In my roles as Chief Well-being Officer at Deloitte and Thrive’s Life-Work Integration Editor, I talk a lot about how we can all design well-being into the flow of our workday. One of the ways we do this at Deloitte is through a one-of-its-kind program called The Well-being Wizards. They’re an incredible network of empowered and passionate employees that really function as our very own human wellbeing platform. I recently sat down with the creator and the OG Wellbeing Wizard herself, Jaime Ledesma, to talk about how the program and lessons we can learn from it about wellbeing at the individual team and organizational level.
Jen: So what does it mean to be a Wellbeing Wizard?
Jaime: The Wellbeing Wizards are what some people might call a change agent network or a champion network. It’s a group of people who have a passion for well-being. Everybody has a unique angle about what they love. So they learn a lot and share with each other, but they’re also part of shifting the larger culture at our company towards ways of working that support our wellbeing.
Jen: Let’s talk about the origin of the program and your interest and wellbeing.
Jaime: I came to wellbeing in a similar way that other people probably do, which is that something wasn’t working in my life. I feel pretty lucky that I figured that out earlier in my career. There was this social contract I bought into that said, if you’re smart and you work hard and you get a good job, you’ll be successful. And in my mind successful meant I’d be happy and healthy. But those two pieces didn’t equate. I was experiencing migraines. I felt like I couldn’t keep up. I experienced a lot of anxiety and insecurity about how I was doing.
But I was lucky to find yoga and meditation. I trained to lead programs in corporate offices. And as I invested in my own wellbeing, not only was I starting to feel better and learn how to take care of myself, I was looking around thinking, everyone else needs some of this, too. So I got involved with a Chicago office team that was starting to plan wellbeing activities in our offices.
And that’s where I got to test this theory that other people needed it, too. We found it was true. I was teaching these yoga classes in a conference room, which is funny now, and people started joining. We also started a mindfulness series, and it just started to grow naturally from there.
And there’s this other piece too, which is, as you start to feel you’re positively impacting others, it’s very motivating to do more. There was this self-generating energy from having found something I really cared about and being able to take it to work and use it to benefit others. We saw so many people figuring out ways to make well-being work for them. And they also cared immensely about the people they worked with, their teams, and their communities. So we wanted to bridge those two pieces, and create a structure that empowered people who had this passion and this knowledge to share in ways that benefit others. It made them feel purposeful and connected to what gives them meaning.
Jen: There are so many parts of your story that I love, but one that I really want to point out is that so often we feel like we need to wait for permission to do things. And what I hear you saying is you didn’t wait or ask for permission. You just took the initiative and ran with it. What made you push forward and feel comfortable to bring that into the workplace?
Jaime: I don’t think I had another option. I hadn’t found a sustainable model for working that didn’t involve wellbeing. I tried the high achieving and staying up all night so that everybody felt like they were really good at their job. So it was born of necessity.
The second piece is that I was getting positive signals the whole time. Nobody came down and said, “no, Jaime don’t focus on wellbeing — this isn’t important.” I got positive nudges like, “yeah, that’s great — if you’re willing to plan it and put some of effort in, then I’d love to support it.” I had different leaders constantly saying that. And you’d made a job at this firm around wellbeing, so that was also a huge part of it.
Jen: Well, thank you for that.
Jaime: So some of this wellbeing activity was already happening out of necessity. People adapt and move towards thriving. We were just trying to create a structure for it.
Jen: So how did you create that structure?
Jaime: We created an application open for anybody. I say that because it’s important — a lot of ambassador programs are volunteered, or as we call it, “voluntold.” You’re tapped. We flipped that paradigm. We said, “where are you folks who are passionate about wellbeing, and want to get involved?” We never pushed anybody into taking on this responsibility.
The flip side of that is that everybody who applied really genuinely wanted to be there. So we accepted about 150 people, and we brought them into this big onboarding session where we started to layout, what is wellbeing at our firm? Let’s build a common understanding of where we’re going. And then what’s our role in that? So they started taking important information that comes from our central wellbeing program and disseminating it into their team newsletters and accounts and meetings.
Jen: Has the program changed?
Jaime: It’s evolved hugely over the years. The program has grown and our thinking in wellbeing has grown. We started to realize that wellbeing has to be more than a bolt-on program, and instead needs to be integrated into the flow of work. We call it wellbeing in the flow of work. And so the Wizards have done that. They’re extraordinarily creative — whether it’s White Space Wednesdays, blocking out time for no meetings so people can work together, or creating practices about email, like putting in your tagline,” I’m working on flexible hours right now,” or “I don’t expect you to respond until your working hours begin.”
So not only have they helped us share this message about wellbeing, but it’s evolved into integrating wellbeing into the day-to-day. That’s really where we’re heading, which is making wellbeing part of the fabric of work rather than something that we feel we need to address after work.
Jen: I love that. And I would say for me as a leader, one of the most important aspects that I see in the Wizards that has definitely evolved is that they aren’t shy to give us feedback. So when I talk about the Wizards as our human wellbeing platform, it’s true. Instead of having this big digital platform, we actually have human beings that are present and on the ground. They bring those experiences back to us so we know what our people like or don’t like, or are struggling with.
So it’s not like we’re sitting in some room as a wellbeing team saying, oh, we’re going to create this program or this project. We really have a true, open feedback loop with our people to say, hey, what’s working and what’s not, what do we need to do more of, what do we need less of? And you’ve created this incredible space for them to feel safe in doing that. Some of our most creative ideas and programs have come as a result of the great thinking of our Wizards.
Jaime: The most creative and adaptive solutions aren’t coming from something we read or an app that we’ve purchased, but from our people. They’re each other’s support network. They’re sharing ideas with each other all the time, like hosting a virtual wellbeing retreat in the middle of the pandemic, or saying, “oh, I know this colleague has this incredible mindfulness experience. I’m going to bring them into my team.” Or “this colleague is all about movement and running and they’re going to come to give a talk.” So this collaboration resulted in things I never dreamed of when we were sketching it out for 150 people.
Jen: How many are there now?
Jaime: With mostly word-of-mouth promotion, three years later that group of 150 is now almost 1,300 people.
Jen: Do you have any favorite stories — things that on those worst days, when you just need to hang on to something that’s positive, you know had an impact?
Jaime: I have a lot of them. I’ll do a sad one, then a lighter one. The first is that one of our Wellbeing Wizards lost two important people in a pretty short period of time. And that obviously took some time to heal. And when they came back, they stood up in front of our entire community and shared this story, not only about how, because of the program, they knew what resources were available to them, particularly mental health resources. They said that having a group of people who understood healing gave them space to feel like they could actually use some of the really difficult experiences they had just been through to help other people was essential.
When we give people space to be themselves, we’re also giving the space to heal themselves. So that story sticks with me on the low days, that when we create these programs, we give people a chance to synthesize their own personal experience in a way that might help their healing and also reach other people who are struggling as well.
Then on the lighter end, I’ve watched people step outside of their assigned day-to-day roles, whether they’re a junior professional or an administrative professional, and become leaders by sharing wellbeing. They’re facilitating trainings for dozens, sometimes hundreds of people who are far above their level in the organization. So that makes me smile all the time — just watching people come to life and do things far beyond their everyday skill-set and grow because of this opportunity under the name of wellbeing.
Jen: That’s one of the most important things about wellbeing within an organization. We all need it. We’re all human. We all have different needs, but wellbeing removes the hierarchy. So regardless of who you are, if you can help me and I can help you, that takes away some of the hierarchies we experience in our organization just because that’s the way organizations run.
So what do you feel the impact has been on Deloitte as a whole?
Jaime: When I think about how it’s changed as the organization, I remember some of the conversations with our first cohort of Wizards. This group was really nervous to talk about wellbeing, and go back to their leaders and propose different programs. A lot of our initial discussions were about how to overcome nervousness, and the importance of speaking up on these topics. Because if the ambassador doesn’t, then we’re not making space for anyone.
Now, a couple years later, these conversations are happening all the time. Nobody’s coming to me saying, I don’t know if I should talk about this. We haven’t figured out all the solutions, but the conversations are out in the open. So there’s this normalization that’s happened that allows for feedback and ideas that never would’ve been discussed out loud before.
It’s also shaped our definition of a good leader as being more than just someone who performs really well, or has teams that deliver the highest client impact. It’s about leaders who create work environments that help you prioritize your wellbeing. So I think we’ve actually changed the qualities that people consider necessary leadership skills.
Jen: I love that. We are all leaders in our own way. It has changed the expectations. If you’re a leader of people, it doesn’t mean that you have to get everything perfect when it comes to your wellbeing – you’re human, too. So I remind our people who might be struggling with a leader, that leaders are people, too. Sometimes they need something they’re not getting for their own wellbeing. And so when you create psychological safety and the opportunity to have the discussion, it benefits everybody. It benefits the leader and it benefits the team.
That’s what I love about the Wizards — it’s this grassroots, impassioned group of people who are saying, “Hey, we’re not expecting you to do this on your own. We’re here as the cavalry to like help you do it.”
But I want to talk a little bit about the Great Resignation, and the role that wellbeing and programs like the Wellbeing Wizards have been playing in it. So much of the Great Resignation, or the Great Reevaluation, is about people wanting to work for organizations that care about them as a whole person, inside and outside of the workplace. So what can companies learn from Wellbeing Wizards about life-work integration and creating cultures that people want to be a part of?
Jaime: When you zoom out, the Wizard program is just another way we’re encouraging people to bring their whole human selves to work. It’s reinforcing that their value isn’t just in the hours that they work, but who they are, their passions and their vibrancy and the way they care for others. It allows them to bring forth what they love in a way that improves other people. And that feels good. And then it does good for other people. And then it motivates people to do even more.
Belonging is such a huge topic right now. And what’s interesting about the Wizard program is that it wasn’t founded on the topic of belonging, but it creates belonging. It creates community. So when you talk about creating a culture that people want to be part of, or that they feel they belong in, it’s creating these opportunities for people to do what they love in a way that serves other people too.
Jen: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about wellbeing from leading the Wellbeing Wizards?
Jaime: It’s funny because when you lead a group of people interested in wellbeing, it teaches you even more. So I’ve learned from this program that you just never reach permanent perfection. The pressures of the world around you are changing. Your wellbeing needs are constantly changing. Companies are never going to get to seal wellbeing, like, we’ve figured it out, we’ve addressed wellbeing, now we’re done. So just like our career develops over time, so too does our wellbeing. And I think it deserves that same level of care, consideration and periodic reevaluation. It’s also why, as an organization, we need a broad set of resources that we can share with everyone, because everyone’s different and everyone’s constantly changing.
So that’s my biggest lesson: there’s no Nirvana that you’re going to reach, and you’ll be done and you’ll have perfected wellbeing and you can go live your happy life. Or your organization can go on its happy way. This is something we have to cultivate the same way we cultivate our careers.
Jen: That’s really powerful. We’re always evolving and always changing as human beings. And so our focus on wellbeing at the organizational and team level needs to always be evolving along with us.
So one final question, what advice would you give to somebody who wants to start a Wellbeing Wizard-type program in their own organization?
Jaime: My biggest piece of advice is to prioritize structure over form. We get so caught up in creating these programs — even optional, volunteer programs — that are highly specific and designed to get people to execute specific tasks. But people are brilliant and innovative, and oftentimes just need a bit of structure and empowerment to bring their ideas to life. So my advice for anyone trying to start a similar program is not to think you have to fix the wellbeing problem. Instead, just create a platform for people to come together. And what they will create will be beyond what you could imagine yourself.
Jen: Build it and they will come. Thank you for joining me, Jaime, it’s been a real pleasure.
Jaime: Thanks, Jen.