a career mentor, and your account manager is the person who manages the client relationship.
Because these relationships are so important, their development is not left to chance. There are very clear guidelines in place for how to communicate. For instance, “30 in 30” for go-tos mean that that an employee is expected to spend a minimum of 30 minutes checking in with his or her go-to every 30 days. Everyone in this circle contributes to the employee’s performance reviews
No work emails between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and on weekends
Calista’s entrepreneurial wisdom has been good for his company’s business. In 2017, Vynamic’s revenue was $24.5 million, placing it in line with similar-sized consultancies. In July 2017, the company was acquired by UDG Healthcare.
Calista’s consultants call Vynamic the “utopia of consulting” because of the healthy guardrails he has established around his employees’ work lives, which cover the “what” and the “how” of employee well-being. But it’s Calista’s response to “When?” that has garnered him the most accolades of all. Calista’s zzzMail policy eliminates work emails between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and on the weekends.
NBC correspondent Jo Ling Kent asked Calista how this radically human program was affecting the bottom line. Calista confessed, “It actually helps it. That’s the crazy secret.” When Kent pressed, “By how much?” Calista laughed and countered, “Well, it’s long-term sustainability. Every year we grow profits.”
Can’t introduce these measures in your company? Just be nice
Former surgeon general Dr. Vivek H. Murthy made a startling statement in 2016. He declared that the most common disease in the U.S. is neither cancer nor heart disease. Rather, it is isolation and social disconnection that afflict most Americans. Murthy also reported that programs that address emotional well-being have a positive impact on employee health and workplace productivity.
So if you feel a little overwhelmed after reading about Vynamic’s super-success, or if you simply don’t have the bandwidth to launch a comprehensive wellness program, Christine Porath, professor of management at Georgetown University, has great news for you. Author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace, Porath writes about how the “epidemic of rudeness” is responsible for a whole host of health problems. She writes that incivility can deplete our immune system and cause cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and ulcers. Adding injury to insult, Porath reports, a recent study on civility in a medical setting revealed how just one rude comment negatively affected both diagnostic and procedural performance by up to 52%.
Porath reminds us, simply, that if you’re not sure where to start, wonder no more. Just be nice. And make sure your employees are, too.
This article is adapted from Bring Your Human to Work: 10 Surefire Ways to Design a Workplace That Is Good for People, Great for Business, and Just Might Change The World by Erica Keswin. It is reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill Education.