Michelle Strasburger is CEO and Chief Wellness Strategist at The Wellness Value. Michelle has over 20 years of progressive HR experience and runs a group of progressive HR Pros, called The HR Rebels. Michelle combines this experience with her education from IIN and Functional Nutrition Alliance to create wellness programs for organizations. These programs are not a "one size fits all" approach and are designed to meet employees where they are and improve their overall health and wellbeing. Michelle is on a mission to make the world of work a healthier and happier place.
Michelle Strasburger, CEO & Chief Wellness Strategist
What drives you and what’s your mission and purpose?
I want to make the world of work a happier and healthier place. I was a VP of Human Resources when we walked into the pandemic. Overnight, my life and work changed drastically. I was balancing work, keeping our employees safe, keeping my family safe and helping my children with remote learning. I was quickly on the road to burnout, working around the clock to try to balance everything. Because of that, I ended up re-evaluating my life and my focus, like many people. I realized that my children were suffering because of the demands with work. I’ve always been passionate about health and wellness, so moving from HR to this field made a lot of sense to me and I needed to make this shift to heal.
When someone leaves an organization, that organization suffers a loss. They lose the knowledge, the time invested in that person, the skillset and the contributions that that person brought to the organization. I’m passionate about what I’m doing because I don’t want employees to suffer like I did and ultimately leave like I did. Making the world of work a happier and healthier place so that no one has the experience I did. That’s what drives me every day and that’s what my purpose is.
One of your skills is to help others to create a more well and balanced life through health coaching. How do the wellness programs / Health Coaching and your methods work, and why do wellness programs / Health Coaching transform lives?
When we incorporate health coaching into a wellness program, we’re meeting employees where they’re at and not throwing out a one size fits all approach. With health coaching, we help employees create goals and a program to help them achieve these goals. We believe in bio-individuality, which means that everyone is different and that their journey to health and wellness is also going to be different. So, we set individual goals for everyone that participates. We also look at the things that feed us both on and off the plate, the latter being the most important. We could be eating all the right things, but if we’re stressed, that stress can manifest into health issues in our bodies including weight gain, adrenal fatigue, heart attack and stroke. With health coaching, we can focus on these areas and help employees form healthy habits that stick and it’s truly transformative. When someone is stress eating, just changing their diet won’t work. You have to address the root cause, which is the stress. When you do that, magic happens and they learn to cope in different ways so then food is no longer the problem.
It seems like your HR experience can be a value add for the organizations that you work for. can your experience in Human Resources help your clients when building out a wellness strategy?
Yes, so my HR experience is what differentiates what I do. I understand the challenges that HR professionals face. I get it because I’ve walked in their shoes and I can work with HR Professionals to create an impactful wellness strategy that works for their culture and their teams. I also have many years of experience with benefits and medical costs, so we can take a deeper look at what’s driving the medical costs and focus on these areas to improve employee health and reduce the costs for employers.
When you speak with a lot of human resource directors, managers and CEO’S, what’s the common challenge that many of them face? How are you helping them to face and solve this challenge?
The biggest challenge that Human Resources teams and their CEOs face is with recruiting and retaining talent. We’re constantly seeing the unemployment rates drop and employees are being selective. They are choosing where they want to work based upon the flexibility offered in addition to the culture and the benefits. Employees want to work for organizations that they feel care about them and celebrate what they bring to the table. With a well-rounded wellness strategy, you’re showing employees that you care about them and you’re investing in their health, wellness and wellbeing. When employees feel well and they feel cared for, their engagement and performance will be positively impacted and they’ll go above and beyond.
What is your typical approach when working with an organization?
Every organization is different and everyone has individual challenges that they’re trying to solve. When we work with an organization, we start by identifying the business challenges and people challenges that they are trying to address. We utilize an organizational wellness benchmark that gives us a baseline on where the organization is today. We then utilize that to create a wellness strategy and a plan for execution. The great thing about the benchmark is that it can be taken over time to measure the effectiveness of the strategy.
We also offer 3 products that can be implemented easily to start with or address some immediate needs. These are Restore Resilience, which focuses on mental health and employee wellbeing; Restore Health, which focuses on employee health; and Restore Balance, which focuses on women’s health. With all of these programs, employees have access to a health coach and they work with them to create their individualized goals. The programs are then customized based upon these goals. So, instead of a one size fits all approach, these programs are all personalized based upon the employees’ needs and we meet the employee where they are at.
What are the top one or two tips for an organization to get started to build out an effective wellness program? What can they do to see if it is actually working?
That’s a great question. I think the first step is to understand what employees are looking for. You can do this through surveys, like the benchmarking tool I mentioned earlier, through one on one conversations or in team meetings. You can also look at the data on absenteeism, leave requests, and healthcare costs. Finding out the need is important to hitting the mark instead of just throwing something out there to see if it sticks. The next step is to look at your culture. Are you creating a culture that supports wellness and wellbeing? Leadership sets the stage for culture and while you might talk about the importance of wellness, taking time off and self-care, if leaders are working around the clock, then the message is that employees must do the same. Whatever wellness initiative you’re putting in place HAS to be supported by leadership and leadership needs to walk the talk.
As far as tracking results, there are a few metrics you can look at. The benchmark I mentioned earlier is a great way to do this because it measures 7 specific areas tied to wellness. You can also look at your engagement scores, your scorecards, turnover and recruitment numbers as well as healthcare costs to see if you’re moving the needle. When implementing a wellness program, you’ll need to define these metrics, in the beginning, to be able to show the progress. That’s something that we can help within the process as well.