A common #NewYearNewMe goal is to take better care of ourselves so that our bodies and minds are fortified for the long haul of everyday life. We focus on things we can control, like exercising, clean eating or spending less time on social media. But we don’t always take into account the impact of situations we can’t completely control, like a messy breakup or a stressful project at work. While it’s possible to survive and even thrive during hard times, it’s much easier to do so when anchors in our lives are steady.
That’s why Dr. Femi Olu-Lafe, SVP of Global Culture and Inclusion for Interpublic Group’s Acxiom, Kinesso and Matterkind, says the companies are prioritizing workplace wellness. Leaders at these three organizations, which collectively serve as the marketing intelligence spine of IPG, recognize the effect day-to-day experiences can have on our overall health. So they’re providing the tools and space to help employees establish or reclaim wellness.
Dr. Olu-Lafe talked to AfroTech about her diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategy to advance a healthy culture and combat burnout in the workplace. She also shared some of her own wellness practices.
AfroTech: Tell us about your role in advancing DEI.
Dr. Olu-Lafe: My responsibilities within all three organizations revolve around extending the impact of DEI efforts. I seek out opportunities for new programs, and I champion the companies’ focus on ensuring their data and technology products serve all people in a respectful, inclusive manner. My passion lies in empowering employees with meaningful ways to engage so they can continue co-creating the diverse, inclusive culture that’s core to each company’s values.
AfroTech: Why is employee burnout a specific focus, and what’s being done to tackle it?
Dr. Olu-Lafe: We turned our attention to burnout after noticing significant increases within our own industry. Burnout is a major organizational health hazard; evidence suggests it’s happening globally and across industries. At Acxiom, Kinesso and Matterkind, we’re focusing on the issue because we want everyone across our organizations to feel refreshed and re-energized.
We’re taking a two-pronged approach. First, we’re providing resources to empower leaders to tackle organizational burnout. This includes individual sessions for our executive team with leadership coach and burnout expert Dr. Kim Hires to build awareness, recognize opportunities for efficiencies and develop effective strategies for their teams.
Second, we’re providing resources to everyone across all three organizations to tackle individual burnout and build resilience as individuals. We’ve put together what we’re calling a Thriving Toolbox to help everyone reconnect and recover. This includes initiatives like meeting reduction and ‘no meetings’ Fridays, resources on efficient meetings tips and daily priority checklists, and global events like the Overcoming Burnout series.
AfroTech: What DEI initiatives are the organizations prioritizing?
Dr. Olu-Lafe: We’ve taken the important step to start an organization-wide conversation through Inclusion Matters, our global inclusion education program. Additionally, we’ve created a hyper-focused career development and sponsorship program. Across our organizations, there are a number of different groups that meet monthly and provide the opportunity to learn and build community. This includes KNeuro, a group dedicated to creating a better, more inclusive world for members of the neurodivergent community. We’re also building a more intentional approach to attracting candidates from a variety of backgrounds, including those from historically excluded groups.
We’ve developed a number of innovative business and commercial initiatives to make sure our products observe DEI principles and equip others in the industry to do the same. We start by mitigating bias in the data and algorithms we utilize. Next, we ensure the audiences we create don’t inadvertently target marginalized groups, discriminate or include any form of bias, violate privacy, or go against our core values. We’re also exponentially increasing spend in BIPOC media companies through programs like IMPACT Marketplace.
AfroTech: Tell us about your experience and how your background in psychology serves you in your current work?
Dr. Olu-Lafe: My background in human cognition and behavior serves me well in understanding people and organizations. I earned my B.A. in psychology at Cornell University, my MSc in cognitive neuropsychology at University College London and my Ph.D. in psychology at Boston University. In my early career, I was part of Catalyst’s Diversity and Inclusion practice and later, as a senior consultant at YSC Consulting, I worked with organizations wishing to develop and execute bespoke DEI initiatives.
In my current position, an understanding of people and the ‘why’ behind their behavior is essential for fully comprehending the current state when it comes to DEI and what’s needed to make meaningful progress. My experience in psychology has also taught me how to be an adept listener and how to see and value individuals from a range of backgrounds.
AfroTech: How do you personally prevent or overcome burnout?
Dr. Olu-Lafe: I’m passionate about building my own awareness on what’s contributing to burnout. Information and guidance from Dr. Hires has also helped me discover that some of it is self-imposed. As a result, I’ve been more proactive about setting more realistic expectations for myself, helping others have more realistic expectations for me and setting healthy boundaries. Also, scheduling focus time, making priority lists and creating a work environment that’s energizing helps me be more effective during the workday.
When I’m not working, I’m being more intentional about how I use hours — filling this time with things and people that help me rest and recover and give me energy. Resilience develops when we’re able to balance moments of working hard with periods of recovery.
This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Kinesso.