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Lee Schneider: This is the Cult/Tech Podcast. I’m Lee Schneider. Limeade is a corporate wellness technology company that drives employee engagement. The platform inspires happier, healthier and more productive employees.
Henry Albrecht: One of the amazing things that I love about what’s going on in the market now versus ten years ago is 10 years ago we would bring up topics of resilience or mindfulness or just the word well-being and corporate HR and benefits leaders and even CEOs would kind of laugh us out of the room.
Lee: Henry Albrecht is CEO and board director of Limeade and he joins me today on the podcast to talk about how companies are implementing effective workplace wellness programs.
Lee: Henry, welcome to the podcast.
Henry: Thanks, Lee. Great to be here.
Lee: We have to start with a big question. Why is workplace well-being important?
Henry: Well, it’s important to me because I’ve found that my life at work has a huge impact on my life at home and my relationships with my friends and family and how I feel every day. And it’s important for companies to think about because we’ve seen that employee well-being is directly related to all kinds of amazing business outcomes, not just health and the related health costs of people but actually the performance of people on their jobs and employee retention and attracting talent. It’s a double whammy. It’s personally and professionally important.
Lee: Let’s dig into that a little bit. Why is it important both to employees — we get why people would be happier, healthier – but what are the benefits also for employers?
Henry: The employee one is pretty simple. We actually use kind of the voice of the human being to determine what well-being is. If someone says overall I have will be in my life in all the different dimensions of that that we measure in the Limeade software product. It’s pretty clear that there are huge variations in personal well-being and that people know when they have well-being and or they don’t. We’ve found that on the corporate side when people have higher well-being and they kind of feel that their company generally cares about their well-being, which we also measure, they’re more engaged at work. And Ayaan Hewitt has said that it’s 1 percent uptick in engagement is directly related to I think a point six percent uptick in revenue. There are 10 times less likely to be hostile employees. They are 17 percent more likely to still be there in a year and they’re 18 percent more likely to go the extra mile. So I think in pretty much every measure of vibrant energized workforce, well-being is a driving factor of that.
Lee: Yeah, that’s pretty amazing. Those are interesting stats. I’ve heard them before and it’s great to see some people putting actual numbers to this. Now, what are some of the programs that have been actually successful that contribute to workplace wellness.
Henry: Yeah, there’s a couple of really simple rules for what makes a winning program versus maybe not so winning program. The first one is treating the whole person as a person. That means not just isolating the people who are expensive to insure or really struggling, but make the program broad and social and positive and about physical, emotional, financial and work well-being. So one key to successful programs versus ones that aren’t so successful is try to take in the whole person and also their motivation not just where they are right now but what do they care about what do they want to work on. Get that intrinsic motivation.
And I think that whole person approach is a full half of what you have to do to have a great program.
Another half is how can the organization support that person. What is the company doing with its leadership with the managers the line managers with teams and peers with social networks. Even things like the physical environment and the benefits strategy. What are people doing to support the person’s whole person wellbeing. So we often see that the big difference between success and not great success, even within our book of business is is the employer really committed to the well-being of their people or is this just a box they’re checking because they want to look at employees.
Lee: Motivation you brought that up a moment ago and I wanted to dig into that because thats a very complicated thing right.What is motivation and how do you motivate people. Are fitness trackers like Fitbit a good or a bad idea? How do you get people personally invested in their own health. It seems logical right. It seems like they would anyway. But it seems to also require a bit of effort on the employers’ part.
Henry: That’s a good question. The first half of motivation isn’t about how do you motivate people. How do you eliminate barriers to them doing what they know they want to do and should do. So that’s where a lot of those organizational steps get in like you can have every intention of going for a long walk at 5:30 p.m. every night. But if you are forced to work until 7:00 p.m. every night that’s going to get in the way. So your company can play a role whether its with trusting you with helping you flexible scheduling or just empowering you to make decisions about your own well-being. That’s one element is to motivate that person, you have to eliminate the barriers to them taking action. The second thing is we found that people are very motivated by the norms that are set around them. So what are their peers doing, what is their manager suggesting is acceptable behavior. What is the culture of that organization deem okay or not okay? Do you get laughed at if you take a minute to gather your thoughts or meditate for 10 minutes before an important meeting? Pr is that something where people say wow ok that’s great be getting focused. I think a lot of it is clearing the barriers in terms of fitness trackers like Fitbit, which I’ve worn one religiously for five years. It’s all about that person’s motivation. If you like me just like to have it on and feel naked without it and want to compete with friends and colleagues with your steps, that’s just motivating because that’s how I think. When companies get into trouble with these wearables is when they say, “hey we need you all to wear these because we have a goal of lowering our health costs or getting people to exercise more. We don’t really care if that fits in line with your goals or not.” But we want this to happen so therefore where this device can do it nobody wants to have Big Brother looking over their shoulder 24/7. If they don’t have a really strong level of trust with that organization.
Lee: Yeah, that’s really so interesting, this idea of – it’s probably wrong to frame this as incentivizing wellness meaning you know what about cash? What about peer pressure?
It’s just better to frame it around. How is this going to make you feel better as an individual. I am a dedicated user of running apps and meditation apps and sometimes I feel a little bit silly using a meditation app but you know, it helps me meditate. It’s sort of a quiet motivator that I could set that timer and I could look at my stats and I know the Dalai Lama might laugh at stats but he is a tech guy. He’s a tech guy. Also he likes watches so maybe he would be OK with it. I find that these metrics right metrics become interesting if properly used.
Henry: I think what’s happening is the silos of work life are breaking down. I think one is the silo between your wellbeing and your work. I think a lot of companies are just now they’re just now saying it’s OK for us to talk about this concept of wellbeing with their employees before it was only ok to talk about their health insurance benefits. But now it’s becoming ok for a company or a manager to say I actually care about you. I care about your well-being.
And so that silos breaking down I think also some of what you just described the left brain-right brain silo like you happened to be into meditation and improvement but the left side of your brain is also into analytics and reporting and the data that you get from these devices, so I think you don’t have to be just like some spiritual yoga instructor to get value out of these programs and sometimes the programs require different approaches. I think similarly mind and body, I think all the science in the world says that things like stress. They’re not a physical problem we’re an emotional problem they’re actually a physical emotional financial and work problem which is kind of our definition of a whole person wellbeing. So I think we’re in the business of breaking down assumptions in silos at Limeade and the most important motivation that we can provide is what the person says they want to do. Just ask, Hey what is a better future look like for you.
Lee: And when we’re putting things in place — wellness programs – what do they really look like. Is it a walking program is paying for people to go into marathons. What have you seen in the last 10 years in the spectrum of this and how has it evolved?
Henry: First of all we used to get laughed out of the room because we created this idea of whole person well-being measurement and improvement — concepts like resilience or mindfulness which were very common in the academic literature and medical and psychological journals really didn’t have a home in the workplace. What we’re learning now is that these are actually the drivers of job performance and loyalty and retention to the company.
I think the two things to know about these workplace wellness programs and what they look like. First of all is what subject matter do they cover. And again, physical, emotional, financial and work physical could be simple things like eating better moving a little bit more knowing your basic biometric numbers are taking care of yourself, seeing the doctor once a year.Emotional and things like stress and resilience and mindfulness, and also how committed you are to your team and your peers. Financial, A lot of stress today – I think 80 percent of doctors visits actually are connected in some way to stress. So stress we would consider financial and physical and kind of underpinning these things. But a lot of people are worried about their financial future and the workplace actually can help you with that and maybe even help you learn skills to have a better financial future, which is why the work component is so important.
We think work is critical for wellbeing programs, things like learning and growing. Finding a sense of meaning and purpose in your job being — not just satisfied with your job but emotionally tied to your work again. So the first thing to know about one of these programs if they’re done right is that they’re very broad and whole person in their approach. The second thing is there should be some methodology for helping people improve. So we take this approach of become aware then act to improve then get rewarded in some way and then use incentives to start the cycle over again.
Awareness for us would be based on insights we give from our wellbeing assessment from biometric data and other third party affirmation we can gather and share with people. We found that awareness is actually a big driver of improvement independent of any programming. The “act” thing is about using fun interactive social programs. It could be like you said a walking program or volunteering challenge an activity to connect you with like minded people on topics that you’re really interested in. “Let’s all get together today and go for a walk outside.” Or it could be more spiritual or or intellectual in nature. Learning new skills or new ways to handle challenging obstacles in work and in life. And then the rewards could be anything from a pat on the back to a cheer from a colleague that’s all manifested in a social networking software type system. It could also be money or rewards or gift cards or devices that you can track your well-being with. So it’s really up to the company or the user even what they like to be rewarded with and insights is just taking all this stuff and showing how people are changing over time. How whole populations are changing and what the impact of well being participation or well-being is on business results.
Lee: It sounds like there’s a long curve to implementing this. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I just mean that it’s not one size-fits-all. And you really have to custom fit certain methods modalities ideas and programs to each company that you’re working with. Do I have that right?
Henry: Well, that’s the magic of software is taking a really complex population of people all of whom are different by creating a very personal life and guided experience for those people.
For example if you’re shopping for let’s say a new tie on Amazon you’re going to have a whole bunch of preferences that are different from someone who lives in a different part of the country who has a different next size who has all these different variables so software and programs like Limeade their point is to take this complicated company ecosystem of programs and benefits and managers and map that to someone’s intrinsic motivation so that everybody gets a very different experience. But there are common ground things that everybody comes together on and although it does sound very bespoke and like it would be a lot of custom work – that’s why we’re in business. That’s one of the things we do is trying to make it really simple. And we also have we’ve learned a lot we have some very simple, repeatable applications for companies to deploy.
Lee: Yeah I imagine so. It’s been 10 years so you’ve learned a couple of things for sure.
Henry: Yes, one insight that is that really easy to miss too, is that every company is a little bit different. There is commonality. There are some best practices. You know we always like our leaders to be visible visible in the program and supporting it. We like to have managers talking about how people are doing in their plates and kind of fun, social ways, both in person with their people and through the software that we offer. So there are commonalities. But every company is a little bit different. And so capturing the values the strategy and a little bit of the vibe of the culture of the company is a critical way to turn this from a B plus to an A plus in terms of how it rolls out.
Lee: So as we wrap up here, what emphasis can we put on the role that the organization plays and the massive impact that that potentially has.
Henry: Yes, I think the most commonly underestimated factor in any of these types of programs success is what are the things the company can do to show that they actually care about people. We’re making it really easy. We have very easy templates to have a CEO record a 30 second video saying here she cares. We have tools for managers. We have social and team and peer support and things. But the organization itself does play a role in the success of this program but it doesn’t have to get hard and it doesn’t have to be a heavy lift.
So that’s the first half of it. The second half is the impact of this. If you only think about this as a clinical health and wellness program it’s very challenging in the world of healthcare to prove causality on things like depression and diabetes and heart disease. In fact, some people have all three. It’s hard to say “this person’s walking more, therefore they cost less money.” However it’s so easy to show how engaged high energy vibrant people drive actual business results. They stay longer. They refer more people they deliver happier customers. That to me that’s the real value in this and a lot of people overlook that because of an overly clinical focus.
The number one metric that CEOs share across the U.S. is how engaged are my employees. But what we’re learning is that well-being is actually even upstream of engagement. And if you can show that you care about well-being you will get more engagement, but it’s a more causal driver, so it’s just a really great and fun time to be in this market.
Lee: Awesome. Henry, thanks so much for joining me today on the podcast.
Henry: Lee, it’s a great pleasure. Thank you for your time and best of luck, and hope our paths cross again soon.
Lee: I’m Lee Schneider, communications director at Red Cup, and this has been the Cult/Tech Podcast.