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AiThority Interview with Kirt Morris, Chief Equity Officer at Merkle

Kirt Morris, Chief Equity Officer at Merkle

Hi Kirt, please tell us about yourself and how you arrived at Merkle.

I have built a strong reputation for driving tangible business results by leading cultural, operational, and organizational transformations. In addition, I had been recognized for my passion for building globally diverse teams and fostering a culture of inclusion and equity.

In 2020, I was chosen as Merkle’s first Global Chief Equity Officer to lead all efforts to further refine and achieve DEI strategies and initiatives within dentsu for the Customer Experience Management (CXM) Line of Business, impacting a workforce of 14,000 employees throughout 9 agencies in EMEA, the Americas, and APAC. Today, I am responsible for creating and communicating the future state vision and detailed plans, outlining long- and short-term goals with expected outcomes initially in the Americas with expansion globally.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their ’employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

Employee well-being is a significant concern for organizations today. At Merkle, our Business Resource Groups (BRGs) are committed to supporting employees of all abilities to thrive in a safe and accessible workplace. By creating a culture that enables all to succeed and an environment for employees to share their needs and ideas around visible and invisible disabilities, mental health, and overall wellness. The BRGs raises awareness, encourages dialogue, amplifies internal voices, and drives cultural change. 

There isn’t one proper method for measuring wellness. However, we glean insights about our employees’ wellness by evaluating our responses to an internal anonymous Glint survey that we conduct once a year. After reviewing the scores and feedback, the critical part comes with implementing a plan of action to course correct or provide additional resources/programs for support. 

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Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?  

An employee’s well-being is directly tied to productivity and financial outcomes. An HBR survey found that, “when people feel like they belong at work, they are more productive, motivated, engaged, and 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their fullest potential”. The research also found that “more than 40% of those we surveyed are feeling physically and emotionally isolated in the workplace”.

Employees want to have a sense of purpose and work in an environment where they are supported and can thrive. At Merkle, we strive to create a workplace where everyone feels valued, welcome, heard, respected, and can bring their authentic selves to work. We lead with people first, product second, and profit third. 

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business”. What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

Not all outcomes can be measured quantitatively using traditional metrics such as revenue and margin. While these are important to operations, a qualitative measurement like feedback and employee testimonials can help determine employee wellness. In addition, by building a robust culture that is psychologically safe, purpose-driven, and where employees are not afraid to fail, organizations will create a positive, meaningful impact on their employee base and their business outcomes. 

I would also argue there is a cost and ramifications of not investing in wellness programs. The Great Resignation began more than a year ago and continues. Employees want better benefits, a flexible workplace, a sense of value, and the ability to make a change and do meaningful work.  

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank well-being as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

Our Talent Acquisition team is knowledgeable about our wellness program and shares information during the interview process. We have information on our website and share different initiatives on the appropriate social media channels. When a new employee is onboarded, they have the opportunity to meet with leads across our employee programs to learn more about what is available to them. It is important to ensure community belonging is one of the first experiences that our new employees have. 

We’’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on-demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

Positive psychology is one of the ways we have invested in bringing mindful and holistic health workshops to our employees. With high rates of clinical depression, poor work-life balance, and stress disorders among professionals worldwide, promoting happiness at work has never been more critical. Positive psychology programs promote a healthier and better performance culture, creating job satisfaction, emotional resilience, and healthy competition among employees. 

Mondays can be an opportunity for a fresh start, so Merkle’s Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI) Wellness group created an ongoing program, “Motivational Mondays”, to practice techniques such as breathing, stretching, and guided meditation with positive themed quotes and affirmations. Merkle and employees meet every Monday at 8:30 am & 1:00 pm EST and have new quarterly themes. In addition, we are continuing to expand and have added additional Wellness Wednesdays sessions.

For Mental Health Awareness Month/Day, our team gathered a panel of executives to speak about what this day means to them and how they actively support their mental health. The entire month included six events, 21 micro-actions, 31 days, 210 minutes dedicated to mental health, and 400 minutes of learning and sharing. 

We also organized conversations that create a new awareness of inclusion, disability etiquette, and how to support employees of all ability levels, including the first-ever internal Accessibility Summit for National Disability Employment Awareness Month, with Microsoft’s, Chief Accessibility Officer. They have also bravely shared their personal stories of being misunderstood and seen only for their disability through a Global Live Learning in collaboration with Disability:IN. 

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Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

Wellness programs improve psychological safety, cultural engagement, and employee retention. The goal of the programs should be to ensure employees feel seen, valued, heard, respected, and welcomed. To implement these programs the right way, it can’t be through one-time benefits, an additional mental health day, etc. This requires an investment, leadership training, and internal champions to support the mission. 

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “”Work Well”” culture?

At Merkle, it was essential to build internal champions of our wellness programs and train our leaders to lead with purpose. How leaders show up and lead their teams permeates throughout an organization. 

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team, or organization can take to get started on these ideas – to get well? 

A recent survey of 2,000 Americans released earlier this year by the John Templeton Foundation found that people are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anyplace else. So, take two minutes at the beginning of a meeting and ask your team members to provide individual affirmations and ask what they are grateful for on that day. 

What are your “”Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness”?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

At Merkle, our wellness programs have moved beyond health and dental plans. Instead, with the collaboration between HR, DEI and Business Resource Groups (BRG), we are exploring holistic health choices focused on mind, body and spirit wellness for our employees. Additionally, the future of Workplace Wellness will necessitate employers to provide a platform and programs that promote psychological safety.

  • Mind – Nurturing a safe and purposeful workplace where employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health journeys. At Merkle, our BRG volunteers started a fearLESS series. fearLESS: A series of interviews with key company leaders and team members sharing their struggles with mental health. Coping with symptoms can be challenging and isolating. But we at Merkle choose to be fearLESS in creating a nonjudgmental workplace that elevates our team members’ journeys of recovery and wellness. We partnered with clinical psychologist Dr Michelle Pearce to lead our employees through Blooming Groups aligned to the 12 principles in her book “Night Bloomers: 12 Principles for Thriving in Adversity”. A blooming group is like a book group, but its purpose and function differ in essential ways. Unlike a regular book group, the goal is not so much to discuss the book, the author, or literary choices and devices; its purpose is to advance the blooming process of each member. From Dr Michelle Pearce, “Organizations are made up of individuals, and as such, the health of an organization is determined by the health of the individual members. This sounds like a simple concept, but too often employers’ forget that what happens at the individual level impacts the company at large. That means that creating a workplace culture that supports employees’ mental health is critical not only to the well-being of the individuals but also to the organization’s well-being, productivity, and success. Merkle understands this concept and proactively sought ways to support their employees’ mental health. By engaging in monthly resilience-building groups over the course of a year, participating employees reported feeling a greater sense of well-being and ability to manage adversity, as well as an increased sense of support and camaraderie with their colleagues. “
  • Body – It is customary for some employers to offer fitness-oriented benefits such as fully paid or subsidized gym membership as an employee perk. I believe that given the hybrid nature of the workforce, companies will have to be the catalyst to encourage employees to focus on their physical well-being. At Merkle we started, Merkle Moves. Merkle Moves is a new program designed to enable our employees to take time away from their workspaces to get active and recharge. The idea behind Merkle Moves started with a few Merkle employees chatting about how they could motivate one another to get out and get active. 
  • Spirit – The workforce of the upcoming generation will be purposeful in bringing their whole selves to the workplace – mind, body, and spirit. Millennials and Generation Z typically seeks a challenge at work, be open-minded on diversity, expect accelerated personal growth, and value independence and individuality. They will also harbinger outcomes that align with their identity and social beliefs. At Merkle, our Wellness Wednesdays and Motivational Monday platform was created to provide a brave space for employees. The themes covered in these programs are Yoga & Stretching, The Power of Now, and Mind Body Spirit conscious living.

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What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

My optimism stems from seeing the leaders and employees in the organization find value in and participate in the wellness programs we put into place. We have made many strides and still have much we would like to accomplish. 

Thank you, Kirt! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

[To share your insights with us, please write to]

“Kirt Morris is Merkle’s Chief Equity Officer. Chosen for the role in 2022, Kirt leads all efforts to further refine and achieve DEI strategies and initiatives within dentsu for the Customer Experience Management (CXM) Line of Business, impacting a workforce of 9,600+ employees throughout 9 agencies in EMEA, the Americas, and APAC. He has full responsibility for creating and communicating the future state vision and detailed plans, outlining long- and short-term goals with expected outcomes initially in the Americas with expansion globally.

Previously, during his roles as Senior Director and Director of the Data Management Business Unit within the Retail Consumer Packaged Goods Practice, he was instrumental in building the DEI team while maintaining 100% client responsibilities.

For the past two years, Kirt has led the Americas DEI Ethnicity Pillar. He also established and grew the dentsu Multicultural Business Resource Group in the US from 25 to 230+ DEI practitioners within one year. He hosted Town Halls that provided employees with an outlet to discuss their challenges and goals for equity in the workplace. He was instrumental in developing the 18-month strategic roadmap. He built relationships with historically black colleges and universities that increased the pipeline for entry-level talent. Kirt advocated and co-led all efforts to establish Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as Merkle’s Day of Service in the Americas.

He holds a graduate degree in Management of computer information systems from University of Phoenix, and an undergraduate degree in computer science from the University of Maryland.”

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Merkle is a customer relationship management agency that designs, executes and evaluates integrated marketing programs. Merkle is a customer experience transformation business partner to the Fortune 1000. The future of brand loyalty and competitive advantage is the customer experience, and we empower the world’s leading brands to transform their data, technology, and organizational capabilities to deliver those differentiated customer experiences across marketing, sales, commerce, and service. For more than 30 years, we have built upon our heritage in data, analytics, and technology, building unmatched skills in hyper-personalization.

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