Chief Well-Being Officer Takes A Collective Approach To Solve Burnout

Chief Well-Being Officer Takes A Collective Approach To Solve Burnout

Two months ago, I wrote about the rising role of the Chief Well-being Officer and it went viral. The biggest benefits of that piece were validation that the Rise of the Chief Well-being Officer is real and that forward-thinking leaders are starting to change the conversation. One of those leaders is Jen Fisher, the first Chief Well-being Officer at Deloitte. We connected and I learned more about her passion and why well-being is a priority in her life and to her organization. I wondered, is it finally becoming the norm? If so, what was the catalyst; COVID-19, the riots, zoom fatigue at work, parents becoming teachers in addition to their other responsibilities? Or was it that leadership finally realized that the way to gain a sustainable marketplace advantage was through their employees? We both agreed that there was no one thing, but really it was a combination of situations and events in our lives, society, and the workplace that became a catalyst for change. 

Jen shared with me that she had a personal catalyst that changed her life, long before COVID-19. She has worked at Deloitte for over 20 years and has a long history of caring for its people no matter what role she was in. Over the years, technology had enabled Deloitte’s workforce to work anywhere, anytime, from home, a co-working space, a client location, or at the home office. 

This flexibility had both positives and negatives. And unfortunately, 6 years ago, Jennifer was feeling more of the negatives. She was a driver and worked hard, got results and was climbing the corporate ladder. The ability to work from anywhere and at any time without boundaries resulted in 19-hour workdays. She believed this was ok because she always made time to exercise and eat right, plus she thought she only needed 3-4 hours of sleep. She was a rising superstar, until one day she could not even get out of bed. She was burned out, out of gas, she was done.

Luckily, Jen’s leader and mentor initiated some “forced time-off.” This leader told her to really think about what her well-being meant. Does it really mean exercise every single day? Could well-being also include rest and recovery? Could it maybe even mean sitting on the couch with a book or watching a Netflix show? Could it mean sipping a cup of tea and looking out the window and doing nothing? Jen began to reflect and evaluate her life, her habits, and her sleep routines, and things became very clear. She did need a break, and she took one – a very long one. 

When Jen returned to work, her life changed. Burnout transformed her and it inspired her to not just bounce back, but to bounce forward. She rediscovered her purpose and her passion, and it was to help others avoid burnout – and understand that this is NOT the price to pay for success. She wanted to help her colleagues take off their “badge of busyness” and learn the importance of creating a meaningful and thriving work-life integration.

Jen knew there wasn’t a role like this at Deloitte, so she talked to her leader about what she wanted to do. The leader advised her to write a business case. She did exactly that and met with leadership. They were supportive and understood the need, so they appointed her Chief Well-being Officer six years ago. Her role is to empower Deloitte’s people to focus on their well-being. She believes this is critical because if we don’t support employee well-being, we are sub-optimizing our people’s potential. As a professional services organization, we are solving complex problems that require our people to show up as their best selves. The well-being of our people is the well-being of our organization.

Jen’s first step in the Chief Well-being Officer role was to create a comprehensive well-being strategy. This was not about just throwing money at apps, tools, or programs. Rather, it was about cultural transformation. She knew it needed to be part of the culture and come alive where the people live and work every single day. She engaged with Deloitte employees to understand their needs and discovered that well-being is not one-size fits all.

Deloitte created Empowered Well-being, a framework that empowered their people to personalize well-being in ways that matter most to them in body, mind, and purpose. It was not about defining well-being for people or putting policies in place. Instead, it focused on building awareness, turning understanding into action, and providing support and flexibility so employees could prioritize what was important to them. 

Well-being is a journey and Deloitte is adapting its strategy as the workforce evolves. Initially, the focus was on the well-being of the individual, but as the way we work changes, Deloitte is paying extra attention to team culture. At Deloitte, teams discuss and embed well-being behaviors and norms that support and enhance the collective well-being of the team. As a result, a new open and authentic culture is forming, but it didn’t happen at year one.

How Deloitte Is Building A Culture Of Well-being

Creating Inclusive Well-being

Empowered Well-being goes beyond just physical wellness and focuses on the whole person, including, mental and emotional health, personal purpose, and financial well-being. To demonstrate this, Deloitte expanded their popular well-being subsidy to include purchases such meditation, massages, scuba diving, golf course range fees, registration fees for charitable marathons and walks, and much more. Additionally, to reinforce the importance of rest and recovery, Deloitte initiated the “Collective Disconnect.” This is where Deloitte employees disconnect together for the last week of the year. Employees still have their PTO throughout the year, but the “Collective Disconnect” allows everyone to focus on rest and recovery at the same time. 

Empowering A Grassroots Effort

The start of a culture shift at Deloitte was initially driven by the grass roots efforts of employees who were passionate about well-being. Engaging Deloitte’s people has always been central to the Empowered Well-being approach. Actually, the employees came up with the brand, EMPOWERED because they identified with it. Deloitte continues to support this network of well-being enthusiasts through the Well-being Wizards. The Wizards are a network of champions at Deloitte who want to share their passions for well-being with their colleagues and teams. They help drive culture change where it matters most – through the day-to-day interactions on the team level by engaging their colleagues in well-being activities, sharing resources, and advocating well-being in the organization.

Making Mental Health A Priority

Deloitte’s well-being strategy also emphasizes an important topic that is often considered off-limits in the workplace – mental health. Jen Fisher is striving to create a culture at Deloitte that supports mental and emotional well-being, destigmatizes mental illness, and reinforces empathy, compassion, and kindness. Two years ago, Deloitte launched Mental Health @ Work, providing resources, tools, and learning opportunities to create a more mental health literate workforce. Employees are also creating a more open and honest environment to speak out about mental health needs by sharing their personal stories related to mental health.

Lessons Learned:

  • Engage your people: Involve your people in the process, pilot new programs and initiatives, and get their feedback. Find out what is relevant, meaningful, and valuable to your population. This is a step that many people miss, but it is critical to any cultural transformation.
  • Check-in with employees regularly and create an ongoing conversation: Regardless of the type of discussion – project-planning, goal-setting, performance, etc. – well-being should be part of the conversation. Employees should have regular check-ins with their teams, managers, and colleagues about their well-being needs. Deloitte fosters these conversations through their interactive digital dashboard, Vitals. This tool aggregates professional’s time, schedule, and other employee data with self-reported energy levels on how they are feeling to drive meaningful well-being conversations with their coaches. It also provides valuable real-time insights to leaders about the well-being of their teams so they can proactively identify and support professionals who may be at risk of burnout.
  • Focus on culture: Benefits and programs will only get you so far. You need to change the culture if you want to create an environment where people feel comfortable speaking out about their well-being needs. Everyone at Deloitte plays an important role in creating a culture of well-being by role modeling positive behaviors, embedding well-being norms into the design of work, sharing stories and resources, and supporting their colleagues and teams to do the same. Focus on small, but meaningful behaviors that can add up to make a big impact.

What the Future Holds

One of the silver linings of the recent COVID-19 pandemic is a recognition that workforces are more agile and resilient. Organizations have started to reframe where and how people get work done on a global level. In addition, many organizations are going well beyond just health and safety programs, to focus on mental health and the need for rest and recovery. Leaders are learning and wanting to do more for their people. Real conversations are happening about many topics that used to be taboo, such as mental health. In addition to individual well-being, to truly make a difference we have to focus on collective well-being. Learn more collective well-being being studied by Yale researchers.


Colleen Reilly,
I cover positive change for individuals and organizations.