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Exploring the Power of Community

It’s always a wonderful thing to find alignment in an industry. WELCOA’s President and CEO, Ryan Picarella discusses the alignment of two powerful tools for working within a healthy workplace: WELCOA’s 7 Benchmarks and Organizational Wellness and Learning System’s Champions Training. Join Joel Bennett, PhD of OWLS as he and Ryan talk about the power of community and social connections related to a well workplace.


WELCOA President and CEO, Ryan Picarella and OWLS’ CEO, Dr. Joel Bennett, PhD discuss the alignment of two powerful tools for working within a healthy workplace: WELCOA’s 7 Benchmarks™ and Organizational Wellness and Learning System’s Champions Training. The newly revised Benchmarks are the foundation for building a results-oriented wellness program, starting with a clear vision. Importantly, there often needs to be someone — a champion or a leader — who has the mindset and competencies for making that vision a collaborative reality. Dr. Bennett provides guidance on how to develop this mindset by aligning the internal champion mindset with the external benchmarks.

Exploring the Power of Community
WELCOA’s Seven Benchmarks From the Inside-Out.
An Expert Interview with Dr. Joel Bennett
Part 1: The Evolution of WELCOA’s Seven Benchmarks

Ryan Picarella Joel, it is great to talk with you today. I’ve been really looking forward to the opportunity to chat with you to talk about our Benchmarks and to hear about your research and learnings over the last year. So, thank you so much for your time today.

Joel Bennett Great to hear from you Ryan. I’m looking forward to it as well.

RP Something that WELCOA has been working on for quite a while is the evolution of WELCOA’s Seven Benchmarks™. I knew the first time I spoke with you some years ago that it was really aligned philosophically and tactically with how you’ve been talking about wellness and a lot of the work that you’ve done, particularly around collaboration. And, I think as we discussed the work that you’ve done and that you support, it is really aligned with all of our Benchmarks. So I wanted to chat with you today about the Benchmarks and get your thoughts.

JB Yeah. I’m actually curious. I think everyone would like to know, how did you come up with these benchmarks Ryan? Where did they come from? Tell us about that.

RP Yeah. So great question. The Benchmarks have been the cornerstone of WELCOA for probably the better part of 20 years. I’ve been at WELCOA now for almost five years. In that time, prior to my joining WELCOA, we had about 9,000 organizations that had gone through and taken the original Well Workplace Checklist. We have a partnership with University of North Carolina in Greensboro (UNCG) and so we began to embark on a massive research project. We wanted to understand: Are these the right benchmarks? Have they changed? What are we missing? How has wellness evolved and is it really being reflected within our Benchmarks?

So part of the first step of the process was, myself and a couple colleagues at WELCOA, we went around and we met with dozens and dozens of Well Workplace Award™ winners and wanted to know if they felt like the award was really reflective of their program. If you’re a WELCOA Platinum Well Workplace™, are you really a Platinum Well Workplace? Or are there things that maybe the award wasn’t measuring that people were doing really well? I mean, a great example is the built environment and how building design has changed and evolved over the last few years. Are these concepts reflected in our current Seven Benchmarks™ and Well Workplace Award™ process? They were not at the time.

In conjunction with the University, we did focus groups, we did research and then we assembled a team of much smarter people than me to really take a hard look at the research that was out there. So we took decades worth of industry research and the research that we had done internally and paired that with others. Folks like Jennifer Pitts, PhD and Dee Edington, PhD and employee engagement experts and doctors, and really a host of people spent the better part of a year and a half really going through with a fine tooth comb each one of the benchmarks at a very detailed level. The great news is that a lot of the science behind the Seven Benchmarks™ is posted on our website.

If anybody wants to go out there and see what some of the research is that lent itself to the evolution of WELCOA’s Seven Benchmarks™ is, that’s certainly all available. So it was really combining research that you and others have done to come up with what we thought are the most impactful things organizations could do to improve the health and well-being of their people and hopefully create a more sustainable and better organization. It was really about a three year process, with a lot of people that are research-focused and it’s been pretty exciting to see these things come to life.

JB That’s really great. I’m glad to talk to you today and I’m going to be excited to read and listen to it as well. So, help me. When you use the term benchmark just as we go into this conversation, how do you do define a benchmark? Not what they are, but what is your definition of a benchmark?

RP The way that we look at our Benchmarks is that it’s a process. Whereas, you can’t jump to Benchmark Five before you get through Benchmarks One through Four. So it’s really understanding the importance of each of those, both in isolation, but also as it follows a process. The other piece of this I would say we really didn’t have before is benchmarking and in its truest sense. To be able to see, for instance, Benchmark One: Committed and Aligned Leadership, and how your organization is doing relative to other organizations, including those in your region or industry specifically. You’ll be able to see, what’s going well for banks in the Florida region. Maybe I’m a bank in the Omaha region and there are some learnings that we could get from them. So what you’ll be able to see is benchmarks in the truest form. But our definition specifically around WELCOA’s Seven Benchmarks™ is looking at it as an iterative process and to continually improve year after year within that particular organization.

JB So they are serial. So you do one before two. Is that what I was hearing?

RP Yes. That is, you start with Benchmark One and then continue on through Benchmark Seven. The seventh is the evaluation and celebrate piece, and then you take those learnings and apply those back when you start over again.

JB I think what’s really important based on my own knowledge of benchmarking in the business world is that, it really evolves. I like that WELCOA’s Benchmarks are used for continuous improvement. You said it’s following a process. I think that was the exact wording that you used. What I think is so important about that is that it’s really about good behavior. It’s about not having achieved something as much as, am I learning? Do I have a strategy for learning? Am I bringing out the best in my organization? Am I bringing out the best in others around me? Do I have a way of gauging how I am doing? So it’s not like you finish with Benchmark One and then you’re done completely. You’re always going to be working on commitment and aligned leadership, right?

Essentially, the benchmarks are stated as common practices within the organizational environment; the focus is on leaders, teams, efforts, interventions and data. In contrast, champions focus on their own behaviors or practices and the vision, values, attitudes and virtues behind those behaviors.

“You’re always going to be working on collaboration. You’re always going to be collecting meaningful data. This is what I would call a process of aspiring. These are aspirations. It’s more about the process itself than achieving some end goal.”

RP Absolutely.

JB So given that, I think what I’m most interested in for the purposes of our conversation is that, we had done this champion training for your Institute and it is my understanding that you have a Well Workplace process where you ask people to first complete the checklist, which is really an assessment of the Seven Benchmarks™. Then they learn in the Institute and then they apply for an award. Is that correct?

RP That’s right. So we call it the Well Workplace Process™. You’re exactly right. The first piece is a checklist to understand where you’re doing things great and where there’s opportunities to improve. Then leverage the resources that we have such as your training within the WELCOA Institute. Then the idea after that is they can then apply for one of the Well Workplace Awards™ and that designation is good for three years. Then they can see, if they go back and take the Checklist again, hopefully they’ll see improvements in those particular areas, and the process continues.

Joel Bennett Who is the “they” that you’re talking about? Is it your members? Is it specific people within the organization who have a particular role? Who are the “they”?

RP It’s a good question. The “they” could be one of two types of people. They could be an individual who is in charge of health and wellness strategies for that particular organization. This is the HR manager, the benefits manager, or the health promotion person that goes in there and takes the Checklist. Or the other type of people that we have are the people that they can be working with that organization and either taking the checklist on behalf of them or is helping them through that process. This could be brokers and carriers, consultants and other folks that might be working with a book of business to help them do that.

JB So for our purposes, I think the key is this idea of the champion. We’re assuming that where the Benchmarks come alive is in the day-to-day activities and behaviors or programs that a wellness coordinator would do inside a business or for a business. That’s where I’m assuming they would really come to life and that’s where people are aspiring. Would you agree?

RP Absolutely. You nailed it.

Part 2: The Benchmarks and Competencies Aligned

JB So what I thought would be helpful is to look at each of the Benchmarks quickly and share how I understand what our champion training does with each of those.

Benchmark 1: Committed and Aligned Leadership

JB Yeah, so leaders throughout the organization are deeply committed to the wellness of employees and are role models of wellness in their lives. So it’s interesting that in our champion training and in our champion course with you, as well as what we do with this in our classroom version and our other customized versions for clients, we really start with, it begins with you. It begins with your own leadership as a champion yourself. We’ll talk in a moment about the use of the term champion.

We provide assignments in the training for doing some in-depth exercises for leadership development. We wrote a long time ago, in our book with Susan Steinbrecher called, Heart-Centered Leadership1 about a leadership model that’s virtue-based or character based. Where that comes to… is that looking within. So for example, when we’ve trained champions before, one of the key things that I learned from our students is that they start to understand the importance of virtue. They more than once have told me, “Wow. I realize that I need to be more humble” for example. Or humility is a key virtue that they don’t realize that they have the need for.

So I wanted to say that, very often leadership is a broad construct, but you have to do the self-work. You have to look at how you yourself are stumbling on the path of your own leadership development. There are things like: What’s your cause? Is wellness a cause? Is it a calling? What’s your legacy and where do you fit in, in your current job? How does it align with your entire journey of your life and the idea of self-leadership? I really like just to add that to sum that up.

RP I think that’s important. I think people hear leadership and they automatically assume that “oh, this is for the top level of an organization” or that somehow it equates to the amount of direct reports that you have, to your point, and I totally agree. It’s also about self-leadership.

JB So the WELCOA Checklist for committed and aligned leadership includes a number of subcomponents. I’ve seen some of those. Do you want to share what you think the key thing that a committed and aligned leader needs to do, in your own mind?

RP Sure. This is one of the ones that changed considerably since the original benchmarks. The original benchmark used to be Chief Executive Officer (CEO) support. The one thing that I think we all know, and that the research is clear about, is that the biggest impact to your individual health and well-being is the relationship you have with your supervisor. So it is looking at leadership at from the very basic level, where all of us engage in self-leadership, to all the way up to the top of the organization.

It’s understanding why are your leaders supporting wellness? It’s more than showing up at a wellness fair or getting a picture of them at your flu shot event. I mean, that’s fine. But it’s everything from: Learning how to communicate to leaders. Understanding what’s important to leaders. Understanding what’s important to you. Understanding how support is shown throughout the organization. Modeling behaviors as well as communication around all of those things. But at a very minimum and I think it starts really with the top leadership. It is important in a lot of the organizations that I’ve worked with and I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences.

You might have a CEO who is fully on board, but it’s the supervisory management or even folks who are working on the office floor who do not support wellness that really are where the barriers are. So it’s really looking through all levels of the organization from the individual all the way up to the top and understanding how do we create a common language around wellness? How do we create common shared goals around wellness? How do we build it in systematically? How do we genuinely and compassionately communicate this so that it comes across as authentic to employees?

The main takeaway with Benchmark 1 is that there needs to be alignment among expectations and agreement in what it looks like for the organization and for the individual. That’s certainly not easy to do and it really is an expansion of, I would say, the original Seven Benchmarks™ number one, but I also think it’s going to be much more impactful.

JB So for the champion or for the wellness coordinator, there are key questions that we ask like, Why are you here? Why are you doing this? Why it is important? Why does this matter to you? What will you take a stand for no matter what? How you show up and express that to other people in a way where they look to you for guidance? I think what’s important here and what I really love about what you’re saying is that, instead of only focusing externally on who the leaders are in the organization, you’re also focusing internally on how can I be a leader? Correct?

RP That’s absolutely right.

JB Yeah. So that really makes sense that, that would be the first Benchmark. It’s that, it begins with me. Looking within first. Getting your intentions clear. Resonating with your intentions. Knowing what your values are. Knowing what those virtues are and knowing where you are in your journey. We do consulting with managers and leaders and what we find is this is one of the most important things that derail a manager. In fact, we just did a workshop for school superintendents in the state of Texas. We asked them, “What is the most important thing to them in different dimensions of health and well-being? We gave physical well-being could be a thing or aligning people.” What was most important was ethical well-being. Being good at being a good person and knowing when they have all these constituencies that they have to cater to that they are doing the right thing. That goes back to, there’s benchmarking in the business world, but then there’s the benchmarking of our life. Have I led a good life? Who am I at the end? What is my legacy? What are people going to look back when they look at my life and look at my tombstone, what are they going to say about me? I think that’s the soulful part of this that I just want to make. It really comes from there.

RP Joel, this is the why. This is the purpose. This is the reason why we want to be well. The inspiration behind making these changes. I think that’s the whole essence of why we do this. Whether it’s to be a good dad, to be a good husband, to be a good coach, to be whatever. But it is that deeper why that I think we all have to answer for us to really have the motivation to change. So I think that’s what you’re getting at.

JB I’m so glad we’re starting here, because very often wellness gets associated with just biometrics or the physical external. But it really begins with this internal thing. I just have to say one more thing before we leave this benchmark. There’s this great quote I recently came across on leadership and it says, “Leadership means being the best of people some of the time, but one of the people, all of the time”.

RP I love that.

JB Yeah and I think there’s just been so much in our culture, especially in the field of wellness where we ask: Who is the thought leader? Or I’m going to be a thought leader? I think it’s more about being a heart leader. That’s what I like about alignments. You have to align those values and align who you are. So way to go Ryan. I love that as the first benchmark.

RP I know you’re on the same page and I think the last thing I’d say and this is the one I get excited about. Because you mentioned wellness is often equated to biometric screenings and cholesterol tests and all these things. Again, not to say that any of that’s bad, but those are outcomes and that without this first piece there, that outcome is just going to be what it is. It’s by starting with the end product and not ever thinking about what really comes first, which is the conversation I’m having with you. So I think you and I are right in sync on that one, so totally agree.

Benchmark 2: Collaboration in Support of Wellness

JB So, Collaboration and Support of Wellness is Benchmark Two. So formal or informal wellness teams are representative of the organization and work together to build and sustain a successful worksite wellness initiative. In our competency-based champion model, we have the competencies of both partnerships and communication. So that’s one part of this. The other part is, we just published an article in The Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research2. We have consulted with wellness professionals, we’ve consulted as part of an organizational development (OD) strategy. Our company, Organizational Wellness and Learning Systems (OWLS) works across different aspects of an organization. We’ve done a lot of work with employee assistance providers (EAP). So we’ve seen the organization from different sides. It’s like that proverbial elephant story. There’s an elephant with the blind man and one thinks it’s a hose, one thinks it’s a rug depending on where they’re touching it.

I think one of our biggest issues in the field is being provincial or seeing things from the wellness perspective. So in this paper, as well as in the training, partnership and communication is so essential. Once you have that aligned leadership, how do you communicate with others and see things from their perspective? So the perspectives that we’ve seen that are so important to collaborate are, organizational development, who are there to help people learn and grow, and the behavioral health people or EAP people, who are there to catch people when they start to derail. So wellness will never succeed unless it starts to collaborate with these other stakeholders in an organization, whether it’s large or small. So that’s the first thing. I wanted to see what you thought about that.

RP That is foundational to Benchmark 2. We train Members within this Benchmark to think outside of a wellness silo and leverage resources from the many pillars in our organizations that have been stood up to support employees along the employee lifecyle.

JB When people come to WELCOA, I am curious in terms of your members, do you have people who are coming from the training side or from the organizational development side or from the mental health side? Do you see some of that that or more strictly within wellness?

RP So I’m a biased person to answer that, because I came from the OD side myself and my background is organization psychology. I don’t know that I would be the norm necessarily. I think that we’re starting to see more of that. When I first came into the field, I remember sitting in Dee Edington’s workshop many years ago and he was talking about his pillars. I’m like, this is an OD process. That’s all this is.

That was hard for a lot of the traditional kind of health and wellness people to wrap their heads around. I think now people are starting to realize that at least, have a seat at the table to represent those different parts of the organizations. So bringing in safety and bringing in OD and training and maybe bringing in recruiting and facilities and whoever else. I think we are starting to see at least more cross functional conversations, but I also think there are more people coming into it because I think the value story around wellness changes.

Whereas the traditional value story around wellness was the return on investment (ROI) story which was about medical cost savings, I think that the new value story is probably more of a people strategy. How do we retain? How do we engage? How do we create a better environment? How do we track? I think because of that, we’re starting to see people from other disciplines that are starting to make their way to the field, and at least at the table with a full-time interest.

If you’re collaborating, you can’t be too isolated or insular.

JB That’s very promising. Because this is the benchmark about collaboration; if you’re collaborating, you can’t be too insular. So having those other voices and understanding those different disciplines, you have to learn a language other than your own. Right?

RP You do. I think this has been scary, in my opinion, for some people–even at WELCOA. Even on conversations I’ve had with our board of directors, we will hear, “Oh, my gosh. Wellness has gotten so big now. How are we ever going to know everything about everything? How are we going to be experts in building design and experts in nutrition and experts in this and that and experts in safety?” I don’t think that’s what anybody’s suggesting needs to happen. I think the importance of this benchmark is that we should bring in those different folks and have everybody have an equal voice at the table and to collectively figure out what’s going to be best for that company.

JB Yeah, so I really appreciate that you shared the sub scales for Benchmark Two with me. So I see team structure, collaborative planning, inclusivity and grassroots efforts for example. We have some of the tactical tools for champions to use and that are actually in the Institute training we did for you. Standard organizational development tools include: employee opinion surveys, climate assessments and needs assessment. I mean, that’s been going on for 50, 60 years, if not longer. It’s so interesting that wellness individual professionals don’t use them as much as they could.

We’ve been using these measures for over 20 years and in our integrated approach, Organizational Wellness and Learning Systems (OWLS), we always customize climate measures. I came out of organizational psychology with the earlier assessments of organizational climate that exists. There are dozens of dimensions, and when it comes to team structure and the informal and formal roles that an individual would have in an organization, I think it comes back to this idea of champion.

I think the use of the word champion is a little bit overdone and overwrought so that very often the people who might be members who are coming to WELCOA may not be at a point where they’re a champion yet, but they might be an ambassador or an advocate or an ally. When they are in the climate of the work organization, they see their coworkers. They know they’re the boots on the ground people. They’re the ones who don’t sit high up. They don’t sit in an administrative role. They’re the ones who talk to other people and get to know other people in the team or in the group or in the crew.

So where they tie together is when we train champions, “allies, ambassadors, advocates or coordinators” on how to engage their leadership, because those two benchmarks go together. We give them templates for how to have an empowered conversation. Very often the champion looks at themselves as a follower or they’re not usually the executive of the company. They’re either in HR, in a secondary roll or they’re a consultant.

When it comes to collaboration, you have to be approachable and understand how you’re coming across, which is the most important thing.

So the key here is, how do I talk to the executives? How do I talk to the senior managers and help them to see that you’re on their side? There we talk about the idea of the ripple effect and that managers and executives have a tremendous impact, going back to benchmark one with leadership. They have a tremendous impact on the climate of collaboration going back to Benchmark Two. So you can’t separate those two. How that is, is how they come across. So are they a good role model? Are they not just a role model in physical health, but are they heart centered? Are they inter-personally sensitive? Do they treat people well? Do they support the wellness program? Do they show care and compassion for the wellness program? Even going back to the comment about the built environment, are they sensitive to how the environment is impacting people in terms of stress? So the wellness coordinator sits down with the leader and says, what are your goals? How do you feel about the company and how you feel about it being well? How can I support you in your own role here? I just wanted to tie those two benchmarks together.

RP Yeah, that’s perfect. We know if we can connect the dots between our wellness strategy and the business strategy that can be a powerful thing. So we’ve got toolkits that do things like help Members to know what are the right questions to ask leaders and to make sure that they understand the connection between their efforts and business outcomes, which can be a pretty powerful conversation to have.

JB The other part to this is that, what you have is the grassroots effort. We did a white paper3 on what champions do best last year. What we are strong advocates for are in-house custom activities that do not rely on the wellness vendor as much as getting the wellness committee together, getting people who are in the shift and getting them engaged in some sort of creative activity. Whether it’s a charity event, whether it’s a particular challenge, but one that is not overly manufactured but really it is grassroots. That’s really where the magic is: those local in-house grassroots activities. That’s where it’s not just wellness from the bottom up or top down, but well is from the inside out. So I’m so excited that you have inclusivity and grassroots efforts as part of the second benchmark.

Benchmark 3: Collecting Meaningful Data to Evolve a Wellness Strategy

RP Awesome. Let’s chat about Benchmark Three, because I know this is an area that you’ve done certainly a lot. This is the data piece and understanding what are the right things to begin to look at. How do we start structuring programs and strategies and all of that? So Benchmark Three is, Collecting Meaningful Data to Evolve the Wellness Strategy. So efforts to support employee wellness, evolve understanding employee populations and assessing the current state through confidential and secure data collection are part of this benchmark. Data collection should measure what matters most to both the organization and the employees. I think between this and evaluation piece we have really been changing a lot, for the good reasons and for the right reasons. I’m curious, what your thoughts are on data collection and what have you seen through your research? It would be great to hear a little bit about it.

JB Well again, I want it to be practical for people. So in the champion training, we actually give some simple assessment tools and they align with the competency of evaluation and also the process competencies of assess and evaluate that are in the Institute course. Again, making these benchmarks come alive by giving your wellness coordinators or champions actual tools they can use. So I think there are three main tools that are really important and to customize them as much as you possibly can. The first one is readiness assessment and assessing how ready the organization, the work group or department is, or as local as you can get for wellness programming.

What I think the biggest mistake that the field has made is that it’s purchased wellness programs, whether it’s a portal or an app or some kind of system without first determining the level of readiness of the climate. So I think that’s most important and its standard practice now in most interventions. You don’t go in and do an intervention or training without first determining how ready, in terms of stages of change, the organization is. So I would highly recommend an organizational readiness assessment. The second one is a simple climate assessment. In fact, we have a grant right now for the National Institutes of Health to develop a 10-item small business wellness climate assessment using data that we’ve been collecting over the years that’s simple to use and covers a lot of different dimensions.

I do think that keeping it simple and keeping it brief on all these measures is very important. The one item that we always use is, from strongly disagree on a five-point scale to strongly agree, “Employee health is a top priority in our workplace.” Just that one item is very revealing. If you have to ask one item, this would be a key one, because just by seeing how people respond to it, you know how well you’re doing. These are items that are actually in module four and in module one of the Institute training we did for WELCOA.

Another one, which goes back to the other benchmarks, which is really interesting is, “We communicate with each other to solve problems that arise.” Or “We collaborate with each other to solve problems that arise.” And another one is, “Managers here are supportive of wellness efforts.” So you could take each one of the benchmarks and have just seven simple items that align with each one.

The third one is a simple needs assessment. You give people a list of all the different potential programs. How much would you like a program that helped you with nutrition? How much would you like program on stress? How much would you like program on work life balance? So on and so forth. Those needs assessments are also very revealing. The important thing is that, these are not complicated tools. They’re simple. They’re easy to deliver anonymously and ask people for comments. I think that’s what I see in benchmark number three. Because you’re collecting meaningful data to evolve a wellness strategy. You’re doing them so you can understand employee populations and assess the current state. So readiness, climate and needs.

RP Yep. You got it.

JB Those assessments are there. They’re actually in the WELCOA Institute. Members can download them.

RP I love that the training you did for us really does span each of these. I think it also speaks to the importance that while it is a process, they all build on each other and they all do relate to each other in one way or the other. So I think that’s an important thing to bring up as well.

Benchmark 4 and 5: Crafting an Operating Plan and Choosing Initiatives that Support the Whole Employee

JB We could quickly go through four, five and six here, because for Crafting An Operating Plan, we actually have the competency of planning and there’s a planning tool that’s available on the Institute. There’s also… I will say, it’s interesting you put Benchmark One number first and I get it. But benchmark number five to me is really special and it’s special for a lot of reasons. You have Choosing Initiatives that Support the Whole Employee. I cannot thank you enough for using the word whole. So tell me a little bit about where that benchmark came from before I comment on it.

RP It’s interesting, because what we found is that, a lot of people usually skip Benchmarks One through Four and end up just picking interventions. Like, we need smoking cessation. We need weight loss. We need physical activity. We need this and that. They haven’t really gone through the thoughtful and strategic process of one through four. In addition, a lot of those are very physical, one-dimensional attributes of health and wellness.

So what we’re saying is, let’s understand that there isn’t work stress. There isn’t home stress. There is stress. And that you don’t check one thing at the door and leave the other. How do we recognize that being human is messy and people have different needs?

It’s really supporting the whole human not just the one-dimensional approach. So it’s really making sure that, you start small, but you create a focus and approach that addresses the whole person. And one of the things too we haven’t talked about yet, but prior to releasing the Seven Benchmarks, we rolled out our definition of wellness. Not that defining wellness is new, but what are those things that create the whole person? So we’ve got ours out there that people can go online and check out. But it was really making sure there’s a thoughtful approach; that we just don’t jump in and start launching initiatives at employees. Because sometimes that can be more stressful than having nothing at all. It’s about making sure that it’s the right ones. It’s really about supporting people as people.

JB I think what you just said is profound, and I want to see if I can restate it because it’s so important. Wellness or well-being is not just about one aspect of our functioning healthy. It’s about the whole individual and that includes physical, emotional, spiritual, and so on and so forth. What I think you’re saying is that, when you’re strategizing a program, there’s a tendency to think about it in terms of one-offs. Whether it’s a weight loss challenge or whatever. Immediately, people feel that that’s who they are. That they have to then “lose weight” or do something around that. Instead of, let’s start from the whole person. Am I getting that right?

RP Just moving away from activity-centered approaches. Because I think there’s that old thought that, okay, we’ve got lunch and learns. Now we’ve got to do a challenge. Now we’ve got to do a fair. Now we’ve got to do this. Now we’ve got to do that. And we just start layering more things without really being thoughtful or strategic about what people need and want. What you said is exactly right.

JB So I did a keynote two years ago for a national wellness group on the audacity of wholeness4. One of the things that I want to make sure I talk about here is multicultural well-being. I think it’s really important at this point, where we are in the political culture in the United States where there’s so much fragmentation. So what I want to emphasize here is that, the whole employee also includes their heritage. Their cultural identity. Their upbringing. Their background. Their neighborhood.

I want to just put in a plug for that, because when people leave work and when they come to work, they’re coming with all of that as well. A lot of the stress that people are experiencing right now and have been experiencing, has to do with racial issues with implicit bias and with the lack of compassion. So I just want to put in an emphasis to be whole and to emphasize wholeness, I think it requires a certain amount of audacity and that it does mean thinking outside of a particular solution. So I want to applaud you for putting that in there. You didn’t put choosing initiatives that support the well-being of employees, but the whole employee.

RP That’s a great point. I’m glad you brought that up and I couldn’t agree more. I think we definitely need to talk about that. It’s just respecting all of the diversity that exists and I appreciate you bringing that up, because you’re exactly right.

Benchmark 6: Cultivate Supportive Health Promoting Environments, Policies, and Practices

JB Just quickly, in the training we did for you on the Institute, we go into depth of a book we have called, Well-Being Champions: A Competency-Based Guidebook5 and it maps directly onto what’s in the course. But we have this whole thing on knowing the environment and it’s real important from a practical standpoint and a tactical standpoint. This benchmark really means giving the coordinator tools to assess what’s present in the environment. What are the factors in the environment? I’m a very big advocate of doing environmental scans using tools regarding the health of the work environment.

We’ve done work where we were brought in to a 911 operation once. They brought us in because there were some issues regarding leadership and supervision. Well, we come to find out that a big thing was air quality in the unit. You might think that one problem is on the social side when really it could be in the environmental side. So in that module of the training, we give some tools for assessing the environment, knowing that the environment is adequate, and so on. So there’s a lot of aspects to that, but one of the key ones is whether or not the health promotion environment exists. From signage, to parking spaces, to healthy vending machines and so on. I don’t need to go into all of that, so I’m glad that’s there as well.

RP Yeah. But just as a side. It’s funny you saying air quality. I worked with a group a number of years ago and the biggest issue they had was water quality. They were having people dehydrated, but they didn’t offer a drinking cooler, water coolers things like that. The water from the fountains was through old pipes and it was yellow and people were afraid to drink it. So sometimes the solutions can be right under your nose.

Benchmark 7: Conduct Evaluation, Communicate, Celebrate, and Iterate

JB It’s a lot to cover. I know the last benchmark is evaluation, but also celebrating. I want to acknowledge as well that you cover all this ground. It takes a long time to do all these things. How long do you think it would take somebody to really go through all these benchmarks or how do you see it in terms of time? How do you see the moving people in continuous improvement from where they are now to the next step to the next step to the next step? Do you have a sense of that?

RP I’m going to give you the classic industrial/organizational psychology answer which is, it depends. I would say our sweet spot, in terms of the type of organization that we serve, are small to medium-size organizations. So we didn’t put these together thinking that you’re going to have to have a lot of money and time and resources to do these benchmarks. We really serve a lot of small and medium-size businesses. Folks that don’t have a lot of resources or extra hands-on deck to do a lot of these things.

If you go through the checklist, it’ll give you very specific things to work on. You might not have issues in some areas, but really start needing to think about putting a strategy around leadership or something else. I think that it’s about not getting overwhelmed. We can even help identify what some of the higher priority ones that need to be given some attention and work through them. So I think every year, there’s an element of each of these that could be in process. Again, you’re never done. It’s something that continues.

But I think depending on the leadership and the culture and the amount of resources, that there should be something that falls within each of these benchmarks that should be achievable within a year for folks to go through and to continue to work towards and to be able to measure that progress along the way too. It’s a lot of stuff, but we tried to make it very easy and then give you very specific toolkits and things your training Joel, and others that are available to hopefully make it palatable and achievable.

JB I’m really excited for you. I’m glad you’re on the brink of launching all of this. It’s something that has potential to last for a long time. I think the key to me is in the social part is what we’ll call, socially inspired well-being and bringing these people together. Bringing the allies, the advocates, and the champions together. So I’m curious, do you have plans for a forum, whether it’s a webinar forum or some kind of ongoing way that people can share their stories around these benchmarks and have that community of practice? Do you have any plans for that?

RP That’s the thing, I mean, I think the social component is huge and I am a huge advocate.

I think that’s really kind of the secret sauce of culture and the secret sauce to making all this real is, building on social connections. I know we had technology on our list to talk about and we can maybe get there, but I think at the end of that day, it really comes down to human interaction connection and the social support of the community that we can build around all of these things. So we’re certainly going to start trying to do more story sharing and information sharing and to create forums for people talk about those things. Our annual WELCOA Summit is obviously a good way to bring people together and we try to share some of these things there too. So we’re looking at ways to do a better job of that and knowing that technology is great, but it also has its limitations as well. But yep, we’ve got plans do more.

JB I can encourage you to really focus on that, because when we do webinar-based champion training using Zoom and Skype and other tools in addition to the onsite trainings. We just came back from doing a one-and-a-half-day training of trainers for 20 people in a corporation. What I’ve noticed is that, both really help and the technology can be used to bring people together. I think that’s where this is going to come to life, Ryan, when we get people together to share with each other and share stories from the challenges that they’ve had.

I’ll just say that that’s what I actually learned the most. If you can create a safe environment and I think it’s possible through an interactive webinar, you will see this come to life and get people out of that whole idea of whether wellness works or doesn’t work and more into, how can we make it work and how can we learn from each other to apply these benchmarks. I mean, that’s really the spirit of benchmarking. The whole point of benchmarking is, how are we going to do better? The key word there is we. So I just think it’s great.

RP I appreciate that; that’s great advice. The last piece is the celebration. We sometimes forget to celebrate, but it is important to take a pause and celebrate all accomplishments, big and small. I think that’s an important part too is just taking a minute to really soak it all in.

JB Yeah, it’s actually the finale and that’s interesting because it completely aligns with the champion work. The last competency that we talk about in the fourth module is celebration. What we say there is that celebration tends to break down barriers, it builds inclusiveness, it actually builds multicultural awareness and happily anchors us at the memorable point in our lives when we’ve been with others. So it’s the ritualistic aspects of celebration that really are a pivot point for a healthy culture. Again, kudos Ryan on getting all of these things in there. It’s a cornucopia.

RP It is a cornucopia. Thank you. We are complicated beings. That’s the thing, it isn’t easy. When it comes to the right wellness approach, people always ask, “What’s the one thing…,” and there’s not unfortunately a great one thing; it’s many things. Joel, let me ask you, we’ve covered a lot of ground today and I bet people who are listening or reading are saying oh, my gosh, there’s a lot there. With all of your research and opportunities to connect to people and organizations that you’ve worked with, what is advice do you want folks to walk away with from this interview?

JB Well, I do think it’s about trust and respect. That’s where the wholeness comes in when people see you as being a good person, and they feel that you really have their best intentions in mind then you’re going to do good and they’re going to do good. So I just think, if you’re listening to this or reading this, to always come back to the virtues. To always come back to character and represent yourself in the field in that way and set up your own internal benchmark for that purpose. How’s that?

RP That’s perfect. I love it. I think you’re exactly right.

So with that Joel, it was great speaking with you and look forward to doing some incredible things together. So again, thank you for your time and effort to continuing to make the world a healthier place.

JB Thanks so much. You take care.

Dr. Joel Bennett

Joel Bennett PhD

Joel Bennett, PhD, is President of Organizational Wellness & Learning Systems (OWLS), a consulting firm that specializes in evidence-based wellness and e-learning technologies to promote organizational health and employee well-being. Dr. Bennett first delivered stress management programming in 1985 and OWLS programs have since reached over 100,000 workers across the United States and abroad.

Dr. Bennett has authored over 20 peer-reviewed scientific articles on workplace prevention. His books include “Well-Being Champions: A Competency-Based Guidebook;” “Raw Coping Power: From Stress to Thriving;” and “Heart-Centered Leadership: Live Well, Lead Well” (with Susan Steinbrecher). OWLS programs are recognized by the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices.


  1. Steinbrecher, S. & Bennett, J.B. (2014). Heart-Centered Leadership: Lead Well, Live Well. Second Edition. Sustainable Path Publishing. Hurst, Texas.
  2. Bennett, J.B. (2018). Integral Organizational WellnessTM: An evidence‐based model of socially inspired well‐being. J Appl Behav Res. e12136.
  3. Simone, L., Bennett, J.B., Neeper, M., Linde, B., Begley, K. (2017). What Champions Do Best: A Special Report for Designed Wellness Champions. Document prepared by ACEC Life/Health Trust; Frisco, Texas.
  4. Bennett, J.B. (2017). The Audacity of Wholeness: Part 1 (19 Tips). [Blog post]. Retrieved from
  5. Bennet, J.B. & Linde, B.D. (2016). Well-Being Champions: A Competency-Based Guidebook. Organizational Wellness and Learning Systems, Inc. Fort Worth, Texas.


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