- At The Commonwell Mutual Insurance Group, everyone in management — including the CEO — defines themselves by the value of “egoless leadership.” Leaders are supportive and available to employees, and this practice feeds into a strong culture of employee wellness.
- Amanda Payne, employee relations and HR program management lead at The Commonwell, prioritizes versatility in the company’s wellness offerings to ensure that each employee can access the resources they need. She shared about those benefits on an episode of the Virtual Vibe podcast.
- The Commonwell invests in its leaders’ role in wellness by pre-communicating about upcoming initiatives, sharing program adoption metrics, and encouraging them to invite their teams to participate.
According to Amanda Payne, companies undertake some initiatives because they’re right for the business and others simply because they’re the right thing to do.
The Commonwell Mutual Insurance Group, a Canadian company with just under 200 employees, views wellness as the right thing for both its business and its people. “I think that is why it’s so important for the organization,” says Amanda, who is The Commonwell’s employee relations and HR program management lead.
The organizational culture at The Commonwell promotes and rewards high performance, and wellness is a crucial part of that. When employees take part in healthy work practices, they can work efficiently and effectively. “Work consumes so much of our daily life. You want to be working in a way that is healthy and supports you,” Amanda explains.
On an episode of the Virtual Vibe podcast, I talked to Amanda about the role The Commonwell leadership plays in wellness at the company and the importance of versatility in wellness planning.
How The Commonwell Values Lead the Way to Wellness
The Commonwell’s remote flexibility stands out to job applicants during the hiring process — many employees work solely from home, while others choose to come to the office when they want. But once hired, employees encounter other traits that set The Commonwell apart from other organizations.
Before 2020, The Commonwell employees had several personal days available to them each year. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the company increased that number to allow people to navigate the additional stress. Instead of reverting to the previous number when life returned to “normal,” The Commonwell continued to offer its staff additional days and rebranded personal days as “do-it-your-way days.”
“Personal days are a little misunderstood,” Amanda explains. “People aren’t sure how to take them, what to say, or what they’re for.” Calling them “do-it-your-way days” let The Commonwell put a fresh spin on the concept and reinforce that each employee gets to choose how they spend these days away from their desk. “It’s up to you — it’s your time off,” says Amanda.
Most people have encountered someone who brags about not having taken a personal day in a decade — but The Commonwell wants to avoid that behavior and encourage wellness through time off.
Even though employees are free to take time off without sharing what they used the time for, Amanda notes that many people do share about their do-it-your-way days. Some use the time to focus on their health. Some employee resource groups have shared that they use the time to celebrate diverse holidays.
“Communicating the importance of taking them is key,” Amanda says.
When Amanda was hired, CEO Tim Shauf reached out to her personally and booked time on her calendar to get to know her. This surprised her — since she had come from a smaller company, she didn’t expect the president of a company of around 200 to reach out to her. But Tim didn’t stop there. A year later, he followed up with her to ask about her experience and learn how the company could improve.
This is a clear-cut example of The Commonwell’s value of “egoless leadership.” Those who are at the helm of the company don’t distance themselves from employees — instead, they engage with the staff directly, asking for feedback and then acting on it.
When The Commonwell asked its employees what it was like to work at the company, they consistently pointed to their leaders — leaders who care, make themselves available and have their teams’ backs. Yes, everyone has goals to reach and things to get done, Amanda acknowledges. But at the end of the day, “There’s a level of natural caring that is brought to the table that we’re all crossing the finish line together.”
Egoless leadership creates a culture of wellness by reminding everyone that their leaders care about them as people and want them to succeed.
The Role of Leadership in Wellness
Recent Gallup research found that, while many factors influence employee stress, managers play a critical role in workers’ on-the-job and overall stress — for better or worse. Supportive leadership can make all the difference in decreasing employee burnout and driving wellness.
From having an accessible CEO who reaches out to new employees to empowering people to lead wellness initiatives without a formal title, The Commonwell is a shining example of supporting employees effectively.
On top of training leadership on wellness topics, Amanda says that HR intentionally pre-communicates about upcoming initiatives. She shares about participation rates in current programs and encourages leaders to find ways to get their team involved with new resources.
But she also tries to ensure that leaders have time to engage in wellness themselves. “Leaders can very easily get bogged down in the day-to-day work,” she explains. “It’s really important to take that time where you might not have that water cooler talk anymore in the remote world.”
Her goal with leadership teams is to communicate what’s happening in the world of wellness, share how they can get involved, keep them accountable, and ensure they have the right tools at their disposal.
She’s also not afraid to repeat herself — in the hustle and bustle of the work week, busy leaders can use additional reminders. “Recommunicating over and over again is so key,” says Amanda.
Keeping Wellness Initiatives Versatile
Amanda says that versatility is one of her team’s top priorities when offering wellness programs. Whether an employee works solely from home or comes to the office more often, HR approaches and prioritizes wellness with the same energy.
“Regardless of where somebody works, it’s important that they’re able to engage in wellness,” she explains. “If we didn’t approach wellness the same way for each group, inevitably, people would miss out.”
The team incorporates different elements through various wellness initiatives, and Amanda acknowledges that some outcomes, such as physical or mental wellness, are easier to optimize for than other areas of well-being such as financial wellness. Finding the right program to fit the entire The Commonwell team can be a challenge. But by focusing on versatility and offering at least some initiatives in multiple areas of wellness, The Commonwell’s HR team supports everyone.
Here are just a few of the ways they support employees’ wellness journeys:
- Corporate wellness. Employees can receive reimbursement for gym memberships, exercise equipment and other expenses that promote their personal wellness.
- Flexible benefits program. Individuals can choose the level of benefits coverage they receive based on a “credits” model. If employees have excess credits, they are reimbursed and can spend those funds on wellness activities of their choice.
- Mental health benefits. More recently, The Commonwell has started offering mental wellness programs like an Employee Assistance Program and webinars with the Canadian Mental Health Association.
- Personal wellness offerings. The Commonwell works with a Toronto-based wellness provider to offer events like cooking classes and other educational webinars. They also use Bright Breaks to encourage employees to take seven-minute wellness breaks during the workday.
- Employee resources. Through a partnership with Lean In, The Commonwell offers allyship training to its staff and Lean In Circles that connect women within the organization, including one group focused on wellness journeys.
By offering a variety of wellness resources, The Commonwell allows each employee to engage with those that most closely align with their needs and journey.
What Wellness Success Looks Like
When Amanda looks to measure the performance of wellness initiatives, she goes back to what she calls the key component of wellness: “It’s the right thing to do for people. Of course, it’s important for the business, but … that really key piece [is] it’s important for people.”
She looks out for metrics like how many employees in the organization are using each of the tools offered while acknowledging that each person is different. Some people might gravitate toward one resource more than others, and that’s okay — “as long as there’s enough versatility that it meets the needs of your employee groups,” she says.
Amanda also carefully watches the HR lift of any new wellness initiative. Internal wellness challenges — such as competitive “bingo”-style events — are fun and exciting for employees, but they also add work and stress to the HR team. So Amanda looks for tools that make wellness easier to manage and deliver — which is one reason they adopted Bright Breaks. “Anything that keeps your wellness versatile, that keeps people engaged in it, and that is easy to deliver, is good in our world,” she says.
Amanda’s best practices for her team is also her parting advice for other organizations looking to focus on wellness: “Keep it versatile, and keep it easy.”
This article is based on an episode of the Virtual Vibe podcast by Bright Breaks, the platform that boosts workplace wellness seven minutes at a time. Want more insights on HR strategies for a happy, healthy and connected workforce in a work-from-home world? Subscribe to the Virtual Vibe podcast, and tune in wherever you listen to your favorite shows.