Oluyomi Okunowo has done a raft of compensation, reward and benefits roles, all over the world, and in different industries, so he has a very rich (pun intended) understanding of the relationship between money and wellbeing.
He’s currently SVP, Total Reward and People Operations at Wella Company, working across all Wella businesses in more than 30 countries, and is perfectly placed to talk about how reward and benefits can support employee wellbeing at The Watercooler Event on 25 & 26 April.
We caught up with him to get a sneak preview of what he’s planning on talking about on this panel session.
What do you think is the relationship between salary and wellbeing?
We look at three things when thinking about employee wellbeing; physical, mental and financial wellbeing. Salary plays into financial wellbeing and, for a lot of employees, is a hygiene factor, one of the draws for a role which will encourage a prospective employee to walk in the door.
If the salary is right, the conversation will go on to other things, like longterm incentives or benefits or medical packages. Then it might move on to talking about longterm financial planning pensions and mental wellbeing. But salary is the first building block which enables people to decide whether they want to start the career journey with you as an employer or not.
So, basically, money is important but not everything?
It’s not. That’s why I use the word ‘hygiene’. Money is enough to get them to listen, but it’s not enough to retain them for a long period of time. That’s why conversations around wellbeing are becoming important and why you see organisations talking about bringing your best, whole self to work.
What do you think about the idea of bringing your ‘whole self’ to work, which we’ve written a lot about recently and views are divided?
I’m in-between. People need to have environments that they feel comfortable in because they spend so much of their time in the workplace. Not just the physical spaces, but virtual spaces, too.
For me, bringing your whole self to work is about coming into a space where you feel like you can learn and don’t have to give up too much of yourself to ‘fit in’. That’s what organisations need to realise: they can’t be everything to everyone, but they can create opportunities for people to be able to express themselves and feel at ease.
How important are rewards and benefits in relation to employee wellbeing?
Hugely. The pandemic and the last 12-18 months have really showed how important the link is. So many of us have become remote workers, with issues arising around depression and stress. Then we’ve had inflation and financial challenges that people are now struggling with. For rewards leaders such as myself, you can’t be everything to everyone, but you can provide enough support and awareness and information so people know before they are in trouble. They can almost self-diagnose and then get help. That’s why, through our programmes, it’s so important employees know who they can speak to and what programmes are available. So the connection between rewards, benefits and wellbeing is very strong.
What role do you think employers play in employees’ lives in these challenging times? How can organisations care for their employees, especially when they can’t keep up with inflation?
You need to walk the fine line between being paternalistic and overly-involved. But also you need to show that duty of care by using your resources to simply nudge employees in the directions they need to go to, if they need help.
The challenge is how you help people walk through some of these mental wellbeing challenges they’re facing – the answer is making sure, not only that your working environment is safe and comfortable, but also making sure they can reach out and get help concerning their personal lives, too.
How important is financial wellbeing currently? More important than other aspects of wellbeing?
I usually don’t like to say one is more important than the other. They’re all equally important.
Financial wellbeing is important to the extent that people need to be able to provide for themselves and their families. This feeds into the other parts of wellbeing because when people struggle financially, you see it immediately in their physical and their mental wellbeing. There’s no doubt that if people have problems with financial wellbeing they don’t even think about the other two pillars [mental and physical].
So it’s important to provide opportunities for people to earn decent wages, have opportunities to progress and have information that enables them to plan their finances. When employees are financially stable, that enables them to take care of the other parts better; that’s when you find them more willing to go and exercise or eat healthily or take holidays, for example.
Equality is another subject I’ve seen you post about on LinkedIn – it can be difficult to start conversations about equality, whether it be gender or racial, for example. What’s been your experience and learnings here?
The conversations can never be easy because of history. How we’ve tried to tackle them is from day one said ‘we stand for equality and addressing these issues’.
We’ve set up affinity groups around, for instance, gender equality, and we’ve been very open around the conversation. Does that make the conversation easier? No, it doesn’t. It won’t always be easy. There are going to be tough conversations. But we want to have them. We are trying to shift mindsets, and we’re moving in the right direction.
I know that your WOW programme is very important to you – can you tell me a bit about that?
Yes! This is our ‘We Own Our Own Way’ programme. It’s something that we just recently launched where every single employee has a stake in the company, which helps build what we call the ‘owners mindset’. It helps engage everyone towards a common goal of building the company. The response has been incredible. When employees are engaged like this, there’s a positive impact on mental wellbeing, and physical wellbeing. But, the clincher for me, is the impact on financial wellbeing, because our employees are building wealth.
If they help create value in the company and get a pay-out, this can help build financial wellbeing and financial security. It’s such an exciting programme because it touches our three pillars of wellbeing and we have really high hopes for it.
To meet Oluyomi in person, and contribute to the conversation come along to our sister event the Watercooler on April 25th and 26th, 2023.
Oluyomi is taking part in a panel discussion entitled ‘Ensuring Your Reward and Benefits Offer is Designed to Support Employee Wellbeing’.
The Watercooler, named in recognition of those crucial moments of connection between employees, is a free to attend conference and exhibition which demonstrates that wellbeing IS the future of work. For themes that were ‘hot topics’ at last year’s event, like line manager wellbeing, see this article.
Taking place at Excel London, The Watercooler event is where you can gather to join ideas together, make connections, learn from peers’ experiences and find the right solutions for your organisation – whatever its size and shape.
For reasons why this is a must-attend event for anyone interested in workplace wellbeing, see this article here.
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