Expert Interview: Colleen Reilly

March 19 2019 / by Mari Ryan

In this Expert Interview, AdvancingWellness CEO Mari Ryan and Colleen Reilly explore the topic the role of employers in employee well-being. Is it a strategy or is it a responsibility?

Colleen is the Vice President of Wellbeing Services at Thrive Pass, a leading provider of a comprehensive platform for managing employee benefits.

Colleen Reilly

Colleen Reilly Interview

Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials Series. I'm Mari Ryan, I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It's my pleasure to welcome you today to this expert interview, where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guest today is Colleen Reilly.

Colleen is the Vice President of Wellbeing Services at Thrive Pass, a leading provider of a comprehensive platform for managing employee benefits. Previously, Colleen was the president and founder of Total Wellbeing, a leading provider of performance-based corporate wellness services. Colleen’s experience also includes time spent at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic and Coors Brewing Company in Golden, Colorado.

Colleen was instrumental in earning Coors their 2002 Gold Well Workplace award, recognizing them as one of the healthiest workplaces in the United States. Colleen holds a Bachelor of Science in Science from Santa Clara University, and an MBA and Master of Science Management with an emphasis in sports and wellness management from the University of Denver.

When Colleen is not busy working, consulting, speaking, she can be found outdoors skiing in the winter, biking or running in the summer, and playing with her family. Colleen, I am so excited to have you here today.

Colleen Reilly: Thank you, Mari. It’s so wonderful to be here.

Mari Ryan: Fabulous. Today we are going to explore an interesting topic about wellbeing from the perspective that wellbeing is not a strategy, it is a responsibility. Now, that’s a bold statement, so today as we explore the employer’s role with regard to this, and how it impacts employee wellbeing, I just want to mention, in his book Everybody Matters, Barry Wehmiller’s CEO, Bob Chapman, talks about the idea that every person who comes to work each day is someone’s precious child. He says “they recognized they would have greater inspirational impact on people than any other organization if they were good stewards of their lives, and that our deepest sense of right and responsibility was awakened by those simple, profound insights.”

So, Colleen, let’s talk a little bit about this idea of why wellbeing is now a responsibility and not just a strategy.

Colleen Reilly: Thank you, Mari. I would like to go back in time a little bit. The health and well-being industry has been around for decades, almost 50 years, if you go to the very first employers who were focused on that. We’ve had remarkably successful endeavors over the past half century, spreading workplace wellness into a worldwide movement, international, as an antidote to individuals in organizations living life at suboptimal levels due to less than healthy lifestyles, environments, cultures, climates at the workplace, in families, and even within communities.

I still think, although there are some organizations that have had success, many organizations don’t truly understand the multi-dimensions to create a culture where people thrive. I have realized that what we’ve accomplished in the past is not going to be adequate in the next century, or even in the next decade. Wellness, just as a program, is not viable. It truly does require becoming part of the entire employee experience.

If you think about it, what does that mean? What is the employee experience? It encapsulates everything that an employee observes, they encounter, they feel over the course of their time with that employer. It’s their journey.

I love the way Accenture defines the employee experience, as culture, as climate or environment, and technology. Companies that have great employee experience outperform Standard & Poor’s 500 Index by 122%. To truly integrate wellbeing into the employee experience, it’s no longer a strategy, it becomes a responsibility of the current and future generation of leaders.

Mari Ryan: Absolutely. Love it. I totally agree with you because this is exactly how working with some of my clients, they’re starting to look at this relationship between what is employee experience, and what is well-being, how do these things all come together? Can you unpack this a little bit more and talk more about what this means and what it looks like?

Colleen Reilly: If I was to go back in time when we were hunters and gatherers, leadership was distributed between men and women equally. There is not a lot of hierarchy, everybody is “all hands on deck” just to survive. If you wanted to eat and you wanted to survive, you are either hunting or gathering. Then, we transitioned to farming, and there was a little more fixed roles. Then, religion started to show up and we got organized. Religions started to guide and shape our society. Things continued to move and we started mass production, the appearance of nations, the growth of commerce. Governments began to guide and shape society.

Who is shaping our society now? It’s business and corporations. Who is leading the businesses and organizations that are shaping our society? It’s leaders, and these leaders really are guardians and shapers of our society and humanity. That is so critical to understand because for the most part, we are unprepared for this. We are driven to deliver profit, return on investment, shareholder value, investor value.

The one, key component that is missing – and I know you and I talked about it – is the lack of human connection, this true caring and nurturing of a human being and their wellbeing. I’m sure some of the viewers have read Dying for a Paycheck, and according to the research in the book, 61% of employees have said workplace stress has made them sick; 7% have actually been hospitalized due to this. Job stress is costing employers more than $300 billion annually, 120,000 excess [indecipherable - 0:08:20.5] per year. We are literally dying for a paycheck and this has to stop. The business leaders – all of us – it is time for us to rethink longer-term and focus not just on profits, but equally purpose, passion, and people, then ultimately, absolutely, the profits will come.

If you have ever read Firms of Endearment, and even the second addition of Firms of Endearment, you’ll see that those types of companies are outperforming S&P 500 as well.

Mari Ryan: I think you are so right about this, and what I love is there are more and more opportunities for us to have the evidence, that those organizations that are taking this people-centric, caring for their people approach are now outperforming those organizations that are taking a more traditional approach. This is the whole work of the conscious capitalism movement. It’s exciting to see that so much of this is starting, and I say starting because I still think this is not the norm. Would you agree with that?

Colleen Reilly: Oh, 100%. It’s kind of like what we talked about at the very beginning. We’ve come a long way in the last 50 years of getting health promotion and wellness and wellbeing, and it did become a strategy, and now we’re on the precipice of continuing to push the needle forward, but we still have some laggards that don’t understand, like I said earlier, the multi-dimensions to make this difference, and they still think it’s burpees and broccoli.

We’ve got a lot of … the biggest thing we have to do, in my opinion, is we have to move beyond implementers to influencers, to multipliers, to get this change socialized. We are social creatures and we influence each other.

Mari Ryan: Absolutely. I’m curious, from your perspective, Colleen, how do employers intentionally create a workplace where people can bring their best selves to work?

Colleen Reilly: I love that question, and I would say the first thing an employer, as they embark on this journey, they have to know their “why.” Why are they doing this? Why – and start there. A lot of times when I am working with clients, what I hear is there why is recruitment and retention. Maybe healthcare costs and accessibility. A big one; how can you truly inspire people to bring their best selves to work, and if I was to take each one of those, I would say the first one, recruitment and retention is hugely important. It is what is affecting and keeping HR up at night right now. People are struggling to keep that top talent. According to the U.S. Labor Department, the number of Americans that are quitting their jobs is the highest it has ever been in a decade -- 3.1 million people voluntarily left their jobs in January 2017.

The other critical thing is filling that open position is literally expensive. It’s like $4,000-5,000, it can take around 52 days to get the position filled, and then you’ve got the ramping up and onboarding that can take six to nine months. It shows that the average $65,000 job cost $45,000 to fill at the end of the day with all those costs sunk in. It is costing companies across the company $160 billion per year. We’ve got to invest in our people and inspire them to bring their best selves to work so we can keep them.

A couple things; how do you do that? I would just say … go to one of the latest studies that Gallup, or articles that Gallup wrote about a more humanistic workplace and a nice way to start stepping into that is adjusting vulnerability, and being authentic, and being real, and embodying those values. Our meaningful moments, when people become vulnerable, and that can make or break your culture.

Maybe an organization doesn’t know where to start. Storytelling is huge. It’s a great way to just connect with people so they feel seen, they feel heard, they feel valued. A culture of belonging is what brings out the best in people. As I am diving into this with a lot of organizations, and just even yesterday at the American Heart Association, we talked about what does human connection mean to you. Empathy came up, vulnerability came up, being seen and heard, valued, recognized. Gallup’s done some study on, okay, well, with vulnerability there are four meaningful moments within a workplace that make a difference; when you propose a new idea, when you ask for help, when you push back on something, or even when you ask for a personal favor. In these meaningful moments, which happen, as we know, how other people receive an employee’s vulnerability is critical. As a leader, if you can understand and meet them where they are, they ask for a favor and you grant it, oh my gosh, that allows that employee to feel like they’ve been heard and that positive response can build a positive culture.

On the other hand, if it’s received very negatively, like why would you ever ask that, you idiot, it has other ramifications. Again, because we are social by nature, this type of behavior multiplies. Can we use that social contagion to become influencers of creating that kind of environment?

Mari Ryan: Great ideas and suggestions on how to create that environment where people really do want to bring selves to work and I love that you started with the idea of “why.” It goes to the purpose and how that links into … clearly some of the elements that you talked about here, purpose and connection, those are core elements of well-being at its very core. Great suggestions there.

If our audience wants to learn a little bit more about you and the work that you are doing, Colleen, where can they find you?

Colleen Reilly: A couple of places; LinkedIn is the easiest, so Colleen Reilly on LinkedIn. Also, I do some articles on Forbes around these types of topics, and with a lot of high-level strategic to get started, but always boiling it down to what are some tactics that we can implement right away, or how do we make the business case to our leaders to get them to understand this is what we need to do as companies start to and continue to shape our society.

Mari Ryan: All right, thanks so much. This is a great conversation, and I love your ideas. As always, it’s wonderful spending time with you, Colleen.

Colleen Reilly: Thank you so much, Mari. I’m so grateful for our friendship and partnership, and being in this industry and making change together. Thank you.

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Topics: Worksite Wellness, Wellbeing, worksite wellbeing, workplace wellbeing, wellness, employee wellness, worksite well-being, hr, employee engagement, engagement strategey, company culture, employee retention, employee well-being, human resources, workplace wellness, organizational culture, corporate wellness, people-centric, corporate culture

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.