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Meet Gianna Biscontini of W3RKWELL

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gianna Biscontini.

Gianna, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
As with most things in life, it’s been an eclectic and circuitous journey to a place I never intended on arriving. I was fortunate to have gained diverse work experience (from the creative fields of marketing and photography to the culturally opposite world of government), to lead teams from a young age, to create organizational change programs, to recover from my own wellbeing decline and to travel the world observing the interplay between work and life outside the U.S. All of these experiences prepared me for action when I discovered the research on workplace stress and it’s realized impact, not only on individual quality of life, but on families, communities and companies. A strong surge of purpose was propelled by a maddening sense of injustice. I felt protective over the people who work in companies that do not respect or honor all that life is. As I had studied human development, anthropology and culturally diverse populations so to eventually work in the human rights industry, what I was uncovering in regards to mental and physical health decline was, to me, a human rights issue. We can’t keep creating work environments that hijack lives. That’s not how people perform at their highest level, and it’s not how companies stay competitive today.

I happened to be searching for my next business idea and had just finished a private seminar on finding purpose with Simon Sinek’s team. Making the world of work a happier and more sustainable life experience felt like a serendipitous and aligned next step for me.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Very easy. No issues at all.

Said no entrepreneur, ever. Starting and growing W3RKWELL has been the biggest challenge of my life by a mile. To start, while I was highly skilled and experienced, I was coming from a field no one knew about, using a science no one had ever heard of, toting a credential that is not at all recognized (though it is widely applicable) outside of my original role in healthcare. I was switching industries from clinical work and healthcare research to business, which forced me to learn a new language and way of doing things. I am very lucky I love a challenge.

We also entered the well-being space about a year ahead of schedule, at a time when health-related programs and organizational change initiatives were not yet understood or marketed in relation to their effect on business metrics like retention and performance. Everyone was on board with the concept but unsure of where to start, still struggling to answer questions like, “How do we get people to move?”, “How do we get employees to eat better?”, “How do we prove an ROI?”, “What IS culture, and how do we change it?”. In addition, I put a hold on business development early on because I knew that what we wanted to do would warrant an entirely novel approach, which would require us to develop our own analytics tool. We spent 15 months in development before I felt confident in formally marketing our organizational culture and well-being assessment tool.

These challenges ended up working very much to our advantage, but it was a laborious start. At the time, leaders were still coming around to the idea of preserving their workforce by changing the environments in which they work, but they saw our purpose. And it was one everyone wanted to get behind.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
W3RKWELL’s mission is to improve work and well-being by bridging analytics with action. The analytics piece is important because nailing the root cause of a problem is what makes the change that follows effective and sustainable. In effect, the question isn’t, “How can we get employees to work better/eat better/move more?”, it’s “What is happening in the environment to create barriers to those behaviors in the first place?”, “What specific organizational stressors exist that keep people in maintained stress responses for 8-12 hours a day?”. Before investing in employee wellbeing it is helpful for companies to understand where the performance, retention and wellbeing decline is coming from. On a recent hike I overheard a gentleman tell his friend, “I come home and all I want to do is eat and sit on the couch. I just want my life back.” Sedentary lifestyles, burnout, mental health decline and unhealthy eating habits are not the problem, they are the result of the problem, whether that be fear-based performance management, lack of resources or a culture that rewards overworking. If our analytics can help change the work environment for the employee and elevate business metrics for the company, we’ve done right by both.

I love that yoga and nutrition is being integrated into the workplace. And we can do so much more. Employees typically don’t need a lot of extras, many of them simply want to get home for dinner or to have more time to do their work instead of sitting in meetings. And that’s different across every company, depending on many things. What would work look like if we spent time improving the environments we work in instead of placing the burden of wellbeing on the shoulders of employees? If employees are too busy, disengaged, distrusting or under too much stress to take advantage of them, these programs can look like reactive (albeit well intended) Band-aids instead of meaningful modifications based on what truly matters to people. If you want the plant to grow, change the environment it lives in.

What we’re becoming known for is dialing down culture and engagement to be extremely clear on what those words mean and how to influence change. There are three components to burnout, several more for engagement, and culture is the process of the behaviors that are rewarded or punished in any given environment, over time. With that understanding, we can say, “Here are the six specific things that are rewarded or punished in your company. This is where your retention and performance challenges are born” as opposed to giving high-level or ambiguous feedback that makes it difficult to craft solutions for. It’s extremely difficult to see your own culture. Companies look to us for our thought leadership and our method of supporting companies in building better experiences for their people *and* their business- both have to work in concert for change to remain over time.

What I’m most proud of is helping leaders buck conventional wisdom and traditional practices. Everything lives in leadership, and I’ve seen companies rise or fall based on who sits at the top. They gain a new perspective on how to attract and retain talent, improve performance and encourage a healthy, fulfilling workplace for the people who dedicate their time and effort each day. That’s why I started this work, to change the way people think about what makes us happy and healthy, or the opposite, so we can all do the work that eventually, hopefully, changes the world.

What were you like growing up?
Looking back I think I was a controlled kind of trouble, which probably still holds true today. My favorite word was (and still is), “Why?”. I had a “thinking rock” where I would sit for hours and, I don’t know, postulate the meaning of life as a seven year-old? I loved watching people and would wonder why they did the things they did. And here I am, a professional question-asker. I loved reading about female leaders and I wanted to have an impact on the world, but I had little direction. However, I learned that change of any magnitude requires contrarians prepared to ascend the traditional ways of thinking, and maybe that requires a specific kind of mischief.

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Image Credit:
Jennifer Dery

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