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The pandemic caused an existential crisis for countless companies and employees. Yet, it also revealed that mental and emotional health and wellbeing is a business imperative.

Recent studies show: Investing in the wellbeing of people pays off in increased employee productivity, customer engagement, company profitability, and stock market returns. In our post-pandemic world of work, many companies have become serious about making human thriving a new standard of success.

As our team at Wisdom Works advises these companies, we realize there is a long way to go. A 2023 Gallup report across Germany, France, United Kingdom, the U.S.A., and other countries highlights that only one in four employees strongly feel their organization cares about their wellbeing. Leaders are struggling, too. When we implement Be Well Lead Well Pulse®, our assessment measuring 19 science-based factors of human thriving and stress resilience, the results are sobering: Leaders who report lower mental and emotional wellbeing also report less abilities to energize their teams, maximize the effectiveness and growth of people, and cultivate a collaborative work environment. Overstressed, imbalanced, depleted leaders don’t make the best decisions for their teams and organizations (or themselves.)

Fortunately, a growing momentum of organizations recognize a thriving culture and thriving people are differentiators to attract and retain talent, humanize work, and sustain excellent performance. Our client partner, the international food company Barilla, is part of this movement.

Barilla’s Julia Schwoerer with Renee Moorefield and Dianne Culhane, Wisdom Works.

While employee engagement and wellbeing saw steep declines worldwide during the pandemic, for example, Barilla asked Wisdom Works to deliver a multi-month, experiential journey for Mulino Bianco, a treasured bakery brand. The journey had three aims:

  1. Support the mental and emotional health of Mulino Bianco team members.
  2. Create stability as the team determined new ways for working together.
  3. Investigate the brand’s role and relevancy for advancing wellbeing in a new global context.

The journey’s outcomes were inspiring: The team reported a 59% rise in a collaborative culture, plus they significantly enhanced wellbeing, individually and as a group, for every factor we measured. The team also reawakened the brand’s purpose to nourish the trust that the world can be a better place by catalyzing activations for the wellbeing of consumers. Barilla’s Category Bakery President, Julia Schwoerer claimed, “Addressing wellbeing is not a separate conversation from work. It’s about people seeing each other as whole human beings. It means creating an environment that integrates work and life, plus supporting each other in our journey to thrive.”

Building on this success, we involved Barilla’s Italy business executives and people managers in a similar development journey. As a result of their commitment, these leaders demonstrated higher thriving, resilience, key wellness behaviors, and trust with each other. Plus, they gained tools to hold much-needed wellbeing conversations with employees to foster a climate of psychological safety and optimism.

Barilla leaders we supported also found new potentials for living and leading with Wonder, defined in our assessment as the ability to “evolve your worldviews through engaging in new experiences and challenges, embracing differences, and perceiving beauty around you.” Across our research of thousands of leaders worldwide, we find Wonder as one of the least known psychosocial resources people can use to nurture wellbeing and better leadership. Even less understood is that Wonder is a gateway to innovation and inclusion. It has the unique ability for helping us shift attention away from ourselves and authentically connect to others, nature, and something greater.

Business and functional leaders across Barilla today are building a roadmap to strategically integrate wellbeing into the company’s future. “Wellbeing has become a key enabler in driving cultural transformation and supporting our Company Strategy, identifying global programs that are relevant, meaningful, and directly contribute to the engagement, well-being and development of our people.” Francesca Quintavalla, Barilla’s People Engagement Project Manager, states.

Group D&I Strategy and Initiatives manager, Luisa Ercoli says, “We strive to celebrate every voice and every perspective in our company. Our focus on wellbeing is a strategic vehicle that cultivates the environment to do so.”

When we thrive mentally, emotionally, and physically, we have an abundance of energy to unleash toward positive business and social outcomes, not to mention, fulfilling lives. Embracing thriving is not only about return on investment; it redefines how we live, work, grow, and succeed.

Barilla Group’s executives part of the discussed project.


This article was originally published in DiverCity Magazine: Mental Health issue