Creating a Culture of Belonging

Free breakfast, foosball tables, comped sporting event tickets, fully-stocked lounge areas and weekly massages… these all sound like amazing office perks, right? The competition for talent is high and employers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves, but are office perks really contributing to employee retention? You might be surprised by this, while office perks may initially attract candidates, they are not the driving force keeping your best talent in-house. What’s keeping your employees at your company is much deeper than that.

It’s the feeling of belonging that keeps employees happy at work. Employees want to know exactly what their role is and how it fits into the company’s bottom line. Social psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow has included belonging as the third most important component in his Hierarchy of Needs for human satisfaction and fulfillment. Belonging is when “…individuals feel that they fit in. On one level they fit because the work is interesting. On another level they feel connected to their co-workers. And ultimately, and ideally, they feel part of the workplace because their work has meaning” (Fostering the Sense of Belonging Promotes Success, Forbes, 2017).  When an employee understands their purpose and feels a part of something bigger than themselves, they are more likely to be engaged and in turn, feel a sense of belonging.

Employee engagement contributes to employee retention and a big factor that contributes to such engagement is this sense of belonging. While all of those “cool” free office perks may attract candidates to your company and make an employee happy temporarily it will not increase their level of engagement, which works on a spectrum rather than as a binary with an on or off switch.

Here are a few strategies to assist in creating a culture of belonging  as a strategy to engage and retain employees:

1. Provide relevant training. so that employees can do their job and do it well. Some managers throw employees to the wolves without offering appropriate training, leaving employees feeling lost, confused and distrustful of their managers.

2. Map out a path for growth. Employees want to see a future in the organization. Offer career development training such as career counseling, formal mentorship programs and cross training to develop new skills. Putting a  value on promoting from within your organization is another way to improve retention. Knowing there is opportunity for advancement  can play into an employees motivation as well.

3. Help employees understand where their work fits into the bigger picture. Meaningful work encourages commitment.

4. Acknowledge hard work. Encourage employees when a job is being done well and provide constructive feedback for improvements. Let them know their work matters and give employees a sense of control over their work pace and flow, allowing room to build trust.

5. Make a shift towards D&I (diversity and inclusion). Create an inclusive workforce and be sensitive with diverse employees so as not to perpetuate what has been termed “workplace covering”. Employees who feel accepted within the workplace regardless of their appearance, sexual orientation, gender expression, faith, etc. are more likely to feel a sense of belonging.

6. Check in with employees. 39% of respondents from the E&Y study reported that when managers or colleagues check in with them about how they are doing both personally and professionally, they feel the greatest sense of belonging at work. It was reported that it takes priority over actions such as public recognition, being invited to out-of-office events, being asked to join a meeting with senior leaders, and being included on emails with senior leaders.Checking in is inexpensive, easy and can be implemented immediately.

A  “Belonging Barometer” study of over 1,000 employees done by Ernst and Young revealed that a sense of belonging in the workplace is both sought out and expected. More than half of  E&Y study respondents report feeling a sense of belonging at work when they feel trusted and respected. About a third of respondents feel they belong most at work when they have the ability to speak freely and voice their opinion, and one third feel they belong most at work when their unique contributions are valued.

Investing time, money and effort into fostering a culture of belonging within the workplace may be a business strategy worth considering as a way to improve employee engagement and retention.  Focusing on creating such a workplace environment or culture will positively impact productivity and increase overall company success.

Keeping Employees Engaged Through Wellness

Healthy is happy.  Happiness drives engagement and productivity, both in the workplace and in employees’ personal lives.  However, studies have shown that some of the happiness and most engaged employees also wind up being the most vulnerable to burn-out.  The idea being, the over-achievers are often the ones who work the longest hours leading to exhaustion and experience the most stress from their job.  Implementing programs that address overall well-being (think health, wealth and life) will combat this vulnerability.

It’s certainly difficult enough to attract and retain top talent and the last thing anyone wants to happen is attrition of their highest performing employees.  Investing in the well-being of employees, more times than not a company’s most valuable assets, is worth its weight in gold as it will drive exponential returns by reinvigorating high performers and quite possibly inspiring your not-so-high performers to do better.  Below we share some six strategies to help companies to support their employees in decreasing stress and increasing vitality.

  • Promote Work/Life Balance
    • Trusting your managers and employees.  Not everyone business is conducive to a work from home policy but consider unlimited vacation or summer Fridays.  Let your employees know that their home life matters to you will create a sense of loyalty amongst them.
  • Implement a Culture of Mindfulness
    • Working harder does not equate to working smarter.  Encouraging employees to pause throughout their day and clear their minds will drive down the intensity and make employees feel more relaxed with their work.  Whether you schedule on-site meditation sessions or just encourage people to take a 15 minute walk during lunch everyone needs to recharge and reset their minds.
  • Provide Financial Resources
    • Not everyone has the budget to pay for financial wellness tools for their employees.  This may include retirement matches, college loan repayment support or some other corporate investment in employees budgeting strategy.  However, doing a little leg-work to find out about free tools to help employees budget better or plan for their future will let them know you’re thinking about what they are.  There’s a wealth of resources out there – lead your employees to them.
  • Incorporate Philanthropy
    • Giving back feels good and helps others.  Plus, studies have shown that volunteering makes people feel healthier and lowers stress.
  • Create Communicative Support
    • Building a community amongst your employees across all levels of the org structure and all functions of the company will help people feel connected with each other.  Social connections support emotional well-being and can address mental health concerns before they become mental health problems.
  • Walk the Talk
    • Lead by example.  Don’t just be the organization that touts wellness, live wellness.  Whether you have a large budget to invest in onsite exercise, training and lifestyle services or don’t there are options out there for everyone.  Some of our favorites include:  HealthJoy, Exubrancy, FoundWellness, CCA, CommonBond, MoneyLion, Carrot and Maven.  But there are MANY, MANY, MORE out there!

Rise of Tele-Behavioral Health

Telehealth, or remote (often on-demand) care administered via phone, email, video chat, etc. has grown in popularity but also because it drives favorable healthcare outcomes.  Not to mention the more positive patient experience vs. the alternatives, “sickness filled” primary care waiting room, urgent care center or sometimes even ER. Historically telemedicine has been used to treat routine illnesses, allowing doctors to diagnose, treat, monitor and prescribe remotely for ailments such as upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, sinus infections, stomach flu, food poisoning, etc.

With increasing awareness to address mental health issues in the workplace, telehealth is being looked at as a supportive service for emotional well-being.

Accessing mental health care is a significant challenge for most Americans, with wait times to see a provider measured in weeks and months, rather than days. In addition to long wait times, distance, cost, and stigma present significant barriers to getting care. These are all challenges that telemedicine is uniquely equipped to solve. – Dr. Ian Tong Chief Medical Officer Doctor On Demand

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (“SAMHSA”), in 2014, approximately 43 million American adults—about one in every five adults aged 18 or older—suffered from some mental illness. And with that only 41 percent of adults with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year.

Telebehavioral/Telemental health is being seen as an alternative solution to address the gap in mental health care.

Below we share how technology is driving the positive growth of telemental health and provide some an overview of vendors with services worth checking out.

  • The increase in mobile health applications related to mental health services is increasing accessibility to care, for minor and serious conditions.  Approximately 6% of mobile health apps developed are focused on mental health services and another 11% are providing stress management services.
  • Studies have shown that psychiatric admissions for patients who utilized telemental health services decreased by approximately 24 percent, and the patients’ days of hospitalization decreased by an average of 26 percent.
  • Text therapy – user friendly care for a nominal fee provides access to care delivered through a platform that removes obstacles to treatment for younger generations (and older ones alike)
  • Telemental Health Providers:
    • Talkspace – An online mobile therapy company that gives users access users have access to licensed therapists through the website or mobile app.
    • Betterhelp – Affordable private online counseling matching patients with providers dependent on needs.
    • Spring – B2B platform eliminating barriers to mental health to help your employees feel better faster.
    • – On-demand coaching providing emotional support and care for employees.
    • CCA – In addition to a plethora of mental health resources, CCA offers a progressive on-demand EAP platform to address employees personal issues and their families too.

Addressing mental health issues in the workplace is critical for the success of your employees and your business.  Not only will it increase productivity and employee retention but also improve employee happiness!

The Path Between People & Operations

People Spotlight: 

Cindy Anzel, Associated VP, HR & Operations, The NY Stem Cell Foundation

In recent years titles associated with human resources have transitioned from HR to People Operations.  How did this convergence happen?  Perhaps the answer is moving towards humanizing the role with the overarching responsibility of what is considered by many as the most important asset to any company, its people.  It only stands to reason that an experienced operations professional, with years of management of large teams at high growth companies under their belt, would be a standout human resources leader.

Meet Cindy Anzel, Associated Vice President, HR & Operations at The New York Stem Cell Foundation.  Cindy started her career in facilities management and administration but always had a hand in the human side of the business.  About ten years into her career she knew she wanted to pivot into an HR role because her passion lied in that aspect of her responsibilities.  Although she felt fulfilled in both roles, having gone to school for sociology she wanted to focus on people and expand that skillset.

Never one to be afraid of a challenge, Cindy threw herself into her work leading operations and administration at rapidly scaling startups during the first “dot com boom.” Her work at Scient, a high-flying technology consulting company, had her managing a global team of staff including Office Services and Travel. This would eventually lead to her landing the job of Director of Office Services at where she was responsible for Operations, Facilities Management, and Administration.  If its sounds like a large undertaking it was, but it was nothing Cindy couldn’t handle.

Given Cindy’s vast experience at growth stage companies we asked her for her top insights for scaling organizations.  Here’s what she shared.

  • Expect the unexpected.  Making plans is a critical step in building a strategic organization but be prepared for obstacles in the road because they are inevitable.  Flexibility is key as is a willingness to make modifications to your plan along the way.
  • Be creative.  It is possible to make something out of nothing.  The example she shared for this point was “if a new hire shows up on Monday, you need to find a new place for them to fit in the office even if it doesn’t exist, there is always room for one more desk.”
  • Build a strong foundation.  Whether the team has been built and the systems are in place there needs to be strong underpinnings to building out any organization.
  • Be proactive.  Plan for now but always think about the future.

Another one of Cindy’s areas of expertise is Facilities Management.  One of the most common struggles that high growth start-ups face is finding the appropriate office space to support a scaling organization.  Cindy had some great insights on strategies to tackle this challenge.

Whenever possible someone from facilities management needs a seat at the table. The Facilities staff have insight into the day to day needs of the organization. This will help so the planning is proactive (see her tips from above) rather than reactive.  Whether it’s an office manager, member of the HR team or facilities management they need an opportunity to be involved in the planning discussion.  Of course, some things you can’t plan for but trying to have the right people at the table early on will help you avoid future problems.

Planning your headcount is a moving target and never something that you should put on the shelf.  Again, including the right people in discussions about growth is critical.  Having a representative from the staffing team involved in budgeting and recruiting goals discussions will help with planning.

As for securing the appropriate office space, always refer to industry standards as a guide and customize for your organization.  Having the responsibility of building out hundreds of thousands of square feet of space in NYC, one thing is for sure, it’s easy to search the “square feet needed per person” for similar organizations but every company is different.  Some are more traditional and want the large corner office for the CEO, whereas other companies want a large open floorplan but need many conference rooms.  Adjust the standards for your company culture.  Some things to consider when planning your space: conference rooms, break-out spaces, casual seating, need for video conferencing, consider what’s important for your employees.  You may even want to send out a staff survey to give them an opportunity to participate (hint – great engagement strategy) with the top attributes they want in an office.  Make sure to get input from all levels of the organization.

It’s clear that Cindy is all about giving the right people, whatever their level in the organization, a seat at the table.  Given her background she’s accustomed to working across all levels of an organization, specifically the C-Suite.  We asked if she had specific examples on gaining executive buy-in and she shared the following.

You always need to pilot projects to show data for implementing new programs vs. just rolling something out.  She’s testing a program called “Donut- Let’s Meet”.  The idea being, whether a small, medium or large organization, many people don’t have an opportunity to get to know their co-workers.  The program utilizes a slack channel to connect colleagues with one another. Once a member of the channel, staff are auto-paired through the app’s algorithm with someone they don’t know that well, so they can grab coffee, lunch or a donut with them and get to know them.  This is great for bridging the gap between the various hierarchies in an organization as well as spread trust and collaboration across your organization.

Knowing that Cindy has done a lot of work building start-ups we recognized that this clearly covers the world of talent so we asked for some ideas for recruiting and retaining quality team members.  She shared the following:

  • Good people know good people – implement a great employee referral program.
  • Cast a wide net – always publish jobs on multiple channels to draw a diverse talent pool.
  • Align with organizations that support your industry – eg – in her current role she aligns with scientific organizations to connect with people in her industry for referrals.

As a final discussion point, we asked Cindy if she had any last words to share:

All great changes are preceded by “controlled” chaos.

These words had been hanging on a piece of paper in Cindy’s office for years.  Having worked for fast paced high growth organizations with a lot of change, it’s important to roll with the punches and be flexible.

Her role is to make sure that everyone else has what they need to get their job done, she does not do what she does to serve herself, but to serve her employees. She believes if she gets people what they need they will be successful and that’s why she does what she does.

Winter Wellness – Keeping Employees Energized

Dark skies, howling wind, bitter cold….sounds like the opening for the perfect excuse to stay in bed, and if you do muster the strength to rise up find yourself sluggish at best.  Its quite possible your employees feel the same way.  But in truth its all how you frame it.  Think about this…. Glistening sun, fresh breeze, crisp cold air.  A little better, right?

The passing of the holidays, shorter days of sunshine and cold winter months ahead doesn’t mean your employees’ energy levels and engagement has to decline.   Although in general people can be affected by the daylight cycle, ie – seasonal affective disorder, there are some quick strategies to help employees overcome the winter blues.

Below we share 5 Ways to Keep Your Employees Energized in the Winter:

1. Encourage Healthy Eating – Depending on your budget you can host a weekly or monthly healthy breakfast or lunch.  Foods such as salmon (high in omega-3 fatty acids) and eggs (high in Vitamin D) are especially beneficial for your health.  Also, remind employees to drink plenty of fluids too, water consumption tends to decline in the winter.  Quick tip – host a “tea club” to encourage healthy drinking, where each participating employee brings in a new tea flavor on a weekly basis, green tea especially has immune-boosting benefits.

2. Inspire New Fitness Routines – With the start of the new year many gyms and exercise studios are running “new year new you” promotions.  Tell employees to take advantage of these opportunities to kick off a new fitness routine.  If you have a wellness budget companies like Exubrancy even offer onsite fitness and yoga classes where you bring the exercise to your team.

3. Fight off Cold & Flu Season – Staying healthy definitely makes you happier.  Remind employees to wash their hands (distributing hand sanitizer in the office is also a great option).  Recommend employees keep natural remedies close by – Vitamin C (Emergen-C or Cold-Eeze), Zinc, Echinacea and Oil of oregano are all great choices, but be sure to consult your doctor or pharmacist for the best options for you to ward off illnesses.

4. Catch Some Rays – There’s nothing like some fresh sunshine to refresh and inspire your mind.  Despite the cold weather encourage employees to take a brisk walk outside to get some fresh air (dressing appropriately for the weather of course).

5. Encourage Mindfulness for Emotional Well-Being – There are a plethora of free and low-cost apps and podcasts available that support mindfulness.  Here are some samples to get you started:  Apps – CalmHeadspaceSimple Habit,  Podcasts – 10% HappierUntangleLive Awake.

Whatever your strategy inspiring employees through wellness strategies will help keep them engaged while keeping them healthier.  And as we said earlier, healthy is happy!