122: How to Bring More Wellness into your Workplace Culture with Laura Putnam

Ep122 Laura Putnam Wellness in Workplace Culture TalentGrow Show with Halelly Azulay

Wellness is something that we think a lot about in our individual lives, but we may not always consider in the workplace context. Laura Putnam, author and founder/CEO of Motion Infusion, is passionate about bringing wellness into the workplace to foster a healthier, happier and more productive workplace culture. In this episode of The TalentGrow Show, Laura joins me to discuss the ideas from her book, Workplace Wellness That Works. She advocates that leaders at every level of an organization leverage their unique position to introduce more wellness and shares simple and creative things we as leaders can do to accomplish this. Listen to find out why workplace wellness is so important to a thriving, productive team, and what you should be doing to implement positive change. Plus, find out how to “go stealth” and sneak wellness into non-wellness activities at work! If you enjoy this episode, don’t forget to share it with others.


Laura Putnam, MA, author of the #1 Amazon Hot New Release in HR & Personnel Management Workplace Wellness That Works (WILEY, 2015), is CEO and founder of Motion Infusion, a leading well-being and learning provider. Her work has been covered by MSNBC, The New York Times, US News & World Report, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, and NPR. She is a former urban public high school teacher, L&D professional, public policy advocate, international community organizer, dancer, gymnast and now a movement-builder in the world of health and well-being. With a mission to get people and organizations “in motion,” Laura is a frequent keynote speaker and has worked with a range of organizations from Fortune 500s to government agencies to academic institutes and nonprofits. She is the recipient of the American Heart Association's "2020 Impact" award as well as the National Wellness Institute’s “Circle of Leadership” award. A graduate of Brown University and Stanford University, Laura lives in San Francisco with her fiancé.


  • Why is wellness so important in the workplace, and not just on an individual level? (4:24)

  • Laura talks about the manifold benefits of wellness for building a thriving, productive team (6:32)

  • How does workplace wellness impact recruitment and retention? (8:06)

  • Factors that predict overall quality of life (9:03)

  • What can leaders do to have more of a positive impact on the wellness of their teams? Laura begins with a key idea that every leader should understand (10:47)

  • Going Stealth: We can all look for small ways to sneak wellness into non-wellness activities (12:43)

  • As a leader, you are uniquely positioned to have added influence on your team’s wellness. How do you leverage this? (15:58)

  • Laura describes what she calls a ‘middle out movement’ (18:12)

  • Laura shares her experience bringing more wellness into Schindler Elevator Corporation (18:44)

  • “We as human beings are less creatures of habit than we are creatures of culture.” What does this mean for you and your team? (20:13)

  • How can you make it easier for yourself to introduce new wellness habits into your life? (21:36)

  • The importance of a positive mindset when you’re trying to introduce change (22:40)

  • “Gather your tribe.” Leverage the people around you (23:54)

  • What’s new and exciting on Laura’s horizon? (25:11)

  • What’s one specific action you can take to positively impact your or your team’s wellness? (26:28) 



Episode 122 Laura Putnam

TEASER CLIP: Laura: Very simply, workplace wellness is good for people, good for the bottom line and really essential for building a winning team. There is just an extensive body of research now showing that workplace wellness done well can positively impact productivity, it can reduce absenteeism, it can enhance safety, it works synergistically with engagement, and I know that’s a big issue for a lot of our listeners here, thinking about how do we address the fact that 70 percent of the workforce is disengaged from their work. There’s a lot of research suggesting there’s actually a connection between engagement with one’s work and engagement with one’s well being.

[MUSIC] Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Hey, hey, welcome back TalentGrowers. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow and this is the TalentGrow Show. This week we’re going to talk about wellness, and we’re going to talk about it from an organization perspective, a leadership perspective, a team perspective and an individual perspective. I have brought on a guest who knows all about that. Laura Putnam is going to be my guest today and she shares super actionable ideas that I think will make everything better because being well helps you be better. I look forward to hearing what you thought after the show and thanks for turning in. Let’s listen.

Okay TalentGrowers, this week we have Laura Putnam, author of the number one Amazon hot new release and HR and personnel management Workplace Wellness that Works. She’s CEO and founder of Motion Infusion, a leading well being and learning provider. Her work has been covered by MSNBC, the New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, Entrepreneur, Business Insider and NPR. She’s a former urban public high school teacher, L&D professional, public policy advocate, international community organizer, dancer, gymnast and now a movement builder in the world of health and well being. I can’t wait to hear about your story, Laura, with a mission to get people and organizations in motion. Laura is a frequent keynote speaker and has worked with a range of organizations from Fortune 500s to government agencies to academic institutes and non-profits. She’s the recipient of the American Heart Association’s 2020 impact award, as well as the National Wellness Institute’s Circle of Leadership award. Laura, welcome to the TalentGrow Show.

Laura: Thank you so much Halelly. Nice to be on your show.

Halelly: It’s great to have you. We have a California show today. Laura is in the San Francisco area. I’m here in the L.A. area. Before we get into all of that, I always ask my guests to describe their professional journey briefly. Where did you start and how did you get to where you are today?

Laura: Briefly, as I think the bio explains pretty well, I’ve had a number of different careers, if you will. The work that I do today combines all of those different pathways. Briefly, I have a background and I started off in public policy. I actually worked on the Senate Antitrust subcommittee, which has become particularly relevant today, and I’ve also done international work. I’ve lived and worked in Africa for almost three years, and I was also a teacher and a pretty extensive background in movement. I was a competitive gymnast including being a competitive gymnast on the Sanford women’s gymnastics team, and a professional dancer and also certified Pilates and fitness instructor and so Motion Infusion is my very best attempt to bring together all of these different threads to really address now what I see is a critical issue around health and well being. Using the workplace as a leverage point to help everybody become healthier and happier.

Halelly: It’s an interesting perspective using the workplace for that. In your book, Workplace Wellness That Works, you describe some pretty dismal health and wellness statistics. And you talk about a 10-step program for creating a sustainable workplace wellness program, but before we even go there, for the more skeptical or maybe unaware among the listeners, what is wellness something that we need to orchestrate in the workplace? Why is individual wellness not just an individual problem and what’s the rational for organizations to get involved in that?

Laura: There are a number of ways of looking at this. First and foremost, I think it’s important that we not lose sight of the fact that promoting health and well being in the workplace is just very simply the right thing to do. If we consider that most adults are spending the vast majority of their time at work, why not leverage the workplace as a portal to positively influence people’s health? So I think that there’s a moral imperative, if we consider the fact that we’ve got this raging obesity epidemic, if we consider the fact that suicide rates have increased by 25 percent over the last couple of decades, if we consider things like the fact that we have growing rates of diabetes, all of these chronic conditions are things that we can do something about and I like to consider the workplace “school for adults.” This is where we go to learn and grow and where we’re spending most of our time, so an organization has an opportunity to be able to create an oasis of well being to counter a larger macro culture which is pretty toxic. Kind of 24/7 always-on culture, fast food restaurants everywhere, neighborhoods that are better designed for our cars than they are for us being physically active, a culture that glorifies stress – all of these things are the culture that we live in, so every company can create an environment and a culture that is a counter to that.

Beyond it being the right thing to do, and really getting more at your question, it also as it turns out is the smart thing to do. Very simply, workplace wellness is good for people, good for the bottom line and really essential for building a winning team. There is just an extensive body of research now showing that workplace wellness done well can positively impact productivity, it can reduce absenteeism, it can enhance safety, it works synergistically with engagement, and I know that’s a big issue for a lot of our listeners here, thinking about how do we address the fact that 70 percent of the workforce is disengaged from their work. There’s a lot of research suggesting there’s actually a connection between engagement with one’s work and engagement with one’s well being. There’s a great term that was captured in 2012 Towers Watson report. They call it sustainable engagement. The idea is that in order to be engaging your work, you have to have energy and nice and simple, that’s well being. If I haven’t had enough sleep the night before, it’s really hard for me to be my best when I’m at work the next day and for me to be engaged in my work. Or if I’m eating a lot of junk food, pretty high likelihood that I’m going to be pretty tired in the afternoon. Or if I’m having a lot of marital stress, it’s really hard for me to be engaged in my work. If I feel like I have a toxic relationship with my manager, it’s really hard for me to be fully engaged in my work.

The other piece of this is, and this is something that particularly is a case in areas like Silicon Valley where there’s a war for talent, workplace wellness is really important for attraction and retention. A lot of, particularly Millennials, now expect that from the organizations they work for, that these organizations demonstrate that they actually care about the people who work there. Again, workplace wellness done well can be a way that a company can demonstrate caring for their employees, for their workforce.

Halelly: This is well beyond having a foosball table in the cafeteria, right? You demonstrate that you care about how people actually live and feel and their energy levels and there is so much that is involved in the intersection between how people live or how well they are and how they work, as you said.

Laura: Exactly. I think that one of the things that’s really happened in the field of workplace wellness is that we’ve moved beyond health defined as the big three – which is more exercise, healthier eating and not smoking. To really understand that it’s more about quality of life. When I go to work, is my quality of work enhanced because of it? Our health and well being is in fact a result of multiple factors, beyond the physical factors, but it also includes things like career well being. There’s Gallup research showing that people who have a high level of career well being are in fact 50 percent more likely to be striving overall. There’s also financial well being. A recent study showing that financial stress causes more visible signs of aging than any other form of stress. There’s also community well being, like how well connected do I feel to the community that I’m living in? Does it reflect my values? Do I have neighbors that I feel safe with? There’s also of course emotional well being, which we know has become a really hot topic. So it’s really all of these in combination that really play into the extent to which I feel like I’m actually thriving in my life.

Halelly: You cast such a broad net that it’s almost like every aspect of life and everything both within you and outside of you and in your environment … it almost feels overwhelming, I think. If I’m putting myself in the shoes of the CEO or the leadership committee, like I can’t do all of those things for my employees! So let’s just drill it down to some of the things that listeners may be thinking. Listeners, I want to know what you’re thinking! But tell me, I’m thinking, I’m the middle manager, I’m somewhere kind of in the middle of the organization. I can’t make some kind of a wellness program at my job. They don’t ask me or I don’t call the shots about that. What are some things that everyone who is maybe in the middle in a leadership role can do to have more of a positive impact on the wellness of their teams?

Laura: The first thing to keep in mind is no matter where you, as an individual, are positioned within the organization is to understand that your behaviors or your choices are not made in isolation. We often refer to this as personal choices, but I like to recast those as community choices. Because every time I make a positive or a negative choice related to my personal health and well being, it in fact creates a ripple effect for everyone around me. That’s the first thing to keep in mind, that all of us in our own respective ways are sparking these little mini movements of well being, for better or for worse. We can start to think about, okay, if I understand that my choices are not in isolation and that just by focus starting by myself I can positive influence my friends, my family, my coworkers, my workplace, my company and my community and world, that’s a really important place to start.

Beyond that, I think a lot of people feel disempowered to be able to address this issue. They feel like this is something the senior leaders have to do. They need to create these new policies, need to allocate these resources to go toward wellness. They need to be the ones who say, “We’re going to do wellness.” The truth of the matter is that, again, everyone can make a difference and beyond the personal choices, each of us within the department that we’re working with or the team we’re operating within, we can look for ways to start to sneak wellness into non-wellness initiatives. I call this going stealth. The idea is that rather than me thinking about, like if I’ve designated myself within the company as the one who is going to be the movement builder of well being, I can think about looking for small ways to build a tiny bit of well being into non-wellness programs or activities. For example, every organization has meetings. Staff meeting, a team meeting, a department meeting.

Halelly: A plethora of meetings!

Laura: Right. Each of those actually represents an opportunity to sneak in a little bit of wellness. For example, at the company Eileen Fisher, they begin every meeting with a moment of silence. So simple. Perhaps the next time you have a team meeting, whether you are the manager of that team or you’re just a team member of that team, you could perhaps say, “Hey, what if we start off with a moment of silence for all of us to regroup?” Another practice you could potentially introduce is naming three good things. Apparently if you name three good things that are happening in your day or happened, apparently if you do that for six weeks straight, your brain will get rewired to be more optimistic. What the research shows is that optimists do better in the face of stress, so it’s a way to become more resilient. What if you started off a meeting, every team meeting, for six weeks, with naming three good things? Everybody turn to a partner and name three good things. Then you’ve actually just done a lot to help boost people’s level of resilience.

Halelly: I love it. You said turn to your partner. TalentGrowers know I put on the devil’s advocate hate all the time – just try to think about the “Yeah, but” stuff that people might have in their head, and when you said start every meeting with three good things, I could go there. I could put the devil’s advocate on and be like, “Yeah, right, that’s going to take up half the meeting.” But when you said turn to your partner, as a facilitator of learning, I know that’s a great way to make something where every single person gets a chance to participate but it doesn’t take all day. That’s a very good way to get around that obstacle. If each person turns to one other person, there is multiple concurrent conversations happening, but it doesn’t take a long time to get through it.

Laura: The other piece that I think is important to add is that it also is safer. It’s a lot safer to just turn to somebody next to you and say, “Here are three good things that happened in my day so far,” versus having to announce it to the full group, everyone. That’s the last thing that people want to do. But you know, I just wanted to add that the other piece about this, and I think that’s relevant for a lot of your listeners, is that if you happen to be a team leader or a middle manager, you are in fact uniquely positioned to have added influence on your team member’s well being. There’s research coming out of Gallup showing that the manager alone likely accounts for up to 70 percent, the likelihood of their team members engaging both with their work as well as well being. So that means that every manager really has an opportunity to be able to carve out a little oasis of well being for their team so that no matter what is happening in the larger organization, they have an opportunity to be able to create, for example, psychological safety within their team. Or they have an opportunity, for example, to have everybody on their team to take strength finder and allocate a little bit of time at the beginning of every team meeting where one person at a time shares what their strengths are and they talk about it as a team, how can we help that person leverage their strengths more? How can we work together as a team for that? That’s a really important piece and just for managers to understand the importance that they play in either promoting or demoting well being for their team members.

Halelly: Then you can be kind of islands of good – you used the word oasis. But I like to envision sort of ripple effects. A little tiny pebble in a big pond, but it just sort of emanates out, and you’re a role model and when you do that, the people on your team experience it and gain the benefits, but they probably also carry that with them to another team meeting, maybe a cross-functional team, or maybe when you talk to some of your colleagues and share some of the things and the success stories and how well that’s received, you’re being an influencer. You don’t have the authority to make people do things, but you have the power to influence other people to try to emulate what you’re doing. That can create multiple of those ripples that connect together and that’s grassroots change.

Laura: It really is. I like to call this a middle-out movement. It’s something I’ve seen a number of times with organizations that we’ve worked with when we have led managers through a program we call managers on the move that empowers managers to become multipliers of well being. It helps managers to understand what well being has to do with becoming a more effective leader and what it has to do with building a high performing team. So for example, one company we worked with is Schindler Elevator Corporation. At the time that they brought me in to work with their L&D team to put on a two-day offsite leadership training program for a group of their managers, they had no wellness program in place. What we did in that leadership training program is we incorporated well being into it. Again, getting back to this idea of going stealth. It wasn’t sold as a wellness program. It was sold as a leadership training program, and a leadership training program for the high profile managers. What happened was this just crazy ripple effect throughout the organization. Even though the CEO wasn’t supporting well being in the workplace, the managers really were, and so after this leadership training program, which they called Leadership Odyssey, then the head of safety was like, “That’s so cool. Can we have a Safety Odyssey?” Then we designed a program kind of connecting well being to safety, which we delivered to their safety managers. Then the head of HR was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s so cool. Can we have an HR Odyssey?” So it was really this middle-out movement that really spread throughout the organization and that’s what really sparked their whole engagement with well being following that.

Halelly: Very cool. Thanks for sharing that example. I love it. We’ve gone from sort of the whole organization to what people who are maybe middle managers can do. Let’s drill it down all the way down to each individual. What are some of the small habits that you’ve seen work really well to improve wellness in high impact ways?

Laura: I think the first thing that’s important to recognize as an individual, so many of us, we set a goal, we decide that we’re going to do it and it’s so hard to actually get ourselves to make a change in our diet or get more exercise or meditate or whatever goal we might set. But to really understand the fact that arguably, we as human beings are less creatures of habit and more creatures of culture. That is we tend to do whatever surrounding culture and environment dictates. So that’s one of the reasons why it is so hard to individually make change and one of the reasons why I actually really urge leaders and organizations, it starts with optimizing the environment and the culture around people so that health and well being simply becomes easier, rather than feeling like you’re a salmon swimming upstream trying to make these individual changes.

Getting back to the individual, what we can do as an individual is we can think about ways to optimize our own little environment and culture to simply make well being easier. Let’s say you’ve decided, “I’m going to start walking regularly.” So what can you do in your environment that makes it that much easier? I would suggest that you literally have a little place where you put your walking shoes, you have your walking clothes all ready to go and you have your friend who is going to encourage you to do it with you. You’ve done everything to make it as easy as possible. I have one friend who always liked to go for a run in the morning, and this is a little bit extreme, but she would actually go to bed at night in her running clothes to get herself to go for a run in the morning. The idea is to create the built-in environment and a mini culture around you that supports your well being.

A couple other things that I would recommend. Another is to start with what’s right. There’s all kinds of research showing that a positive mindset really lays the pathway for making and sustaining change, and I think so often when we make change or we decide we want to make change, it actually comes from a place of shame or it comes from a place of, “This is what’s wrong with me so I want to change that.” That’s actually hard to change if it’s coming from that negative place. What I often encourage people to do is to think first about all those things that they’re doing right in their life. Maybe you have a hard time eating a healthy diet and maybe you feel like you’re a little bit overweight. But maybe you have an awesome relationship with your spouse, so you have a high level of emotional and social well being, and maybe you love the work that you do. So you have a high level of career well being. So it’s really important to take stock in those areas of strength and then start from that place and think about, “It’s more challenging for me in areas of physical well being but I’m going to build on the best practices that I have in the areas that I’m doing well.”

Finally, the last thing, and this relates to what we were talking about just a moment ago, and it’s to gather your tribe. Meaning as much as possible, gather people around you who will support you in making whatever change it is that you would like to make. This even can be a fuzzy friend. My mom, for example, originally got a dog years ago as a way to get her to walk everyday. There’s actually some really interesting research coming out showing that senior citizens who have a pet are more physically active than senior citizens who don’t. Great example of really using others to help us to reach those goals.

Halelly: Cool, I love it. Of course you know we can leverage all kinds of little devices like I know if you wear a wearable, like a Fitbit or Garmin, then there’s ways you can connect with friends who also have it and create challenges. So there’s so many ways you can leverage the tribe, as you said, to motivate yourself, to influence others positively. We’re going to start wrapping up here, and before you share an actionable tip, what’s new and exciting on your horizon? What’s got you energized these days?

Laura: The piece that I’ve really been focused on the most as of late is this idea of focusing on the middle manager and empowering every middle manager in every organization to really recognize that they can become that multiplier of well being for their team members. That in doing so, this can positively benefit them as a leader, it can positively impact their team and as we’ve already talked about, it can also through this middle-out kind of ripple effect can positively impact the organization. So that’s the topic that I am focused on in terms of a workshop that we have called managers on the move, which is a half-day leadership training program that I’ve been delivering across the country, and it is also the topic for my second book which I’m working on now, this whole idea of how every manager can become that multiplier of well being.

Halelly: Awesome. Good, and I totally think that people can sense you’re passionate and excited about it, so kudos to you and congrats on the new book. I can’t wait to read it when it comes out. What’s one actionable tip that you can share with our listeners that they can do something today, tomorrow, this week, to make a positive impact on their own wellness or their teams or whatever perspective you’d like to take it?

Laura: I think something that everybody can actually do right now is to shift their mindset. Specifically to shift their mindset to thinking about how each of us can become an agent of change. So when it comes to health and well being, I am more and more convinced that it’s less about being the expert and it’s more about being a force for good, when it comes to better health and well being. Arguably, Oprah Winfrey has had more influence on our behaviors related to health and well being than any expert out there in the field. Each of us can channel our inner Oprah, if you will, and think about sparking mini movements of well being by starting with ourselves.

Halelly: Sounds good. Let’s concretize it. Give one example.

Laura: I think one example would be one company that we worked with, I delivered a talk called “Please don’t have a seat.” Really the takeaway is all of us need to sit less and move more. So one of the employees took the message to heart and she set up a standing workstation for herself in the company kitchen and all these people came and were like, “What are you doing?” She said, “Sitting is the new smoking. I’m sitting less and standing more and moving more so that I can become healthier, happier and smarter.” She became this advocate within her company and really created a ripple effect and a conversation. I think it’s really about having conversations around here is the first step.

Halelly: Nice. Definitely, I’m happy that we’re having this conversation about where it would be nice if somebody in my organization did it all for me and just gave me everything that I needed, but don’t stop yourself if you don’t feel like it’s coming from somewhere else. You can always do something and it’s way better than nothing and every one of us is capable and powerful and able to do something. So, I know people are going to want to learn more from you and about you. Laura, what’s the best way to do that?

Laura: The best way to get in touch with me is on the website MotionInfusion.com or LauraPutnam.com You can email me at Laura@motioninfusion.com and on the website MotionInfusion.com I always keep a schedule of all the upcoming events. The next upcoming event is actually in New Delhi, India. I’ll be speaking at an HR conference in January there on this topic of workplace wellness and talking specifically about what are lessons learned here in the U.S. that they could apply in India in their efforts to promote health and well being, leveraging the workplace.

Halelly: Very exciting. Sounds like a great trip. Do you hang out on social media? Should people follow you anywhere?

Laura: Absolutely. I am on Instagram @LauraPutnamAuthor, I am on LinkedIn, just look up Laura Putnam. I’m on Facebook, both Motion Infusion as well as Laura Putnam, and also on Twitter and the handle is @MotionInfusion. Thank you for asking that.

Halelly: You’re welcome. We’ll link to all of that in the show notes as well.

Laura: Perfect. Thank you.

Halelly: Great. Of course we’ll link to your website and your book, and we appreciate that you took some time from your busy schedule and shared some of your insights with us, with the TalentGrowers. Thanks so much Laura.

Laura: Thank you Halelly.

Halelly: My pleasure. Well, that does it for another episode of the TalentGrow Show. Here we are kicking off 2019 and I know this is the season of New Years resolutions – in fact I think that by now some people have dropped their New Year resolution. I’m not necessarily all big on resolutions. I love to make positive change all the time by setting new goals and changing small habits. I think that this episode should have given you lots of ideas and all kinds of new inputs about things you could do differently. I do often encourage the people that I am working with that you do not need to get overwhelmed by thinking about a huge list of things you could be doing. Just narrow it down, take baby steps. Choose one thing, work on that, get that honed in and then choose something else and start working on that. Don’t allow yourself to go into inaction simply because you’re overwhelmed with too many options. I hope that you will take action based on some of Laura’s suggestions and I’d love to hear what it is that you took on, how it’s going, what questions you have, what challenges you have, how can we support you? A great place to go do that is over on our Facebook group for the listeners of the TalentGrow Show. It’s called the TalentGrowers Community and all you have to do is search for that on Facebook. Ask to join and we’ll welcome you with open arms. I hope to see you over there and in general, I’m always open to your feedback in whatever channel you like to send it to me. Thanks for listening.

I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow and this is the TalentGrow Show. I look forward to talking to you next week, but until the next time, make today great.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the TalentGrow Show, where we help you develop your talent to become the kind of leader that people want to follow. For more information, visit TalentGrow.com.

Get my free guide, "10 Mistakes Leaders Make and How to Avoid Them" and receive my weekly newsletter full of actionable tips, links and ideas for taking your leadership and communication skills to the next level!

Don't forget to LEAVE A RATING/REVIEW ON APPLE PODCASTS/iTUNES! It’s easy to do (here’s how to do it in 4 easy steps). Thank you!!

Like the Facebook page of The TalentGrow Show!
Join the Facebook group – The TalentGrowers Community!
Intro/outro music: "Why-Y" by Esta

You Might Also Like These Posts:

106: Open to Think -- Transforming the Way You Think as a Leader with Dan Pontefract

70: Creating White Space in the Workplace: Building Your Team’s Productivity with Juliet Funt

Ep20: Create a Connection Culture with Michael Lee Stallard