6 Takeaways from the 2017 WELCOA Summit: Redefining Wellness

Blog post

Author: Rachel Druckenmiller, Director of Wellbeing, SIG

If I could sum up how I felt after this year’s WELCOA Summit in Omaha in just a few words, I'd say: connected, fully alive and deeply loved.

Having been a WELCOA member since 2007 and a summit attendee over half a dozen times, I’ve found so much connection, community and love in the WELCOA Nation. They are my tribe, a group of incredibly caring and passionate people who are committed to making a difference in the world.

For those of us in the health promotion field, it’s easy to feel like we’re alone in our quest to bring health, hope, and happiness to workplaces. Coming together with hundreds of like-minded peers who deeply care about people always has a way of recharging me, helping me focus, and sending me home with renewed energy and insight.

This year's summit had a different vibe than previous years. It's clear that the wellness profession is making a shift to address topics that were previously not at the heart of most organization's wellness strategies. And the data support what so many of us intuitively know to be important, as we focus on a new business case for wellbeing.

Love, gratitude, compassion, and connection were mentioned in some form by every speaker.

When we practice and experience love, gratitude, compassion and connection, we feel whole and well. When we're feeling those positive emotions, we tend to take better care of ourselves, interact more effectively (and nicely) with other people, and make better decisions because we have a solid foundation. Why not bring more of this kind of wellness to the workplace in a way that is intentional, thoughtful and practical?

Whether you attended the summit in person or just want to know the gist of what was covered, I hope these takeaways help you as you look toward the future of your wellbeing strategies:

1) All You Need Is Love

My friend and colleague,
 MJ Shaar, made this simple phrase the focus of her talk, and other speakers reiterated the importance of love and connection. When we feel cared about and loved, it elevates us and inspires us to take action. And it’s not just a fluffy notion that love belongs in the workplace. People who experience more micromoments of human connection (i.e., love), have better glucose control, lower inflammation, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s, and heightened immune function.

Not only that but compassion is a competitive advantage with benefits like increased innovation, collaboration, adaptability, retention, service quality, and employee and customer engagement. MJ shared some ideas for celebrating compassion in the workplace. Consider observing November 13th - World Kindness Day – or November 28th – World Compassion Day. In fact, the month of November is Care and Compassion at Work Month, so why not take the whole month to spread love in the workplace?

2) Relationships Matter

Earlier this year, I was having a conversation with WELCOA's President, Ryan Picarella. We were talking about the future of wellness, and I asked him what he thought it would look like.

"Community. The future of wellness is community."

We’ve learned a great deal from the longitudinal Harvard Study of Adult Development about what it takes to be well as we age. By studying the same population for over 75 years, researchers found that the greatest predictor of health at age 80 was the quality of people’s relationships at age 50. In addition to Harvard’s research, Gallup has put forth a compelling business case in support of social wellbeing.

Fortunately, workplaces are responding with changes in policies and by paying more attention to employees as human beings, and leaders are calling for the fusion of employee wellbeing and organizational culture. Laura Putnam shared information about a few policies that are taking into account the importance of relationships, including Microsoft’s 4-week family/caregiver leave policy to care for a sick or dying loved one. The Cleveland Clinic created the “Code Lavender" alert to give staff emotional support from a Holistic Services Team when they are in need of support, stressed or feeling burned out.

Quality relationships and social support are essential to our wellbeing. As Reggie Hammond reminded us, "Friendship is essential to the soul." Yet most people are starving for meaningful connection and many employees – about half of CEOs – report feeling lonely in their roles. In this digital age when it’s easier and quicker to send a text or email than spend time investing in people at a deeper level, it’s more important than ever that we focus on fostering relationships rooted in safety and making people feel seen, heard, known and valued.

3) Practice Gratitude Regularly

Most of the presenters touched on this topic at some point during their talks, which is a sign to me that this is a key area of focus if we want to bring
wellbeing to the workplace.

Andrew Horn, CEO and co-Founder of Tribute, shared compelling research on gratitude and its ability to transform psychological wellbeing. He used the acronym VASE (Vulnerability + Appreciation + Support + Energy-Gained = Connection) to introduce his topic. He shared that 87% of recognition programs are based on tenure and have almost no impact on engagement and organizational performance. Andrew offered some ideas for promoting gratitude at work, including a gratitude board with sticky notes, a dedicated slack channel to share appreciation, and a gifting allowance for peers to recognize each other. We learned about his company, Tribute, which makes it easy to create a collaborative video montage that you can give as a gift on any important occasion either for work or for a loved one.

Andrew closed his presentation with this quote, which really resonated with me:

To learn more about this topic, check out these articles: The Key to Employee Morale & Retention, Because Nice Matters: The Gift of Gratitude and 'Tis the Season to Be Present: The Gift of Paying It Forward. To bring a Motivation through Appreciation Training to your workplace, message me or contact me here.

4) Context is King

In our profession, it’s easy to focus on people as the problem, as if they need to be “fixed.” We hear it all the time in conversations:
 “How do we get people to be healthy??”

As I've learned through training with Rosie Ward and Jon Robison, we can create the conditions in which people can motivate themselves, but we can’t make people do things they really don't want to do and expect a meaningful, sustainable behavior change to occur. Through surveying our clients and talking to their HR team, we've found that many employees are just checking the wellness box to get incentive dollars but are not committed to behavior change beyond that. Now is the perfect time to get curious and to ask ourselves:

"Is what we're doing working? If not, what can we do instead?"

Andrew Sykes, BRATLAB and Habits at Work founder, focuses on using context design as a framework to redesign the contexts of Systems, Spaces, Social and Self. People’s motivation and capability (confidence + competence) must exceed the barriers and temptations to engaging in a particular behavior. When we focus on thoughtfully redesigning the context in which people work and live, we’re going to find we have to exert a lot less effort into making them do things they don’t really want to do. We build habits into the environment by design, which leads to more automatic and even unconscious adoption of behaviors. That means we don't have to rely so heavily (if at all) on large incentive budgets.

Another organization that is committed to showing how our building and communities can enhance health and wellbeing is Delos and the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). Paul Scialla, Founder and CEO of Delos and Founder of the IWBI, shared some compelling findings about the impact of workplace design on wellbeing. Through their research, they’ve learned how influential air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and our minds are on our overall health, wellbeing and performance at work. To learn more about the WELL Building Standard and to join the movement to advance healthy places and people everywhere, click here.

5) Think outside the (Wellness) Box

It can be tempting for those of us in the health and wellness field to stick with what is familiar and focus exclusively on topics like nutrition, fitness, sleep and stress. All of those areas of health are important, but it’s imperative that we look beyond our profession for insight. It's time to broaden our approach.

Andrew Sykes, whose work I stumbled upon early in my career, reminded us in his opening keynote of Anaïs Nin’s wise words:

“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.”

So often, we can get stuck in our wellness bubble and think OUR reality is THE reality, when it’s really just A reality. We have to be willing to be open and curious if we want to grow, connect and innovate.

We’re called to be “constructively disruptive,” a term my friend, mentor and colleague Brian Passon defines as, “professionally, positively, productively questioning / challenging the status quo and, if necessary, replacing what we have with what we might imagine.” Spend time with people outside of the wellness profession. Read books about business, marketing, leadership, philosophy, history, fiction, and the social sciences.

Geno Church, Word of Mouth Inspiration Officer at Brains on Fire, a creative company that believes in the power of human connection, shared insights from the world of marketing and branding. He taught us how we can engage with our communities more effectively by using a "shared (pirate) ship" model to share stories, bring people together and make a difference.

As we expand our knowledge base beyond the traditional approach to wellness, we can offer a richer perspective when working with clients and colleagues. By taking these steps, we can move wellbeing out of its silo and into the context of organizational culture and strategic planning.

6) Redefine Success

For much of our recent history, the wellness field has defined success in limited terms that don't reflect a full picture of what it means to be well. As I’ve learned
 through my own personal experience, your cholesterol and blood pressure can be in a healthy range, you can know what your numbers are, and you can show up for events but still be very sick and not truly well at all.

As a profession, it's time we redefine "success" in broader terms than pounds lost, cholesterol points dropped, or the number of employees who showed up for a flu shot clinic.

Reflect back on what Harvard researchers discovered. Quality relationships are the key to wellbeing. Yet how often do we talk about building relationships as a core focus of our wellness strategies? At SIG, we use Gallup's model of wellbeing, which integrates social, career, physical, community and financial wellbeing. It's a holistic model that recognizes that humans are complex and that many factors impact our wellbeing. Metrics like Glassdoor ratings, retention rates, number of loans or withdrawals against the 401(k), anxiety and depression prescriptions, participation in social events, and utilization of volunteer and PTO benefits could be alternative indicators of employee and organizational wellbeing.

I dealt with a pretty bad case of burnout earlier this year after spending a lifetime chasing success by society’s standards. I was eating plenty of kale and quinoa and working out, but I was not well. The sickness I ended up with turned out to be a gift and has since changed my life. It gave me time to reflect and remind myself of the importance of slowing down, resting, setting boundaries, investing in relationships and taking the time to nourish and nurture myself, so I could heal. I'm learning to redefine success personally but also feel compelled to do so professionally.

Vic Strecher, researcher and professor at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health, has dedicated his life's work to redefining success. Through his teaching, writing, and technology, he invites us to find and connect with our purpose. In his session, he shared what struck me as a new definition of success: aim to live a life of harmonious passion. People who are described as having harmonious passion:

Feel in control of their work, feel good about themselves while working, and find their work to be in harmony with their other activities.

If we're honest, aren't we all striving to do this? Don't we want to feel a sense of autonomy, well-being, and harmony in our lives? To feel that what we do outside of work aligns with instead of competes with what we do and who we are while working?What if some of the goals of our wellness or wellbeing efforts were to draw people closer to what already matters to them and invite them to consider a new definition of success?

It's necessary for us to redefine success not only within our profession but in the broader world of business. The final speaker of the conference, NYT best-selling author, John Perkins, emphasized the importance of transitioning to a new economic system that holds leaders accountable for taking care of and loving their employees, their clients, and the planet. By broadening our focus, we can impact the triple bottom line for the better - people, planet and profit. To learn more about that approach, join us at the Love Summit business conference in Cincinnati in October, where I'll be speaking, along with a few other colleagues and friends from the WELCOA summit.

As we look to the future of wellbeing and business, let's get curious, ask questions, and listen.

Let's redefine what it means to be successful, think outside the box, practice gratitude regularly, design our environment to shape behavior, pay attention to and connect with people, and remind ourselves that love and taking care of people are at the core of who we are and why we do what we do.

What do you see as the future of wellness? Were there any other takeaways from the summit that you'd like to share? Feel free to leave a comment below.

If you liked this post, check out a few other articles I've written:

Don't forget to register for SIGU's upcoming webinar, Future of Wellbeing on November 14th featuring our Director of Wellbeing, Rachel Druckenmiller!

Register Here