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A Transformative Conversation with Leaders Committed to Change Culture

by WCWI's Executive Director, Marissa Kalkman


I had the pleasure of speaking for Associated Bank, one of WCWI's member organizations, at an internal event they hosted this week. Their event was a resoundingly positive example of an employer acting on their responsibility and dedication to support their employees’ wellbeing. Associated Bank's two-day event was incredibly organized, planned with purpose, and supported by key leaders at the organization – all with the intention of convening sixty people representing their newfound Wellness Leadership Board and wellness champions to collaborate toward enhancing their culture. This employer is living out their responsibility to create a culture shift that will have a widespread and powerful impact on their employees.

When I spoke with this engaged group of leaders, I shared some compelling and thought-shifting ideas to spur change in the way they support the wellbeing of their people, but I also left feeling inspired by them and the optimism and enthusiasm they have to influence their culture for the better. In sharing a summary of this experience, I hope to spread the inspiration to you as well.


Humanizing wellness & holistically supporting people

There is a remarkable opportunity to think more expansively about what wellness is, and how employers can support their people. I opened the presentation with a simple question: what word, or words, do you think about first, when you think about your own wellbeing? My personal word that I think about is fulfilled. Others that were shared: energy, happiness, positive attitude, vitality. The fact that not one word was shared that pointed only to the physical state of health was so encouraging and aligns with the thought leaders and researchers who are forging an evolved conversation about wellness. Some of the work that we talked about as paving the path in evolving the way we look at and support wellness:

These expanded definitions are becoming more and more recognized, but are employers acting on their opportunity to more holistically support their people? Ryan Picarella, CEO of WELCOA, said it well in his recent blog article, “we work with humans, and humans are beautifully messy and complex” and to effectively and compassionately support them, we must widen the scope of our wellness strategies. 


Social connectedness

One of the undeniable truths about wellness, is that social connection is an absolute human need to feel and be well. Stanford Prevention Research Center’s research is helping to provide this correlation through their study on wellbeing and their findings on the 10 domains, and we’re also seeing this in other evidence as well. In the presentation, I spoke about a sociological study that found the average American reported having only two close others to confide in, and an even more stark statistic that nearly 25% reported having no one at all. This is a societal issue that is not exempt from our workplaces. Organizational culture is an underlying factor that either contributes positively or detracts harmfully from people’s social connectedness and wellbeing. The good news is that by-and-large, organizations can change, and can create or enhance their culture to lessen the issue and to help people connect. Laura Putnam, author of Workplace Wellness that Works, describes culture in her book as “the people and the ethos of the organization. It’s the way you feel when you walk into the organization. It’s how people work and connect together.” Laura also wrote a five-article series on LinkedIn about culture – check it out for some additional ideas on how to create a true cultural shift.


Collective responsibility for impact and influence

The final thing we talked about during this employer’s leadership meeting, was a call to action on how each and every person in the room has the potential and the ability to impact and influence the culture. As leaders and colleagues, our thoughts and actions contribute to the culture and ultimately to how people feel. We are all powerful change makers. We took a moment in the meeting, to review the VIA Character Strengths and thought about our own personal character strengths and how we can translate them into action that constructively supports the culture. A couple people shared their plans:

  • Leadership, perseverance, and creativity – shared by the executive champion for the Wellness Leadership Board who plans to use these strengths to continue to progress the wellbeing culture movement in the organization.
  • Social intelligence, teamwork, and zest – shared by a team leader who plans to infuse her own team with positivity and connection using these influential strengths.
  • How will you use your strengths to be a transformative force in your culture?

The extraordinary group of leaders from Associated Bank is an example to us all. With their intentions and actions aligned, and their openness to shifting their thinking and their approach in supporting their employees, they will help their people thrive.


Marissa Kalkman, MS, MCHES
Executive Director
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