Q & A: An Interview with Lorna Borenstein, CEO of Grokker
Corporate Wellness Magazine
Grokker is a subscription-based website and app that publishes short health and well-being videos featuring activities like yoga, meditation, nutrition and more. At last year’s Employer Healthcare & Benefits Congress, Corporate Wellness Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with the CEO and Founder of Grokker, Lorna Borenstein, to talk about the state of wellness, engagement, what the future of wellness looks like and so much more!
Corporate Wellness Magazine: What is a 24-hour, 24/7 culture of health?
Lorna Borenstein: Just to give you some context, I came out of retirement to start Grokker after having run public companies and divisions in large public companies like eBay, HP, and Yahoo. I worked at these amazing companies that talked about work-life balance – talked about, but didn’t really create an environment where the employee felt supported and encouraged or that wellness and well-being actually mattered.
I think if you’re really going to build a company and you say you want your employees to be well, but then don’t do anything to make them feel that you really care, you haven’t really haven’t quite done it.
So, a 24/7 culture of health means that you have to, on one hand, give them permission to take care of themselves by providing them both the tools and the time, and on the other hand, provide the emotional support for them to do so.
An example of that would be how many companies now have a gym, which is great, but, nobody uses it! So, one of the things that I do at Grokker with my team is morning yoga workouts, and people actually join me! Right now, we do them in the afternoon because it turned out that it was easier for people to do it at 5 pm as opposed to coming in early in the morning. So in the afternoon we take a break and go to the room that we’ve turned into a yoga studio and we do yoga videos together. The fact that I’m doing it with them helps create a genuine culture of wellness which can only come when your boss is doing it and inviting you to join them.
The other thing we do, for example, is cater a healthy lunch every day, and then we sit together and eat. It’s not like you have to eat kale every day, but you are not eating burgers and fries either. We sit as a family, at large tables for 20 people. This also goes to the 24/7 culture of well-being in that we don’t talk about work at lunch, we talk about what’s happening with our girlfriends, our boyfriends, our spouses, our kids and our lives.
I think the key to unlocking a 24/7 culture of health comes down to being personal and giving them tools they’re actually going to use. Everyone has either a smartphone or cellphone in their pocket today, and that’s their primary source of communication so everything needs to be on there.
This way you can meet people where they’re at to truly make it 24/7 and engaging. Otherwise, again, it’s like that office gym.
Giving employees personalization, so they know that you know what they care about. The whole notion of 24/7 is that you have to walk the talk. Millennials, for example, really want things to be ‘authentic’, as in, ‘hey, do you really care about me?’ Are you giving me something that is going to be valuable to me, and if the answer is yes, it does and it will.
CWM: So how do you get leadership on board with this?
LB: You just asked the single most important question. There are a couple of ways to get leadership on board. The first is that, in most organizations, you naturally have members of your executive team who genuinely care about health, well-being, and stress. They care about it, so it’s probably part of their own lives. So they’re giddy to be able to lead, so you just have to give them the tools and invite them to be your ambassadors. One of our corporate clients, for example, their CEO is really committed to both physical and emotional well-being and he leads off every company meeting with a Grokker stretch break, and everybody does it. So the first thing is to find the people in your organization who care and then invite them to lead along with the tools they need. You just have to ask, just like you would if you wanted to know if there is a staff member who is really good at baking. When you ask that person if they want to bake for so-and-so’s birthday, they’re delighted to be asked. Find the person who cares about this and ask them to lead, and they’re delighted. You just give them a video and find a room that’s not being used.
We had one of our clients, with a large storage room that wasn’t being used. They took a screen, plugged Grokker into it and they turned it into a Grokker station. People who care about this invite their colleagues to go in and they’ll have an impromptu class together. Now, they’re actually scheduling in advance and some of them are doing a stretch break every morning at 10 am.
Others are going in at lunch for half-an-hour and doing an exercise workout together. Another group uses it at the end of the day and heads home afterward for a shower. It’s as simple as finding the leadership and sharing a little bit of data with them on how important this is to people’s lives; how much happier they can be as a result of these small gestures. It’s good business to care about this, and bad business not to.
CWM: You were speaking earlier about engaging millennials, but how are you going to engage the other generations?
LB: What the key is here is that if you are a student of behavioral change, you have to help individuals get started by doing things that are not overwhelmingly difficult. You’re not going to hook someone who hasn’t worked out ever and intrigue them by suggesting that we train for a marathon. This gets back to meeting people ‘where they’re at.’ Start by suggesting a beginner core class, whereby after a couple days of good effort, an individual is going to feel better.
Give people something they can manage at their own level that they can achieve or attain. Now, that can be intrinsic, i.e., now I’ve done it and can feel good about it. It could even be extrinsic, where you get a pat on the back by the instructor. We have over 70 varieties of goal-based series now, so there is always the next thing to do without having to think about it. The variety prevents boredom. For non-Millennials, this is doable – having the experts congratulating, rewarding and validating them just works.
CWM: What are the challenges to implementing a 24/7 culture?
LB: Most of the time the challenge is keeping the attention of upper management. What is the exact equation of the ROI of caring for people? It’s really difficult to show, even though research reveals there is a real ROI. This goes along with the question of Millennials, if the employer is unable to make that shift, you are not going to retain them, right?
This generation has been raised with more attention, more care, more coddling, many would argue – more than any other previous generation. So, if an individual is accustomed to getting a trophy for coming in eighth place, and then you don’t give feedback, no perks and attention, and neglect to demonstrate your interest in them as your employee, then they are not going to stick around! So now you’re seeing some of the more leading-edge companies are now slowly starting to talk about wellness.
When I started the company, I wanted to create a culture for my employees where they felt that they could have 24/7 wellness. I didn’t quite appreciate how much everyone needed this until we had the product launched. We started getting inbound requests from employers who wanted to know if they could buy Grokker for all of their employees. So, when I look at the future, I think we’re going to see an increasingly personalized digital connection based on a set of app tool services that integrate together.
If I were to speculate, I would add that one of the things we do – because we have a community at the core of Grokker created from my early eBay background – is that we connect our experts and our users, who we call enthusiasts. So, employees are enthusiasts. Increasingly what we’re seeing employers ask us for is help committing their own community and subcultures within their organizations. I think that wellness in the future is not going to be sitting on the side because it has completely intervened in the fabric of how the work is done and how the culture is evolving. I think that is really where you’ll see the change.
Now, it’s easy for me to say that because I live in the Silicon Valley! But even our clients in the south, in very rural locations, this is what the employees are saying, not the employers. Because they see how the culture is changing through the process of connecting the employees and building a sense of comradery. For instance, if you meditate with a colleague, or workout with a colleague, exchange recipes with a co-worker, you just feel more connected.
CWM: So, now everybody is doing a fitness challenge, right?
LB: Now those are fine, but what’s missing, is a sense of community around that. I believe they can be integrated, so we do that for our clients who offer challenges. There is a chat feature where employees just love cross-talking. Someone will see what you’ve done, and you’ll share that you are on your third video of the challenge this week and someone will come back with “Way to go! But, I’m at level four, so catch me if you can!” That interaction builds community through wellness.
This is the future, this enabling of community within the organization by really weaving wellness into the fabric of how the workday is spent. That and everything is digitally enabled. You have to go and invite the person by understanding good data and behavior analytics. This understanding should help prompt the individual at the right moment to inspire them to do something to take care of themselves.
CWM: So what do you see as the trends in the industry?
LB: To me, it is simply how we should be defining engagement and that is just asking the question if your employees feel more connected by using the tools that you have put out there. That’s engagement.
Some people measure engagement in ways that I think are a little misleading, which is another trend. Whereby, an individual sees that their computer syncs with a device, then that is considered to be engagement. Well, that is not necessarily the case. What we need to determine is if the employee feels that their employer cares more about them now because of the tools that they have offered them. We now do regular surveys and have found attitudes of our employees after a program has been deployed and results are overwhelming. They feel you care about them and their ability to engage.
Another trend that we’re seeing is a need for better stress reduction and mindfulness. Employers are now understanding that employee lives are complicated, and they are taking that into consideration. I guarantee you that ten years ago, no one cared about employee stress and now it’s an amazing change in attitude. Everyone is paying attention to how can they help you reduce your stress and even improve financial wellbeing. Now, they know that not caring can increase absenteeism and subsequent decrease in productivity.
CWM: What is the biggest challenge Grokker is facing right now?
LB: Being a Silicon Valley born and bred technology company, we got there early. And being early and being wrong can kind of feel the same. So for us, I think one of the bigger challenges is understanding the inherent inertia in the industry, the fear of change, and the negative repercussions of risk-taking in this industry, which is so different from what we come from.
Being an evangelist for changing how we approach employee wellbeing is probably the most key. The hundred best companies to work for, they’re easy, because they already know where they get it, they’re right, they’re fantastic. But it is all about educating and bringing to get up, walk around, and go home when they are tired to see their families – just help them to see past the tip of their own noses!
CWM: So what would you suggest for anyone entering into the industry?
LB: First, they really need to understand the problem they’re attempting to solve. Understand what will delight and inspire an individual to want to use a service or product. You can’t fool anyone without engagement. Build something that is addictive, and healthy and know that you must build something that naturally engages.
The number one complaint that we hear is that people don’t have enough time. So, to save time, we provide a product that allows individuals to sneak in wellness breaks whether they have five minutes or twenty minutes. Providing a small room for a ten-minute stretch break saves time because it is accessible and flexible. Building something that people will naturally want to develop an addition for provides a solution. Employees will stay engaged through continuous innovative thinking and products. Lead and stay ahead of the trends, or consumers will leave you.
CWM: So, what is the most common misconception right now?
LB: The thing that people are so surprised about with us is that we provide very personalized experiences for everyone, no matter your level of fitness or competency. I think there’s this misconception that there’s a one size fits all plan to wellness. There really isn’t. You have to be able to personalize. When an individual joins Grokker, we ask them to tell us a little about themselves, and we have a small algorithm that actually learns about the individual. If you are already fit, or not, Grokker speaks to that with a highly personalized solution in addressing population health and wellness.
CWM: Last question: What is the best piece of advice that you didn’t take?
LB: There are so many pieces of advice I didn’t take as well as some I wish I could take credit for!
But some particularly good advice for millennials that I didn’t take is that there is no one right path. There isn’t a recipe for success that you have to follow. There are many different paths that will lead you to a happy and fulfilled life. I thought, particularly when I was backed up into a corner, that there were always steps that I needed to take and be sensible and follow my instincts.
Some personal advice I didn’t take was to take up yoga before I did eventually. I’ve been an athlete my whole life and retired, and finally took up yoga. That is probably the best advice that I didn’t take, but practice now.