Talent Canada
Talent Canada

A culture of health: Tips on fostering workplace well-being

Talent Canada senior editor Todd Humber sat down with Janet Young, director, well-being and health services, people and culture at TELUS Health, to talk about how employers can create a culture of health.

Listen to the latest episode of Talent Show, the podcast for HR professionals and senior leaders. (Full transcript below.)


Editor’s note: Transcript is auto-generated.

Todd Humber: Hi, Janet, thanks for joining us today. There has been a lot of focus by employers and by leaders around the health and well being of their teams, which is great. But a lot of it has been reactive. Which is not ideal, I would say not the ideal solution, really. So if we take a step back and think about adopting a more proactive and less reactive approach, how do we do that? Where do we even begin as employers and leaders?

Janet Young: Yeah, thanks for having me, Todd, it? I think it’s a great question. I think a lot of people are asking that question today. And I think for me, and I tell us, it’s really about understanding our issues first. So using some data to gather some insights about the health risks of your group, for instance, gathering a little input from your employees, they’re the voice of the organization. So highlighting and understanding what they need, I think is a really important place to start. I think as well, and people are trying to figure out how to get this off the ground, how to be more proactive how to start a wellbeing strategy.

For instance, if they’re not doing very much today, you have to have senior leader support. And I think, finding that voice in the organization, if it’s not you, if you’re not the senior leader, you do need someone in your corner, that sits at the executive level that can help you because it’s really difficult to achieve what you want to achieve without that level of support. And I mean, the good news is, you can use that data and not factfinding that you do at the beginning to to get that support from that leader that you’re trying to get in your corner. So I think that’s another really important part.

And then the only other thing I would say is, I think plan for the future plan, multi year strategy, this takes it takes time to get this right. And I think putting pen to paper, having clear objectives, knowing what your focus is really mapping that over three years, what you want to accomplish, how you want to be more proactive, have a plan. It’s just like any other strategic initiative, I think you have to put that pen to paper, have a framework, have an implementation plan, and really commit to it at the highest level to get it right.

Todd Humber: That’s a great point. And I think, you know, when I think about all the examples that we’ve covered over the years, and talent, Canada, but companies would have done well with this, usually, to be honest, doesn’t come from the top to start, right, there’s usually a little bit of a grassroots movement, or there’s a new hire somebody who’s really passionate about it. So if we think about who who’s the ideal champion for this type of initiative? Who do you have, in your opinion, who, who needs to own this? Who needs to drive it? And who needs to get that that volume from the top?

Janet Young: Yeah, you’re right. Sometimes it’s an oftentimes, it’s not the senior leader, it’s someone normally from human resources or people in culture. And because they’re driving culture related activities already, they’re a pretty logical area to start with. But in reality, anyone can own it. I know in some organizations is emerging more from a diversity and inclusive inclusiveness perspective, some people that own social purpose are leading it, but it is typically someone in HR certainly doesn’t have to be. But I think, again, I would stress that even though they don’t have to be the person to start at the senior leader needs to be engaged, preferably, again, a person that’s not that executive level to just help support and endorse the strategy, they’re also going to help you secure the budget, the budgetary support you need, which is vital to to also be successful when you’re implementing something like a well being strategy that’s relatively new. So I think it can be anyone in the organization, and often is the functions that are called that lead the culture for the organization, which makes a lot of sense, because well being is such a foundational culture element of any great organization. But really, it can be anyone.

Todd Humber: How do you start that conversation? So if you’re the person that wants to champion and let’s assume for our conversation, is the HR department or the HR professional doing it? You know, how do you begin that conversation at the boardroom table to say, You know what, this is something we need to invest in, and move it from a conversation of being you know, it’s the right thing to do, or we should do this to the this is, you know, actually going to drive a difference in our bottom line. So how do you speak that language to get that buy in?

Janet Young: I think, I think connecting it back to business outcomes, right? I think, using data, we talked about data and insights, initially, that’s always been a great way in my you know, 20 plus years doing this, that’s always been a great way to start the conversation.

Because though people intuitively want to do this for the right reasons, and they do they really want to do it, they want to help people, they want to support people that work at their organization. I think they also want to see what the impact can be on the business. And I think, you know, not focusing on that traditional return on investment model, which so many people did for so long, but it’s also just talking about the impact that can have positively on our business. So if you think about things like recruitment and retention, creating a more positive brand in the marketplace, for your for your organization, there’s a lot of evidence to show that consumers now want to work with organizations that support the well being of their own people.

So I think creating that that business case to use the term though I don’t love to talk about creating a business case because it feels to me like it’s a no brainer now but you do still have to connect it back to how can positively impact your business. But don’t think of that from a purely financial perspective. I think you got to think of it from every perspective that you can imagine everything cultural, everything even that you’re Customers are going to feel or experience as a result of having healthy, happy employees on your side.

Those are the things I think are really meaningful to employers now. And that should do it, that should make the case for you to move forward.

Todd Humber: I agree, Jana, and I think some of the other people that we’ve talked with over the years when they have those conversations, you know, not to run counter to what I just said, but that, you’ll often find them talking about the ROI. But more importantly, it really is that intangible thing about just what it means to be an employee at that organization, and how these programs can make a difference. So if you put a program like this in place, you know, if you’ve moved to that, that kind of stage of it, you now have something up and running, how do you ensure that it’s being used? Because we know that a lot of times that these these programs, they’re implemented with good intentions, but then they just kind of start to collect dust? People? Don’t? You know, they don’t use them, they forget about them, they’re not communicated. So how do you ensure that this investment you’ve made is actually being utilized by your teams? And you’re seeing the benefit of it?

Janet Young: Yeah, I think that’s a really important question, because it and again, you’re gonna hear me repeat some themes. But for me, it really is the importance of insights and understanding what do people want, what do people need, and that’s really gonna allow you to choose the products and services that are more meaningful and impactful, rather than just picking sort of the flavor of the month, I think understanding what your your group needs by looking at some different data sets within the organization. But also having conversations with them using the team member or the employee voice and letting them tell you what they need.

Because we make some assumptions, sometimes it especially in a multi generational workforce, but that can really vary based on the employee, I think it’s important to, to take those things into account. And I think also continuing to measure those programs to ensure they hit the mark is also key, you know, beyond being on a continuous improvement journey, learning from what you’ve implemented, and maybe what fell flat, or what hit the mark. And then building off of that, I think accessibility is also really important. So making sure what you’re offering is equitable, easy to access, regardless of the type of employee you are.

So because a lot of us in our organizations have employees doing very different types of work. And so you have to be really thoughtful about those differences and how that can impact someone’s access for something if it’s truly technology based. Or, for instance, if it requires someone being in person, and they can’t do that, because of a number of factors, you have to be mindful of that. So it’s accessible and equitable. And then I think, for us, lastly, it’s really been communication. And you can’t say enough about the importance of communication. I mean, you need to have a wellbeing strategy that successful, I think you have to have a communication plan that’s at the heart of it, which regularly includes communicating with your employees about all aspects of wellness regularly.

So not just about the initiatives that are coming up, but talking about wellbeing, and how meaningful it is in their day to day and having it in conversations infused into conversations every day. And so you really also need to think about your audience and what their communication is, their needs, their preferences, communicate to them that way. So it can’t just be a one size fits all approach to communication, it needs to be really thoughtful, and I think engaging, based on the type of work they do in the organization based on their generation based on any number of factors that make them different, because we’re all different. So that one size approach really isn’t going to isn’t going to hit the bill or fit the mark. So I think I think it’s all about communication.

Todd Humber: Yeah, the communication is definitely critical. Are there any examples not to put on the spot, Janet, but are there examples that you’ve seen have a really strong communications program? Even if you don’t have an example? Is there like, you know, what, what’s kind of the ideal way to do that, if you think about, you know, your your point about not having one size fits all is is key, because there are some employees who will have no interest in it today, but might need it tomorrow.

You may have employees that are younger, that have different, you know, different parts of the program will appeal to them versus someone who’s approaching retirement. So, you know, again, a broad question, but what is the best way to communicate with your teams?

Janet Young: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think I’m biased. But I think we have a great approach that’s multipronged at TELUS. And so we really approach it from an always on perspective. So it was important to us when we were trying to become more proactive and build up a wellbeing culture at the organization that we came at this from multiple levels. And so what I mean by that is we use the data to identify some of those characteristics I was talking about.

So looking at the characteristics of our employee base, and 30,000 employees, a lot of different work being done a lot of different characteristics of the people doing the work. So for instance, we’ve got contact center people, we’ve got frontline frontline salespeople, we’ve got retail people, again, these are all different types of work and the way they interact day to day in their job is different. And so we looked at those, what we call personas and segmented the population to really customize that approach to communication to really make sure we hit the mark.

So people are getting a communication that makes sense to them because it aligns with maybe what they value based on their characteristics, but also what’s practical for them in the in the confines of their their own job. So I think thinking about it that way, and segmenting the population has made a huge difference, and it’s been a big impact for us, especially given our size as a large Canadian employer. I think though, even if very beginning, we were very deliberate about sending our key messages, what were the key messages around the strategy that we wanted to impart on people, we kept them very simple, very clear, crisp, and we reinforced them constantly.

And so it’s a bit of a drip drip drip effect, where people start to hear the same messaging over and over in a bunch of different ways from a bunch of different people. But it’s got it has a great impact. And then it starts to build this, this momentum for you without people even really knowing they’re consuming it. But well being starts to be talked about by everyone in the organization, which to me is the ideal way to approach this from a communication perspective. And so those are a couple of the key ways that we’ve made a difference in communication. And we, I think the other thing I would add is, we also have what we call our network of influencers.

So we’ve got people out there in the business that champion wellbeing already they do it intuitively, they have a real interest in it, they want to talk about it. And so we tap into those people to help spread the good news in their area of the business. Again, given our size, especially, that’s important, because we can’t be everywhere. And it takes a long time for sometimes for messages to trickle through the organization.

And so we use that network of influencers, to get out there to talk to be the feet on the ground, and to have that conversation and promote well being in different ways. So again, we can create that groundswell and that awareness level that we’re really trying to get where people understand that this is just part of who we are, we’re not just promoting initiatives, we’re actually talking about how important well being is to their day to day experience. As a team member, I tell us,

Todd Humber: It’s interesting to hear to talk about the different ways that you do that, you know, these drip campaigns are using influencers. It’s really the language of marketing. And, you know, some of the HR professionals I’ve talked with over the years, they haven’t been shy about tapping their marketing department on the shoulder and saying, you know, how can we roll this out. And some of the same techniques that work well to market your products and services will actually work to market your own internal programs to your staff. So it’s an interesting point. So moving on, kind of the next thing I want to talk to you about was, you know, what does an organization look like that has done this successfully, right? Because a lot of companies as they start to go down this path, they kind of wonder, like, what’s, what’s the end look like? So if you were to walk into an organization, organization today that had a really strong, you know, culture that has embraced health and well being? How does that look and feel different than one that has not?

Janet Young: Yeah, I mean, a lot of things come to mind. For me, I think for sure, it’s really multifaceted. So I think one of the things that organizations overlook sometimes is the important of just having an infrastructure or an ecosystem that supports wellbeing at the organization.

And so it can’t just be about what you’re offering, like your products and services, you actually need to focus on the process and policies you have in place, you know, the leadership practices, the cultural norms, the design of, of work, the type of job design you have in place, all of the these things need to be coming from a place of wellbeing, to really shift a culture. So it needs to be it needs to be that.

And I think what you see the type of indicators that you’re being successful if you shift the culture, so we’ll talk about that for a moment is, is again, not to rely on that return on investment of focus and that KPI only so many of the markers of success really ultimately do come back to they will connect to financially to the returns. But if you’re solely focused on financial markers, and using those as indicators of success, you aren’t thinking big enough, and you’re not really valuing culture to the extent that that I think you need to. So for us, I again, it seemed that a stronger cultural norms emerge are team members acknowledging that through their engagement survey that for instance, are feeling a stronger sense of belonging, we have indicators around psychological safety, so they’re feeling more psychologically safe.

They perceive that the organization cares for them that comes through in our post check, which is our engagement survey. We see people organically in the organization engaging in more conversations around wellbeing and mental health, and more frequently, and all year long. In fact, we see leaders building wellbeing into their annual business plans, just like any other business focus for that, for that leader.

We also see things like I tell us what we see as success markers are organizational values and behaviors shifting. And so now we actually evaluate leaders and team members on how well they support others in the organization, how well they create a psychologically safe environment for others in their in there in the organization. So that is another big cultural indicator for us. And then just one other culture indicator I think of is our leaders and how they interact even on their social media channels. For example, we recently had an Executive leader discuss his struggle with panic attacks publicly.

And the positive reception that that post received from within a tell us and certainly outside was remarkable. And if we didn’t have a supportive culture, that this is unlikely to happen. So for us, that was a huge success. And there’s other traditional ways to measure success that people listening probably are interested in of course, you can still see other more traditional returns like you know, fewer disability claims, which we have seen lower rates of absenteeism, lower turnover rates, greater recruitment success, and those things are really important as well. really important things to measure and are really important indicators of your success and being proactive, but they’re only one facet of what we value anyway and interpret as success.

We look at the cultural shifts, and the indicators that our culture has really moved as, as our biggest indicators of success. And that’s our, in our personal perspective, from our personal perspective, that’s really important.

Todd Humber: That’s great. I want to go back to something you said there just in terms of having you know, someone from the senior leadership team kind of share a personal story and and just to be that honest, and authentic, which is very powerful. And I think we are seeing more and more of that we’re seeing more willingness to do that. What’s your advice to, you know, people that may be reluctant to share those types of things, just because that is a relatively recent phenomenon, where you see executives and companies just being that frank and open. So how do you kind of convince somebody that that’s an okay thing to do, and that it’s okay to share that story?

Janet Young: It’s challenging, right, because it stigma still exists. And we all know that around mental health specifically, it certainly exists. And at the leadership level, that probably runs even deeper, depending on on the group of leaders. But we, I think, I think understanding, I think it starts to be honest with the culture of wellbeing, it’s really hard for a leader who doesn’t feel psychologically safe or doesn’t feel protected in their own environment or their own workplace to be vocal about that. So I think it’s, it’s really starting from there, someone has to feel safe in order to do that.

And once they do, I think once they see how the impact or vulnerability can have on their own people, and that their role as a leader, and as a role model is to model those behaviors, you know, good self care, and having conversations about their own situation, their own personal situation. And in some cases, like the leader that I profiled their own mental health situation, I think they they will receive so many positive indicators and so much positive feedback that that starts to, you know, to fuel the beast a little bit where people are more comfortable doing it more. But it requires someone taking the leap first. And it is a bit of a leap of faith for some people were were traditionally leaders didn’t do that. And still don’t do that, at that level very often.

And so for us, I do think it’s because we created a culture that supported that type of dialogue, and have really worked on reducing stigma around mental health, specifically, that that leader felt comfortable. And then once that leader saw the positive reaction that went all the way up to our CEO who took note of it as well, you see, others start to follow. And so I think it just reiterates that importance of role modeling, and how that role modeling has even for leaders has changed post pandemic, it really has gotten different, has become different. And I think we’re seeing, we’re seeing the impacts of that. And we’re starting to see more and more leaders speak out, which is amazing.

Todd Humber: It’s great. And I think on the other end of the spectrum to you, you talked about the importance of showing that you know, that you care as an employer about your employees, I think workers and I don’t want to stereotype but younger workers in particular seem to be really good at this. They’re not shy about asking for help. They’re not shy about, you know, making demands of their employers that may be previous generations wouldn’t have done.

So I think that that door has been opened a little bit, even by you know, if your leadership’s not doing it, your workers might be knocking on the door and asking for that support. Right? Absolutely. Yeah. So I want another question I’ve got for you here, just in terms of, you know, what changes realistically, can programs like this make in an organization, right? Like, what what do you see, and maybe even if you want to talk about, you know, if you’ve got a favorite story among, you know, your clients or your contacts that you’ve seen where they’ve been really successful when, when this has happened? What’s the end result for the organization?

Janet Young: I mean, I mentioned some of them, but I think there are, there’s lots of ways you can see success and changes in the organization that that show an organization that’s really embraced a culture of well being. And I think that’s the big differentiator here.

So for us, I think I talked about, you know, stronger cultural norms emerge team members, acknowledging a greater sense of belonging, more people organically in the organization, just engaging in conversations, again, even your values, following more leaders speaking publicly, I think those are all measures of success for us, and some of the changes that you can expect to see.

And I think, I think a few examples I think of, I always go back actually, to the individual stories, those are the ones that speak the most to me, and, and drive the most impact and for someone to my role, who, who leads this function, it’s so important to see those individual stories and those individual impacts. And I’ve seen 1000s of them over my career. And I can give you a couple of examples. And you remember early in my career, we brought cardiovascular screening clinics to bus drivers that were working in a Regional Municipality.

So these were folks that were driving the city bus, and we brought blood pressure cholesterol measurements, we brought a nurse in and the The nurse took those measurements and gave them some insight into their cardiovascular health knowing that, you know, these are risk factors that people often aren’t aware of. And we had one bus driver, I was at the clinic and a bus driver came in and actually had his blood pressure and cholesterol measured and both were through the roof off the charts, I had never seen anything like it. And the nurse immediately drove that individual to the emergency department in a hospital.

And the physician there remarked on the fact that he was maybe moments away from a heart attack or some severe mental or cardiovascular issue, and was driving a bus full of people from his community. And so the impact of that and the ripple effect from getting in front of that early and his employer, investing in his health, and making it convenient and accessible for him, and him engaging in that process and learning what he learned about his health, and then getting the help he needed and, and live the rest of his life, you know, thriving and doing well. That’s the that’s the meaningful impact for an individual.

And we’ve seen similar stories tell us with virtual care, for instance, with, I can think of one story where a team member didn’t have access to a physician. And so we had offered virtual care, that team member was able to engage with a health professional through that medium, and actually had a diagnosis for breast cancer through that channel and had the whole process expedited had a great outcome, because she identified it early, but treatment early, and now is thriving and doing well. And so what more could an employer do for you than that? I mean, to me, that is what it’s all about is that impact on the individual person?

There’s lots of organizational benefits as well, I talked about a number of them. But again, I think, for me, it’s those impacts on people. And they happen far and wide. They happen constantly, and they are they have a huge life changing impact. And I can’t I can’t overstate that they have a life changing impact on people. And I think that’s what keeps me doing what I do. And I think that’s why TELUS wants to continue to invest in this space is to, is to look out for our people.

Todd Humber: Now, those are great stories, Janet. And I think that’s exactly the type of outcome you’re you’re hoping when you make this investment, when you go down this road is that you can actually make a real difference in the lives of real people.

Right, for sure. Absolutely. Just kind of one final question. Just talking about, you know, you mentioned virtual care. And I think we’ve seen a big adoption of that through the pandemic, that kind of accelerated anything that may have been happening, because, you know, we didn’t have a choice. And then the technology just got, you know, embraced, you know, everyone’s talking by zoom, or WebEx or teams or whatever their platform of choice is.

So where do you see that going? In terms of just you know, virtual care and and how employees are accessing these types of services? Is that something that is, is that a permanent thing? Is that something that’s just happening through the pandemic? Right, what do you see that point?

Janet Young: Yeah, I definitely see it as a permanent thing. I mean, just you don’t have to look any further than our healthcare system and how much it’s struggling. And so it needs an assist, it needs the support. So I think that’s one reason why for sure, virtual care is gonna be here to stay. I mentioned accessibility earlier as well, I think just providing greater access to people that may not normally have access.

To be honest, there’s people that don’t have physicians, that’s one thing. But there’s also people that geographically may not have the same level of access. And so this starts to lower the barrier around access virtual care, for sure. And I think, because virtual care is also in the space of even providing things like mental health support, so it does provide traditional physical well being support for your physical health.

But also now you can connect with clinicians and dietitians and other professionals through that same medium. And so again, it’s really offering a robust level of care that you can’t get anywhere else where you can easily get or so quickly get. I mean, it removes a lot of barriers even from a time and access perspective. So it’s absolutely here to stay. It’s been really successful for us as an organization. And, and I can speak to personally as someone who’s used it several times, with a young family, for my kids for different things, sore throats and things that traditionally would have been more difficult for us to in a timely manner get addressed.

We were able to address in a video conference with a health professional and we were able to get a prescription within 40 minutes and go and pick it up. And that whole, the whole process took us 90 minutes from console through to prescription being sent to the pharmacy through to me picking up the prescription and having it in hand starting to administer that to my son as an example. So I’ve seen the benefits personally, but and as a result, I think it’s absolutely here to stay. And I think it’s it only makes perfect sense in order to provide access in a more timely fashion for more more Canadians and more team members

Todd Humber: I think the amount of time that people have saved not having to drive to appointments and sitting in doctor’s offices, waiting rooms, all that good stuff, right. Absolutely. Yeah. So I we appreciate you joining us today. Janet sharing your expertise. So on behalf of talent Canada, thanks for swinging by. Just one final kind of, you know, question for you in terms of just anything we didn’t talk about today that you think is is really important for leaders to know about when it comes to their employees’ health?

Janet Young: I don’t think so it’s a great conversation. I think it’s really just being mindful that wellbeing has definitely changed in a post pandemic world. And the impacts of the pandemic itself, though it’s not over yet are going to be long term.

And I think employers really need to be thoughtful about that. They need to think about how they’re going to get ahead of it be more proactive, what they can do to support mental health deeper, what resources and supports they can put in place to help their employees regardless of where they are on the continuum, because some people are doing okay, but we still want to keep them in that space of doing okay, so how can we continue to support those folks? Some people are struggling.

So what do we need? Maybe it’s our employee and Family Assistance Program, maybe it’s virtual care, but what resources can we put in place for people that are struggling to help them get the help they need just in time? And then likewise, when people are off work, and need to support to get back to work? What can we put in place to support them? And so I think of thinking about health on that continuum, and making sure you’ve got resources and supports and that ecosystem in the organization to support people regardless of where they are on that health continuum is really important.

And that’s that’s definitely the approach we’ve taken and it’s something I think everyone needs to consider especially in a post pandemic world is how will we continue to support people knowing that there are a lot of people in different place on the on the wellbeing continuum?