Jess ElmquistOctober 4, 2023
Topics: News

Crowdsourcing Wisdom and Empathy as a Business Model

Sometimes the toughest part about dealing with grief and sadness is having someone to turn to.

I hit a really low point in my life when I lost my younger brother to cancer. Fortunately, there was a strong support network at home and work to help get me through those dark days. Not everyone is so lucky, I realize.

Having someone to confide in is a true blessing, especially when a quarter of adults say they don’t have someone in their life to talk to. Your HR team and your workforce are asking for this access at work more than ever before.

In the history of the modern workplace, companies take on the role of community support by filling the gap with things like health insurance and now mental health and coaching services. Their motives are altruistic, but companies know it also gives them the edge in talent retention and increased productivity.

Enter LifeGuides, an Arizona-based company with a fascinating 10-point business model. Major customers include Mattel and Kaiser Permanente. 

LifeGuides’s philosophy is rooted in the belief that we have grown more disconnected, and enterprises play an important role in improving society. In response, LifeGuides is building a community of health and wellness practitioners “who are gifted listeners, highly resilient, focused on positivity, and experts at mentoring and guiding others.”

Who exactly are these LifeGuides? They include “Craig C.” (a meditation and family conflict specialist) and “Vivian N.” (pregnancy, adoption, infertility) to name a couple.

That really resonated with me. So to learn more, I invited Derek Lundsten, the president and chief culture officer at LifeGuides, to join me on “Smarter.” 

[Watch the full episode, listen to it on Apple and Spotify, or continue reading for the big takeaways]

Lundsten hosts a podcast himself featuring business leaders who open their hearts to others. Fittingly, the podcast is called “Rebels With a Heart.” I appeared on it last year and immediately connected with him over a shared passion for equipping leaders for the future and developing people who are durable, change-oriented, and flexible.

[Here’s a related blog I wrote a few months ago that you might also find interesting: Are HR Leaders Born or Made?]

Lundsten wore a white baseball cap that said “Love” when he appeared on my program. That reveals quite a bit about what’s most important to him.

It’s not about what he does but how he does it. He was an early investor in LifeGuides because he believed in the idea of connecting people for wisdom-sharing and empathetic relationships. It is through those personal bonds that allow us to form healthier businesses, families, and communities. Lundsten and others had been building the company in the years leading up to the pandemic. 

What they found is that there are people who, in their core essence, “believe business can be a platform for creating goodness and creating change, they can create an environment for moving resources, to build new systems and better ways of doing things and mobilize and create ways to bring people together to do good work in the world,” Lundsten said.

In this clip, he explains how the idea for “Rebels” came about.

Emotional Armor

A sampling of past episodes shows that Lundsten may be on to something. “Rebels” took on topics such as “The AI Effect: Thriving in the Automated Workplace” and “Unlocking the Power of Employee Experience.” Now there are topics I can really sink my teeth into.

They are business-driven, strategically important issues for many companies, including my own. Some people, though, question the value of talking about “soft” topics as a waste of time because they don’t generate revenue. I disagree. 

More than 12 billion working days and $1 trillion are lost each year globally to depression, anxiety, and other issues that affect our well-being, according to the World Health Organization

“Rebels” sees business value in addressing other issues such as “Spirituality and Flourishing” and “Cultivating Empathy With Intention.” 

You can’t run a business these days without addressing the emotional elephant in the room. Studies show that the expression of empathy has far-reaching effects in our professional lives. Not only that, it’s increasingly seen as a pivotal leadership tool in today’s global talent market.

In the workplace, CEOs and CHROs are immune from the hidden emotional burdens employees or peers carry with them in the office. But when they make an attempt to understand the emotional anchors that weigh their people down, it can boost workplace morale and productivity, according to an EY survey.

I see this first-hand as a CHRO. I hosted a mental health-focused webinar that received tons of positive comments and generated quite a bit of discussion around the viability of truly bringing one’s self to work — a hot topic in HR.

Mixing the Personal With the Professional

The HR model of the past told employees to let your personal lives be personal, and your professional lives be professional. Don't let the two mix. Employees were expected to suit up when they arrived at their desks, put on the armor and mask, and get to work, regardless of a family emergency or exhaustion, for example.

Why are employees expected to bring work home, but not bring home to work? I know I’m not the first person to wonder that very question.

My Grandma Rose was my inspiration. She taught me how to treat people. I went to live with her when my younger brother I mentioned earlier got sick from cancer. She was a profound woman who changed me for the rest of my life. I often think about her in the context of bringing your whole self to work. I often challenge business leaders with this question — does your name come up as someone who markedly changed someone’s life for the better? Think about that.

It’s the Right Thing To Do

There are a couple of things that come to mind about mental health and investing in people from an HR leader standpoint — one, it actually pays off, and there can be a really good outcome for the company financially from a retention standpoint and from a cultural point. But it’s also the right thing to do.

A growing number of companies are starting to realize this. That’s perhaps the biggest change in the last several years — organizations realizing there’s a benefit to having a moral compass.

“Look at the resistance right now around the idea of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a concept,” said Lundsten. “Look at what's happening around conscious capitalism. There's a whole new conversation taking place. There will be a natural state of disagreement, tension, friction. It's happening right now, and that's part of the process.”

The key, he said, is to remain focused on the long-term benefit of investing in people no matter the initial push back.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Lundsten said. HR leaders would be wise to remember that.

I’d like to hear what your HR teams are doing to humanize their organizations. Maybe I’ll invite you to come on an episode of “Smarter” to talk about that journey. Let’s connect on LinkedIn.

About Smarter

“Smarter” is a podcast where I engage with top experts and senior leaders to uncover the big people trends, unlock the insights, and listen for new ideas related to purpose, people, and the processes that work the best. Let’s get smarter together.

Jess Elmquist

Jess Elmquist is the Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Evangelist at Phenom. In a previous career as the Chief Learning Officer at Life Time, the healthy way of life company, Jess hired more than 200,000 people and spoke to hundreds of his executive peers about talent trends.

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