What are the top corporate fitness trends for 2023? Learn from an industry insider in this article

Which Corporate Fitness Trends Will Shape 2023?

Content Impact Award - TalentCulture 2022As a corporate fitness professional, one of my favorite activities at the end of each year is to set aside time to look back at what has unfolded over the past 12 months. It helps to review what has worked for our clients (as well as what didn’t work so well). An open-minded, reflective analysis is always a good way to put things into perspective before considering new possibilities and mapping a game plan for the New Year.

As part of this process, I’m constantly tracking what’s happening with corporate fitness trends. So much has changed over the past few years, thanks to the pandemic and the increase in remote work, it’s important to keep ahead of what no longer seems as relevant or useful and what is gaining traction. And in looking toward the year ahead, all the signals indicate that much more change is still to come! 

So, fasten your seatbelts and let’s look at how employers can prepare for the future. Based on trends I’ve been following, along with my direct experience with our teams and our clients in recent months, here are 3 emerging priorities that are likely to define corporate fitness in 2023:

1. More Personalized Training

Get ready for a big surge in employee demand for more personalized services — things like personal training and small group training. Multiple factors are driving this corporate fitness trend. For example:

Early in 2022, as people slowly started to emerge from a more sedentary pandemic lifestyle, I started hearing that employees were looking for help to get back on track with their fitness and wellness goals. Not surprisingly, during the Covid years, many people developed some unhealthy habits — especially in terms of diet and fitness. The isolation of working and living at home full-time didn’t help, either.

Many people are now looking to break out of that cycle and are longing for a stronger sense of community. So, prepare to see an upswing in more intimate training environments that give employees broader support and guidance, along with opportunities to connect with others and share their journey through community experiences.

Also, my clients confirm that employees are interested in wellness goals that involve more than physical workouts, alone. People want to get back in shape, but they also realize the importance of focusing on things like sleep, nutrition and stress management. And this means they’re increasingly interested in a more holistic approach to health and wellbeing. These objectives are often easier to achieve with programs that include individualized coaching.

Digital tracking tools can also be helpful in supporting people in their wellness objectives. Already, more than 20% of Americans are using wearables that provide convenient access to personalized health and fitness data. Many people want to use this data more effectively to develop tailored workouts and lifestyle management programs that will help increase their training efficiency, improve their daily habits and elevate their health outcomes.

2. More “Hybrid” Fitness Program Memberships

Another thing I’m starting to hear often from our clients is that their employees are looking for a seamless, connected fitness experience that aligns with their busy lifestyles. They want to workout where they want, when they want.

This is where “hybrid memberships” come in. These relatively new programs provide employees with a combination of corporate fitness center access and virtual fitness classes, along with partnerships with local yoga, boxing and Pilates studios. 

With these hybrid memberships, employees can workout at their corporate gym, at home or on the road when they’re traveling—all with the convenience of one membership rather than having to cobble it all together themselves. It’s the best of all worlds. And it’s bigger than just a brick-and-mortar fitness center—it’s a program.

Here’s one example: Kevin is a financial services professional in Indiana who comes into the office three days a week. During those visits, he goes to the on-site fitness center to lift weights. Typically, he talks with several fellow employees while he works out. It’s a great social experience. On the other two weekdays he works from home. On those days, he works out with a virtual fitness class through an app that’s connected to his fitness center and the same staff he knows and trusts. Over the weekend, he takes a spin class at a local studio that contracts with his company through the hybrid health program. Again, this hybrid program lets Kevin work out where he wants, when he wants. It’s all built into his schedule!

Inclusive hybrid memberships like these give employees the convenience, choice and variety they’re asking for. Plus, it provides access to the kind of connectedness and community people need with engagement that is hard to find elsewhere.

3. More Active Time Outdoors

We’re also hearing loud-and-clear from clients and employees that they want to get outside and move! A recent survey from the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry and McKinsey & Company, asked employees this key question:

“In which sports/physical activity categories do you expect to see a lasting increase in participation vs. pre-COVID-19?”

Of the 12 categories listed as potential responses, 84% of survey participants picked “outdoor activity” as their first choice. 

Obviously, survey results like these underscore just how massive the pandemic’s impact was on corporate wellness programs. Over the past year, some companies started to experiment with fitness activities and events designed to get employees outdoors. Now it appears that this trend is catching on and may be here to stay.

For instance, one of our clients — a leading insurance company — has invested in a mobile open-air fitness trailer from BeaverFit. This makes it possible for employees to participate in healthy outdoor activities on a daily basis. Combined with programming delivered by on-site fitness professionals, this open air program is flourishing. And workforce wellbeing is improving as a result of employee participation in regular activities with physical and mental health benefits.

Final Notes on the Future of Corporate Fitness

These three corporate fitness trends are only a few of the emerging ideas we can look forward to seeing in 2023, as the space continues to evolve. With more personalized programming, more flexible options, access to innovative digital tools and a broader range of creative fitness locations, employee wellness is poised to make an even stronger comeback in the coming year. I look forward to seeing other innovative trends emerge that we aren’t even thinking about yet!

Is quiet quitting a symptom of poor mental health? What can employers do to help? Learn more from workplace wellness expert Vittoria Lecomte, Founder of Sesh

Is Quiet Quitting a Symptom of Poor Mental Health?

One workplace buzzword many people are eager to leave behind is “quiet quitting.” The phrase dominated headlines this year, especially when a Gallup poll revealed that at least half of U.S. workers are disengaged.

Although this term is quickly running its course, the underlying problem remains. In fact, work engagement continues to slide, indicating a growing disconnect between employees and employers. No doubt, the quiet quitting phenomenon is a symptom of ongoing workplace upheaval. But I suspect it also reflects the need for better mental health support at work.

What Research Says About Workforce Wellbeing

Even as post-pandemic work engagement is dropping, countless studies reveal that depression and anxiety are on the rise. And the uptick in layoffs and economic uncertainty creates even more stress. Let’s look closer.

Nearly three-quarters of employees (72% ) say they’re concerned about finances – up from 65% last year – according to a recent report from financial wellness solution provider, Brightplan. And PWC research indicates that declining financial health impacts employee mental health and work productivity. Specifically, PWC found that 69% of employees who are financially stressed are less likely to feel valued at work – and therefore, they are becoming less engaged. 

Depression and anxiety are also leading reasons why people take time off from work. In fact, employers lose an estimated 12 billion workdays annually as a result of employee depression and anxiety. According to The World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization, this costs the global economy nearly $1 trillion a year. Both organizations acknowledge the need for concrete action to address workplace mental health.

How Can Employers Respond?

Some employers may ignore these disturbing trends. But others are taking action by creating an environment where workers feel more valued and supported.

For example, if you notice that “quiet quitting” is spreading among your ranks, it’s likely that these employees  feel under-appreciated. By offering professionally managed support groups as a benefit, you can send a much-needed message that tells people, “We see you, we care about your wellbeing, and you are valued here.”

This kind of benefit extends assistance to people who might hesitate to pursue individual therapy — which has historically been costly and difficult to access. And the pandemic has only made it worse. For example, at the height of the Covid outbreak, the U.S. average wait time to see a therapist ranged from 29-66 days.

The Benefits of Group Support

Multiple studies underscore how support group participation leads to improved employee mental health and job performance. In fact, our own research found that when employees attended group sessions, 50% became more productive and 100% experienced improved attitude and outlook.

Why are these results so striking? When employees have access to a clinically-backed support group program, their social connectedness and mood tend to improve. This, in turn, alleviates depression and anxiety. And group support not only helps reduce anxiety and stress. It can also play a central role in preventive care strategies designed to avoid employee burnout.

Why Group Support Helps

Depression and anxiety can fuel feelings of isolation and loneliness – two key reasons why people seek group support in their personal lives. Providing a safe space where employees discuss meaningful issues and concerns can increase their positive feelings about work and improve overall job satisfaction.

Because group support encourages dialogue among people with different perspectives, it can help participants build trust, empathy and openness that carries over into the workplace. However, it’s important not to require colleagues to join the same group. Also, it’s important to respect participants’ privacy by preserving their anonymity.

While the benefits of peer counseling are well known, new studies demonstrate how digital group support can extend mental health services access to more diverse populations. For example, some people have limited mobility or are located in rural communities where trained mental health providers aren’t unavailable.

Video-based group support is an excellent alternative, because it is affordable and accessible online from nearly anywhere on any digital device. This encourages connections and therapeutic conversations without requiring participants to wait for weeks or travel long distances.

Tips to Improve Group Support

When offering this kind of mental health benefit to your employees, keep this advice in mind:

1. Emphasize Voluntary Participation

Everyone comes to the table with a unique background and point of view. This is why the group model can be a particularly powerful tool. So, although encouraging individuals to take advantage of this benefit can be helpful, avoid pressuring anyone or threatening them with repercussions. The goal is to destigmatize mental health and make pathways to wellbeing more accessible and affordable.

2. Prepare to Overcome Fears

Group support is a highly misunderstood term. Too often, people associate group settings only with treatment centers. In the workplace, many people who need support fear they’ll be perceived as “weak” and their careers will be damaged if they join a group. For anyone concerned about this, you can share positive use case data demonstrating how helpful and healing group support can be. Employers can leverage this information as a reference tool and assure concerned employees that their identity will be protected.

3. Insist on Anonymity

Video-based group support should provide access to online sessions on any day and time that works best for each member, while also protecting their identity. Solutions like Sesh, which is 100% HIPAA-compliant, let every user select a pseudonym. Individual data is never shared, and employees are notified when anyone within the same organization registers for their group.

My Perspective

I discovered the value of group sessions while in treatment for an eating disorder. Being part of a group was the catalyst that catapulted my recovery to the next level. This experience led me to launch Sesh

Typically, therapist-led support is difficult to access, difficult to pay for and designed for monolithic audiences. That’s why I’m committed to extending therapist-led group support to people from all communities, circumstances and identities.

With an affordable, accessible group support experience through their employer, people can finally receive the high-quality mental health support they need and deserve. This helps individuals cope with challenging personal issues, while helping businesses create a more harmonious, productive workplace. And in the process, it may also silence quiet quitting. That is my hope.

Video in Employee Benefits Education 12-5-22

How to Level Up Employee Benefits Education With Video

As employee engagement continues to drift downward, organizations everywhere are looking for more efficient, effective ways to connect and communicate with their workforce. This is especially true for employee benefits education, where access to clear, complete and timely information is critical.

What better way to help employees understand their benefits than with video? In this article, we’ll explore why video is such an effective form of outreach, along with five ways you can use it to improve benefits education.

Why is Video Ideal for This Purpose?

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But what about video? In the business world, its popularity as a communication tool has skyrocketed over the past decade. And the pandemic only added fuel to the fire by forcing employers to shift toward video for internal communications.

Now, many organizations recognize just how powerful video can be in employee education. Why?

  • When people see and hear information within the context of a video, they’re more likely to understand and remember the message.
  • Video tutorials and walkthroughs are a great way to break down complex topics into manageable, memorable “bites.”
  • Video content is also highly shareable, so employees can easily pass information along and discuss it with others.

5 Ways to Enhance Benefits Education With Video

1. Offer Benefits Portal Tutorials and Walkthroughs

To ensure employees know how to navigate your benefits portal, it’s important to provide proper instruction. But with video, it’s no longer necessary to bombard people with lengthy written documentation.

Instead, brief tutorials are a great way to give employees a guided tour of your benefits site. Even a few quick, easy-to-follow videos can make all the difference in introducing employees to the portal so they become more comfortable conducting research and serving themselves.

2. Create Enrollment Screencasts

Enrolling in benefits can be daunting, especially when people are unfamiliar with the process. Rather than sending out lengthy written instructions or expecting employees to figure it out independently, you can use screencasting to walk them through the entire process, step-by-step. This helps people understand the open enrollment process, so they don’t become confused or frustrated by complexity.

Offering useful screencasts requires thoughtful upfront planning and production. But in the long run, it can save your benefits administrators significant time, by reducing the volume of routine questions and issues they must resolve.

3. Focus on Key Topics of Interest

Instructional videos are a terrific option if you want to provide more in-depth information about particular benefits topics. These videos can cover anything from an overview of your company’s health insurance plans, to guidance on how to use key portal features.

This is also a smart way to address common concerns or misconceptions employees may have about selecting or managing their benefits. By providing clear, concise information in a compelling visual format, you can help employees better understand every aspect of their benefits and how to use them.

4. Conduct Virtual Benefits Fairs

If your company offers a variety of benefits, staging a virtual benefits fair can be a useful way to consolidate information into a highly accessible “all-in-one” live online experience. Plus, you can record the sessions and make them available on-demand so employees can attend at their convenience.

Your programming could involve a series of short videos covering each benefit category. These sessions could be followed by an interactive Q&A session, where employees can ask questions of an expert at your company or from a related benefits vendor. This gives participants access to the information they need to make better-informed decisions.

5. Produce Video Testimonials

One of the most compelling ways to engage employees in benefits education is to illustrate how others are using these benefits. And what better way to do this than with video testimonials that let members of your workforce tell their story in their own words?

Featured employees can talk about why and how they selected specific benefits to improve their health, save for financial goals, or improve their quality of life. This not only helps others feel comfortable about their benefits decisions, even as it reinforces your organization’s commitment to workforce wellbeing.

Video Engagement Best Practices

Now that we’ve explored ways to use video to engage your employees in benefits education, let’s look at some best practices to keep in mind when creating any video content:

  • Be sure to put the audience’s interests first. What are their needs? What information do they want to see? How much time are they likely to invest in consuming this content? What should their next move be?
  • Strive to keep your videos short and to the point. Employees are busy and often can’t devote time or attention to long-form content.
  • Always test videos before you launch and promote them. Make sure they work correctly from end-to-end, and that employees can understand the concepts you’re trying to communicate. This will ensure a positive, productive enrollment experience for employees and support your broader organizational goals.
  • Don’t forget the marketing outreach needed to make employees aware of any education resources. Unseen video has little value, so be sure you invest in communication that will lead people to your educational content.

Closing Notes

Helping employees understand their benefits is crucial for employers and human resources departments. If you haven’t considered using video to communicate this information, you’re missing an opportunity to present complex benefits information in a way that is meaningful, quick and easy for employees to access. And in the long run, this self-service content can save your HR team significant time and money.

Why is humor at work such a powerful force for building a healthy organizational culture? Learn from a comedian-turned-consultant on this WorkTrends podcast

The Serious Value of Humor at Work

I’m a fan of fun work environments. So of course, I’m also a fan of humor at work.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should all pretend to be stand-up comedians. And I’m not talking about snide remarks, disrespectful jokes, or pranks at someone else’s expense. Work is serious business. But does it really need to be so very, deeply serious all the time? I don’t think so.

A touch of humor is a natural way to engage people and lighten the mood. For instance, who doesn’t enjoy taking a moment to bond with a colleague over a funny meme?

In my opinion, sharing a chuckle or a smile with someone keeps us connected at a very human level. And fortunately, I don’t have to look far to find an expert who agrees with me! So join me for this #WorkTrends podcast episode, as I take a look closer at the special power of humor at work:

Meet Our Guest:  David Horning

Today, I’m comparing notes with David Horning, a professional comedian who took the leap from making people laugh on stage to becoming a business consultant. Now he helps others learn how to use positive psychology, communication skills, and humor to manage difficult work situations and enhance organizational culture.

Humor vs. Comedy

First, let’s talk about the word humor. What is it exactly and how is it different from comedy?

Well, humor and creativity are similar in many ways. Humor is a pattern disruptor.

Basically, it is an internal process that lets us be okay with holding two competing thoughts at the same time. Humor allows us to connect those dots in new ways. It connects different ideas. And it also connects similar ideas in new ways.

So basically it disrupts preconditioned thought patterns and introduces new possibilities. Think of it as the crack in the door that allows us to see beyond a circumstance, a challenge, adversity, or even trauma of some sort.

Why Workplace Humor Matters

Do you think humor is playing a more important role in work culture?

Oh definitely. It’s catching on, and with good reason.

Studies show that CEOs prefer employees with a sense of humor. In fact, if you display your sense of humor at work, you’re perceived as being more intelligent, more likable, and CEOs think you’re doing a better job.

Not only that, but employees prefer bosses who don’t take themselves so seriously.

What If You’re Not Funny?

Some people just don’t have a funny bone in their body. What do you tell them when it comes to humor as a vital skill?

Actually, you don’t have to be funny. That’s the great thing about incorporating humor into the workplace. You can appreciate it in others.

Celebrate people who are bringing sunshine into the office – people who are surrounded by laughter – your more creative thinkers.

You can be the most analytical person in the world, but anybody can develop an appreciation for humor, for laughter, for comedy. We all have that capability. All you really need is to give yourself permission to think outside of the box, to think beyond the strict labels we tend to give things.

How Leaders Can Support a Culture of Humor at Work

What advice do you have for a manager who’s unsure about supporting humor at work? 

First, if you’re nervous about it, don’t overwhelm yourself. But keep in mind that when humor is used in the workplace, it should be consistent with your organization’s values.

For example, if respect is one of your values and a joke you’re about to tell isn’t respectful, pump the brakes. Using those shared values as your baseline is a great place to start.

 


For more excellent advice from David about how to tap into the power of humor at work, listen to this full episode. Also, be sure to subscribe to the #WorkTrends Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. And to continue this conversation on social media, follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Remote work leadership - What Matters Now? See what our Founder, Meghan M. Biro says as she reflects on how far we've come since the 2020 Covid quarantine

Photo: Kevin Bhagat

Remote Work Leadership: What Matters Now

In 2020, our most popular blog post discussed how leaders could move forward when Covid abruptly forced many of us to work from home. I remember writing that piece, wondering which remote work leadership practices would make the biggest impact during those uncertain, turbulent, anxiety-filled days.

At that time, it was impossible to fathom what was happening, let alone how to respond. There were no experts, benchmarks, or guidebooks to point the way forward. I couldn’t predict the future any better than anyone else. Still, my message seemed to strike a chord with our community.

Fortunately, necessity is the mother of invention. And resourceful leaders persevered, relying on trial and error to navigate through those early quarantine days.

Covid CliffsNotes

Nearly three years later, we’ve all learned more about remote work than anyone could have imagined. In fact, we’ve adapted so well that many people want to keep working remotelyat least partially.

With this in mind, I decided to revisit my “early Covid” advice to see how much of it still holds true. So here’s a fresh look at 4 key points that seem just as relevant today as we continue to define new ways of working:

Remote Work Leadership Lessons From Covid

1. Be Tactful (Always a Wise Choice)

Exceptional times call for exceptional tact. I noted it then and it’s still unequivocally true. Times may not be as exceptional as they were in March 2020, but we now know that what we once considered “normal” will never return. In fact, the sudden and scary pivot to remote work turned out to be much more effective than we thought.

What changed for the worse? Among other things, stress continues to rise, inflation has risen to record levels, the economy has suffered, and employees have been resigning in droves. In this unstable environment, everyone benefits from tactful, considerate guidance.

In 2020, I encouraged leaders to give people a break when minor mishaps occur, like being late to a meeting. It seems people are now better at coping with small annoyances. (How often have you said in online meetings, “You’re on mute…” without reaching a breaking point?)

However, stress is real. It continues to mount, as mental health issues increasingly challenge many members of the workforce. My advice going forward? Remember to pair diplomacy with a healthy dose of empathy.

2. Provide Plenty of Training (But Wait, There’s More)

Training is critical. The more training we provide, the more confident and capable remote and hybrid work teams will be. Strong leaders are strong learners. And they believe in coaching and developing others. Remote work leaders that invested to help their teams learn, adjust, and grow are now operating at an advantage.

We didn’t know how well people would embrace distributed work practices and tools. But leaders with faith in their team’s ability to adapt now have another advantage: optimism and support that spread throughout their organizations. It’s easy now to see the value of doubling down on learning. But in those bleak early days, this kind of commitment was truly visionary.

The lesson here? Whatever challenges you face, make sure your people have the knowledge and skills they need to come up to speed with a minimum of friction. The sooner they can work effectively, the sooner they’ll become engaged.

But this isn’t just about ensuring that people complete a course. Smart remote work leadership combines skill development training with nudges, status checks, resources, roadmaps, measurable goals, social performance support, and open recognition.

That’s the win. Why? Because no one learns well in a vacuum.

3. Seek Frequent Feedback (Never Enough)

No doubt about it, regular input and reality checks are vital. In 2020, I was concerned that distance could widen the gap between a leader’s view of work culture and an employee’s reality. Physical proximity makes it relatively easy to close that gap, but remote work requires intentional communication.

I suggested reaching out formally to ask employees about their experience and learn what kind of resources they need to feel comfortable, supported, and productive.

Did leaders actually send feedback requests and surveys to their remote teams? Perhaps some did. But then, we became obsessed with isolation and disconnection. Soon, employee engagement took a hit and leaders started watching some of their best employees walk out the virtual door as The Great Resignation gained steam.  

What went wrong? Perhaps remote work leadership didn’t act fast enough. More likely, these managers have become just as exhausted as employees — but they’ve been overlooked. The truth is, no one is immune. In fact, recent U.S. and U.K. research found that 98% of HR practitioners and leaders are burnt out! 

4. Stay Connected (More Than Ever)

This leads to a final lesson — remote work leadership means staying connected with managers, employees, and teams. Full disclosure:  The TalentCulture crew has worked remotely since Day One. Our vision is a virtual “super team,” leveraging digital tools and processes to manage business functions and grow a thriving digital community.

I’ve always admired other leaders who take it upon themselves to reach out and be present via multiple channels. And the power of that approach became apparent throughout the worst of the pandemic.

We saw remote work leaders who stayed involved, engaged, and accessible, giving their teams a sense of alignment and empowerment. I’ve taken notes and found that their toolkits include quick video chats, daily messages, virtual town halls, and short/sweet messages.

Leaders who adhere to an open-door policy — even in virtual settings — are even more important now. Why? This behavior fosters a culture of inclusion and belonging. If you want to bring your workforce together (and trust me, you do), you’ll focus on this lesson. The more digital touchpoints you develop, the more likely you’ll reach everyone in a way that resonates, and the more “present” you’ll be for them.

Leadership Takes Heart (and Strong Nerves)

A final note:  We’re not yet on the other side of the pandemic, but we’ve learned a lot. And we know the world of work will never be the same.

I’m reminded of how far we’ve come when I recall my 2020 comment:

Peace of mind is as hard to come by as n95 masks.”

Thank goodness we aren’t dealing with a mask shortage anymore! Nevertheless, we still see high levels of stress, anxiety, and disengagement at work. And this is likely to continue for a long time to come.

Here’s where great management qualities count. Empathetic, engaged, resourceful, in-touch remote work leadership makes all the difference. It says your organization truly cares about supporting employees while getting the job done. And that’s essential, because the buck always stops at the corner office — whether it’s at corporate headquarters or at your dining room table.

What caregiving benefits do modern employers provide? 6 business leaders share their answers

Which Caregiving Benefits Do Modern Employers Provide?

What benefits are top-of-mind for organizations that want to attract and retain great talent in today’s challenging talent market? Many are finding it pays to step outside the standard benefits box with creative options that meet diverse employee needs. For example, caregiving benefits are gaining strong momentum.

To learn more about this, we asked business and HR leaders to describe one caregiving option they believe is essential in supporting employees as they move through various life stages — from family planning and fertility to childcare and eldercare. Their recommendations cover a spectrum of solutions:

  • Childcare Benefits
  • Tuition Assistance
  • Sabbatical Leave
  • Unlimited PTO
  • Nutritional Support
  • Family Medical Leave

To learn more about why these options are so helpful, read the responses below…

6 Caregiving Benefits for the Modern Workforce

1. Childcare Support

One “do-everything” benefit can’t cover all the complexities involved with each stage in life. To ensure higher utilization and satisfaction, focus on stages with the most impact on employees and find the best option for each stage.

Certainly, fertility and family planning are good benefits to consider. However, childcare has the biggest impact on employee retention and productivity.

Childcare costs are soaring. In fact, in most states, the average annual cost of childcare is more expensive than college. This expense means many working couples are considering whether they can even afford to have kids, or if one parent must resign from work to care for their children at home.

Childcare also has a direct impact on employee attendance. On average, parents who must respond to childcare needs miss 9-14 days of work each year. And more than 65% leave work early or arrive late because they lack access to care. This is nearly 3x more productivity lost than from employees who are managing healthcare issues.

Kevin Ehlinger, VP Product Marketing, TOOTRiS

2. Tuition Assistance

Higher education and vocational training open up a wide range of opportunities for employees. They equip workers with the skills and knowledge to pursue additional career options and improve job mobility.

Tuition assistance makes education more accessible, empowering workers and their families to plan for their future. Offering tuition assistance as a benefit helps attract high-quality candidates and helps them hone their skills while helping employers retain top talent. In addition,  government education assistance programs in the U.S. let employers deduct sizable reimbursements for employee tuition contributions.

Ben Travis, Founder, HR Chief

3. Sabbatical Leave 

Although sabbatical leave was traditionally offered only in academic settings, it has started to gain strong traction over the past few years in the private sector, in response to a rise in employee burnout and the Great Resignation.

Private employers are looking for generous perks to attract new employees, keep them engaged, and help them maintain a healthy work-life balance. Sabbatical leave is the perfect benefit to check those boxes. 

In short, sabbatical leave is the option to step away from work for an extended period (usually 6 to 12 months) for any purpose whatsoever. This is a perfect way to accommodate employees at every stage in the employee lifecycle, from cradle to grave.

Individuals can take a sabbatical to de-stress and get pregnant, care for a new child, fight an illness, spend time with a dying loved one, or just travel the world. It is a flexible, practical benefit that allows for a range of uses. Whether paid, partially paid, or totally unpaid, any employee will appreciate the flexibility that sabbatical leave offers.

John Ross, CEO, Test Prep Insight

4. Unlimited PTO

As a business, we are committed to helping our employees maintain a work-life balance. We’re also committed to creating an environment that supports our employees’ personal goals and lets them prioritize their families. One way we do this is through a generous personal time off (PTO) policy.

We offer unlimited vacation time as well as unlimited sick time. We encourage employees to take time off for both personal and family goals, as well as when they need to care for ailing family members.

In addition, we provide resources for employees so they can continue working from home and/or work on a flexible schedule while they are taking time away.

Luciano Colos, CEO, PitchGrade

5. Nutritional Support 

One aspect of healthcare that spans the entire lifecycle is nutrition. So one benefit worth considering is coverage for prescribed nutritional supplements — not just prescription drugs. Other ways to support nutritional needs during different life stages is by providing access to educational information and expert talks about nutrition.

Optimum nutrition at each phase in the lifecycle promotes more robust immune systems and higher energy levels. That means it helps keep your workforce and their families healthier. So ultimately, these benefits ensure better performance at work and fewer illness-related absences. 

Ruth Novales, Marketing Director, Fortis Medical Billing Professionals

6. Family Medical Leave

Family medical leave is one benefit every employer should consider to help employees address the full lifecycle, from fertility to family planning to elder care.

Family medical leave helps protect an employee’s job for up to 12 weeks if they become ill or they need to care for a family member. A supervisor cannot fire an employee when they rely on this benefit for a legitimate reason, so it can provide a helpful safety net if the need arises.

Lindsey Hight, HR Professional, Sporting Smiles

 


EDITOR’S NOTE: These caregiving benefits ideas were submitted via Terkel. Terkel is a knowledge platform that shares community-driven content based on expert insights. To see questions and get published, sign up at terkel.io.

Childcare Benefits: A Reckoning for Working Families

Childcare Benefits: A Reckoning for Working Families

It’s not a stretch to say COVID changed everything—including the way working families think about childcare benefits. Before the pandemic, parents struggled with childcare challenges, of course. But the day-to-day realities grew much worse when the pandemic struck.

After the initial shock of schools and childcare centers shutting down, families were left to figure out how to work from home while parenting. Instead of being at school or daycare, children spent the day side-by-side with their parents. In fact, from February 2020-February 2021, the lack of childcare pushed 2.3 million women out of the labor force. And a very long time passed before these women could return to work (if they have returned at all).

While people in some jobs continued to work on-site throughout the pandemic, many workers had to adapt to the new remote work world. This is where many employees still find themselves today, either working remotely or in some form of hybrid schedule—splitting time between home and office.

Today, childcare conditions have improved slightly, but still are far from ideal. Fortunately for some working families, employers are sponsoring more childcare benefits for those who need this kind of support.

Remote and Hybrid Employees Still Need Childcare Assistance

The benefits of remote work are well documented. However, one drawback is often overlooked. I’m talking about the misconception that people don’t need childcare assistance when they’re working remotely. This notion became prevalent early in the pandemic, and unfortunately, employers still haven’t moved on from this line of thinking.

Picture a typical working mother in a remote or hybrid management role.

Compared to her in-office peers, she doesn’t have fewer deadlines, less ambitious KPIs, or a smaller staff to manage. Nor does she have extra hands to hold her baby while attending Zoom meetings or responding to email messages. There are no extra hours in the day when she can feed or play with a toddler.

The workday is still the workday—even when people perform those tasks at home, surrounded by family distractions and obligations, rather than in an office cubicle.

Families With School-Aged Kids Face Unique Challenges

Contrary to what some believe, childcare needs do not stop once kids start kindergarten. I’m a mother, myself, so take it from me! Parents of 5-year-olds are still in the thick of their childcare journey.

Historically, preschool programs (as well as before-school and after-school care) served as a safety net to support a large, productive workforce. But COVID, chronic underfunding, and budget cuts have left these programs with limited capacity, fewer teachers, and reduced hours. The safety net is frayed, at best.

And now, working parents have the added burden of anxiety about COVID risks.

Previously, when children were mildly ill, they still attended school. These days, we know better. Emergency and backup care are must-haves for working parents who are unable to stay home with a sick child.

Even when parents take precautions, they still face the risk of a COVID outbreak at school that can suddenly change the course of a day, a week, or a month—depending on mandated quarantine periods. This is a lot for working families to handle, which is why employee childcare benefits matter so much.

Throughout the pandemic, working parents have been balancing the risks of depriving their children of social interaction or exposing them to a potentially deadly disease. Some families decide to choose individual or small-group professional care, such as a nanny or nanny-sharing arrangement. But this increases overall childcare costs and isn’t affordable enough for some.

The Trouble With Workplace Childcare Centers

Some employers have tried to help working families fill this gap by investing in on-site childcare centers. While an admirable idea and a substantial financial commitment, these large centers fall short for many employees.

These facilities no longer meet many childcare needs, and simply do not work for remote and hybrid workers. For example, how many working parents would want to commute to headquarters for their kids when they may otherwise be working from home? Working families prefer caregivers who are located close to home—which should be good news for employers who don’t want to dedicate massive budgets to build and maintain large childcare centers.

Childcare Benefits Are Key to Employee Retention

No matter which childcare option families choose, it comes at a price. And it’s hard for people to keep in perspective just how unaffordable it has become.

The national average childcare cost has risen to more than $10,000 per year, per child. That’s incredibly steep. How many working families do you know with two or three kids who also have an extra $20,000-$30,000 lying around?

The increasing cost of childcare forces parents (and mothers, in particular) to make a very difficult choice: Stay employed or quit to care full-time for their children. This has pushed record numbers of women out of the workforce.

The reality facing families is stark and alarming:

Current and prospective employees value family care benefits more than ever. This means employer-sponsored childcare benefits should play a key role in retention and recruitment strategies.

Final Thoughts

COVID drastically changed employment and childcare. The status quo is no longer sufficient, for both employees and employers. Forward-thinking business and HR leaders are rising to the challenge and supporting working families with employee childcare benefits that make a significant difference in people’s lives. This is a step in the right direction.

Employee Caregivers Are Quitting How Employers Can Help?

Employee Caregivers Are Quitting. Here’s How to Keep Them

These days, we’re flooded with headlines about The Great Resignation, The Big Quit, and The Great Reshuffle. It’s not surprising. The desire for career advancement and better work/life balance are powerful reasons why people are resigning in record numbers. But these aren’t the only motives. Actually, a growing number of people are quitting so they can take care of loved ones. If your organization can’t afford to lose these employee caregivers, this advice can help you keep them on board.

Factors Driving This Trend

We’re seeing more employee caregivers, partially because the pandemic put older people at risk and disrupted existing family care arrangements. But also, it is the result of broader population shifts and the rising cost of long-term care. Let’s look at how this could play out over the next 15-20 years…

1) Our Population is Changing

Historically, if you mapped our population by age, the chart would look like a pyramid. In the past, many more young people were at the base. As they became adults, they helped support a smaller number of older people at the top. Today, that pyramid is inverted, with a larger elderly population and an increasingly smaller base of young people at the bottom who struggle to support the elderly. This is happening because:

  • Boomers are aging
  • Younger generations are producing fewer children
  • Medical advances are extending life expectancies

This inverted pyramid means that by 2040, the elderly will depend more heavily on the working population than those under 18. Put differently, in less than 20 years, more of your employee caregivers will be supporting elderly loved ones, rather than their own children. Or potentially, they could be caring for both at the same time.

That’s already the case for many employee caregivers. In fact, more than half of middle-aged Americans are currently “sandwiched” between generations.

2) Caregiving Costs Are Rising

Because care is expensive to provide, not everyone will be able to hire professionals to look after aging family members. Instead, they’ll need to provide care themselves at home. According to a recent AARP survey, there are 48 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. and 80% of these caregivers are providing care to an adult family member or friend.

This means organizations will increasingly have employees who are juggling job performance with the burden of being a caregiver—along with all the time, energy, and emotional commitment that caregiving requires. While they may manage caregiving by missing time at work, it could also be as serious as leaving the workforce altogether.

For example, consider these statistics:

How to Support Employee Caregivers

What are forward-thinking HR leaders doing to help employee caregivers? Our recent conversations focus on three key action areas:

1) Provide Financial Solutions

One of the most important ways to support employees is by helping them plan for their own long-term care. While younger employees may not see the need, education and planning now will offer them more care options in the future if they’re injured or become ill.

When you create financial programming, be sure it includes discussions about the role of:

  • Medicare and Medicaid – Some people see government programs such as care options. However, they typically don’t cover long-term care (Medicare) and access involves significant drawbacks and limitations (Medicaid).
  • Retirement savings/401k – Similarly, using 401(k) and retirement savings to pay for care is possible, but this also comes with drawbacks. These investments are best reserved for funding life expenses during retirement and are not recommended for use during working years.
  • Standalone long-term care insurance – This coverage may be offered at work or purchased through an independent insurance provider. It can be a viable solution that can help cover some costs of long-term care.
  • Hybrid life insurance with long-term care benefits – This lets people purchase life insurance coverage that includes the ability to advance part of a death benefit for care needs. Many products on the market focus care benefits on professional care such as a nursing home or home health aide, but new products in this category cover family caregiving, as well.

2) Promote Your Employee Assistance Programs

Another way to support your workforce is through an employee assistance program (EAP). The right program can help employees navigate the challenges they face as caregivers. Whether it’s offering care planning tools and strategies or access to tools to help people manage complex aspects of care, be sure to consider a wide range of resources. For instance, you could include:

  • Care planning services
  • Care needs assessments
  • Help in finding and evaluating care
  • Life insurance claims support
  • Long-term care claims support
  • Home care placement assistance
  • Legal support for wills, trusts, and power of attorney documents
  • In-home loneliness solutions
  • Home modification services
  • Relocation support

Finally, it’s important to share details about your EAP program, and re-communicate the program’s features and benefits on a regular basis. Pairing this with enrollment or re-enrollment of your financial support solutions is a great way to protect your employees.

3) Pay Attention to Caregiving Legislation

Many state governments are taking notice of the need for care—the growing number of people who need a solution, the lack of affordable care, and the expected future drain on state Medicaid funds. A growing number of states are enacting legislation to address these care issues.

For example, in 2021, Washington became the first state to pass this kind of legislation. The Washington Cares Act provides long-term care financial support for state residents. The program is funded by a payroll tax. Employees with qualifying long-term care coverage could opt out of the program (and the associated tax).

Although this legislation may provide a rough blueprint, each state’s approach is likely to be different. To prepare their organizations and their employees for the future, employers should begin tracking legislative activity.

Start Planning

It’s hard to know precisely what’s in store for employers as more Boomers leave the workplace and younger employees step in to care for aging loved ones. But thus far, it’s clear that employee caregivers will need support and solutions as they navigate an increasingly challenging eldercare crisis.

HR leaders can be an essential part of the solution, but it’s important to start planning now. Workplace programs and policies need to evolve, with active involvement from employers and their employees. Start by educating your workforce about the need to plan for long-term care–whether caring for an elderly parent or planning ahead to manage their own care should they need it. Working together with employees to address their needs will help them understand your commitment to them, and encourage them to stay.

open enrollment season

Keys to a Successful Open Enrollment Season

Open enrollment season is upon us again, and the world of work continues to shift at a head-spinning pace. This fluid environment poses benefits-related challenges that HR leaders can’t afford to ignore. For example, decision-makers are wondering:

  • How to address employees’ evolving needs. It’s essential now to meet individuals where they are and provide clear pathways to benefits that resonate.
  • How to communicate effectively in a “work anywhere” environment. Everyone deserves easy access to clear, relevant benefits information, regardless of whether they’ve returned to the office, they’re working remotely, or their schedule blends both work modes.

Why Benefits Education Counts

To illustrate how important education is for a successful open enrollment season, consider these U.S. health benefits research findings:

  • 72% of employees wish someone would tell them the best health insurance for their particular situation. (Justworks/Harris Poll)
  • Nearly 90% of employers think their benefits are clear and easy to understand. Yet only 65% of employees agree. (via MetLife)
  • 54% of employees don’t know the full scope of their health benefits. Yet nearly 65% say these offerings significantly influence their willingness to stay with an organization. (Justworks/Harris Poll)

This means education is vital—not just to help people choose relevant benefits. The truth is that, without effective benefits education, you’re putting employee retention at risk. But improving open enrollment communication doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Below are a few simple ways to help employees through the decision-making process and ensure better overall results:

5 Ways to Improve Open Enrollment Education

1) Host Multiple Information Sessions

Conducting a single all-hands open enrollment season meeting no longer covers all the bases. Even if 100% of your employees work on-site, you can’t expect full participation. Some people will be out ill or on vacation. Unavoidable business priorities will keep others from attending. It’s smart to plan ahead and assume conflicts will make it impossible for everyone to join a live session.

You can rise to this challenge by producing content in various formats (for example, an in-person meeting, a live webinar, a digital recording, and a series of podcast episodes). You’ll also want to share this content through multiple delivery channels (for example, sending email messages, sharing in Slack groups, and posting on your organization’s intranet platform).

The goal is to make information easily accessible and available whenever people can fit it into their schedules.

2) Plan Open Enrollment “Office Hours”

To augment your core benefits “broadcast” content, consider offering prescheduled office hours with an HR staff member. You can structure and promote this as an opportunity for individuals to drop by in person or online and discuss their specific circumstances with a benefits expert.

Often in public information sessions, employees hesitate to ask questions about what they don’t know. But office hours provide a private safe space for discussion. This frees employees to speak more openly about their specific concerns. At the same time, it helps the HR team provide more relevant information to ensure individuals understand the impact of their open enrollment choices.

You may also find it helpful to extend the value of these sessions by repurposing the content for broader use. In other words, you can select some of the most common questions from “office hours” visits and repost them anonymously as “frequently asked questions” on a wiki or web page.

3) Get Your Vendors Involved

Sometimes, information is best received directly from the source. Hosting virtual live and recorded benefits fairs gives vendors a platform for sharing details about their solutions and services. It also provides more time for providers to discuss specific questions in-depth with employees.

So, instead of conducting a standard 1-hour session where your HR team summarizes available health benefits, you could schedule a series of 30-45-minute sessions showcasing key vendors. (For example, you could feature each of your health insurance companies, along with sessions devoted to specialized vendors, such as onsite dental services, wellness consultants, or fertility benefits providers).

These sessions can focus on basic facts about each solution, as well as ancillary benefits that are underutilized. Then you could close each session by answering individual questions from the audience.

Also, if you’re scheduling topic-focused HR office hours, you may want to ask vendor consultants to join relevant sessions. Or you could invite key vendors to conduct their own 1:1 sessions. Sometimes, employees feel more comfortable talking to external benefits specialists. For these people, dedicated vendor sessions or 1:1 office hours are an ideal solution.

4) Integrate Micro-Learnings into the Process

Micro-learnings are brief educational events and materials targeting topics that tie in with key benefits, such as health and finance. This kind of knowledge sharing encourages more employee interaction and tends to generate deeper interest in relevant benefits.

To illustrate, here are a few micro-learning themes:

  • “Urgent Care vs ER: What’s the Difference?”
  • “The Link Between Mental Health and Overall Health”
  • “How to Balance Work Life with Family Caregiving

Top online learning providers (such as LinkedIn Learning and YouTube channels) already provide excellent educational content about these topics. This means you don’t have to create content from scratch. Instead, you can curate strong programming from several online sources and then easily deliver the content to interested employees.

Packaging and promoting this kind of useful information upfront is invaluable for employees. It saves them time because they don’t have to research these topics on their own. Plus, the convenience of “anytime” access to high-quality educational content about health and benefits enhances workforce well-being.

5) Customize Educational Materials for Various Interests

Every employee is unique. And the beauty of today’s workforce is in its diversity. So everything about open enrollment season should support this reality. In other words, it’s important to appeal to various interests within your workforce.

For instance, recent grads may not appreciate benefits that appeal to new parents and vice versa. Instead of offering a generic “one-size-fits-all” menu, think about how you can categorize benefits so they align with groups that will value them most. Then present these benefits collections on your open enrollment site as packages. (For example, you could specify “Benefits that support LGBTQIA+ employees.”)

Clearly, you’ll find overlap among groups, so you don’t need to recreate an entirely new package for each community. But structuring benefits options in this way helps people more quickly identify the benefits information they’re likely to want.

If you’ve already established dedicated employee resource groups, consider creating packages for each of those ERGs and sending a customized message to each group with a direct link to their accompanying package. This extra measure ensures that individuals can quickly and easily find materials that matter most to them.

Conclusion

As we continue to navigate today’s dynamic business and benefits landscape, this year’s open enrollment season is sure to present challenges. But continually reflecting on your communication process, seeking employee feedback, and making informed adjustments can help you move forward more smoothly.

Remember to distribute information in more than one format. Also, make it as easy to find as possible, in as many places as your budget and resources will allow. And above all, focus on personalizing communication when you can. Although this is a “broadcast” communication challenge, benefits decisions are highly personal for each employee. The more willing you are to meet people where they are, the more successful you’ll be.

earned wage access

The Benefits of Earned Wage Access for Employees

Sponsored by: ADP

Financial stress is a real employee concern these days. Prices are higher across the board – gas, food, and housing. There is also a looming recession on the horizon. So how can employers help alleviate some of this stress?

As the modern workplace continues to evolve, so should the ways employees get paid. Many employers are now offering employees the option to access their wages at much-needed times through Earned Wage Access (EWA) vs. having access to their pay only at the designated pay cycle. This benefit offers employees much-needed financial flexibility and peace of mind. For employers, it can improve employee retention, satisfaction, and productivity by helping employees redirect their mental focus on work rather than financial stresses.

So, it’s really a win-win for both employees and employers. 

Our Guest:  Michelle Young

On this latest episode of #WorkTrends, I spoke with Michelle Young, Vice President of Operations for ADP’s Employee Financial Solutions Group. Michelle is an innovation expert and a trusted advisor to corporate executives in orchestrating business and fiscal strategies with B2B and B2C models.

Let’s talk about financial wellness. A very hot topic right now. Looking at this through the lens of ADP, how do you define financial wellness in the workplace? Michelle:

That’s a great question and very on point right now. When we at ADP think about financial wellness, we immediately go to the source of pay. That’s where we can promote confidence. We can help our employers offer their employees flexible pay methods that are beyond standard pay cycles. Like earned wage access, which, if you haven’t heard, is a very hot topic right now. It really helps to align unexpected expenses with income.

Reducing Employee Financial Stress

Employees can avoid spending money on overdraft fees, late fees, or even payday loans with earned wage access. And that further increases their ability to save and reduce financial stress. 

Sometimes, when unforeseen expenses don’t align with income, such as a medical bill or a home repair, it can make any employee, even financially responsible ones, feel helpless. And that often directly impacts their performance in the workplace.

What is Earned Wage Access?

What can employers offer employees around earned waged access? Or, EWA for short. Let’s talk more about what EWA actually is and how it works.

Promoting financial wellness ties to our EWA story. So EWA earned wage access is a valuable financial wellness benefit that allows employees to access a portion of their income that they’ve already earned. As opposed to waiting until the next pay cycle.

How Are Employees Using Earned Wage Access?

Employees use their earned wages in various ways, varying by demographic and age segment. 

Employees ages 18 to 24 tend to use it to reduce the stress of not having enough cash until payday. Maybe to buy groceries, pay off a loan, or even rent. As we move up, the 25 to 44-year-olds typically use it for family-related expenses or to pay bills. The 45 to 64-year-olds are also using EWA for emergency-related expenses or paying bills and use it for an emergency medical expense, which typically impacts the Gen Xers and the Boomers with more frequency.

ADP Research Key Takeaways

There were a lot of really juicy findings in the ADP Earned Wage Access Research Study done in December 2021 to January 2021 timeframe, What are some key takeaways? 

There is broad interest in EWA from workers in every age group, every education level. Seventy-six percent of workers across all age groups say it’s important for their employer to offer it. And 82% of employers that don’t offer it are interested in actually offering it. Additionally, 59% of millennials would give priority to a job with an employer that offers earned wage access. And 75% say that the availability of VWA would, in fact, influence their acceptance of a job offer.

I hope you found this episode of #WorkTrends helpful, I know I did. To learn more about the EWA metrics, download ADP’s latest white paper: “Earned Wage Access: Tapping into the Potential of Flexible Pay for Today’s World of Work”

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

Financial Health

Minimize Worry and Maximize Employee Financial Health

Sponsored by: Nationwide

With 2022 shaping up to be much more economically challenging for many people, more so than in 2021, folks are doing what they can to get by. A recent study performed by Nationwide said that a whopping 90% of consumers are concerned about inflation and their financial health. Do you blame them? 

Some employees are even starting to reduce their 401(k) plan contributions. The economic downturn has employees feeling worried and insecure – rightfully so.

Another study I just read shows that 70% of employees believe they need help from employers to achieve long-term financial security. Employers and employees may not realize all the tools available to help promote financial wellness and help to alleviate worry and insecurity.

Let’s look at some ways organizations and individuals can ease their worries about retirement plans and lifelong financial health.

Are you ready to help your employees thrive?

Our Guest: Amelia Dunlap

On our latest #WorkTrends Podcast, I spoke to Amelia Dunlap, Vice President of Retirement Solutions Marketing at Nationwide. Her focus is on solving the complex challenges of the financial services industry. She leads retirement solutions and marketing and is responsible for connecting with participants to plan for and live in retirement. She says:

Many people may not realize the full scope of what Nationwide does and that they offer much more than just home and auto insurance.

The Big Picture

We need to focus beyond the here and now. While many people know they have to save as much as possible for retirement, they are often unsure of what retirement will look like when it comes. About one in five people are delaying their retirement date because they feel insecure about how much income they will need to live on comfortably.

Amelia shares some solutions from Nationwide, such as in-plan guarantees, a way to put money into an investment that guarantees retirement income. A recent macrotrend related to pensions should be of some concern:

Rewind decades ago, a lot of companies had pensions for those of us in the corporate or private sector. That provided you, as an employee, with a paycheck in retirement. Well, throughout the past number of years, pensions have started to reduce. That ownership of preparing for your retirement and living in retirement has transitioned from a company providing it to an individual’s responsibility. That’s what a 401(k) is.

The Future of Retirement

 Economic security is of great concern for everybody, whether nearing retirement or just entering the workforce. There may be legislation from Capitol Hill that could help here, but in the nearer term, there are options and ways to educate younger generations. 

We in the industry often say, “If only everyone knew that your retirement plan is the best option for saving that you’re going to have.” It gives you the most access to investments. It’s the lowest cost. If you have a retirement plan, you should absolutely be taking advantage of it. We in the industry know that. Unfortunately, I don’t know if that is always effectively communicated to employers and ultimately to employees.

Educating younger workers on the benefits of investing earlier in their careers can make a huge difference. 

Lessons Learned

The turbulence in the last year has been a wake-up call for many people who had previously been in a stretch where things had been just ticking along well for a number of years. So what have we learned? 

This really underscores the need for employees to understand that adversity is going to happen and that you need to be thinking about your financial wellness plans long term. Putting your money in your retirement plan, continuing to save, and diversifying your investments are all good keywords you hear. Right now is a really unique time for employers because they’ve got the attention of their employees.

I hope you found this episode of #WorkTrends helpful and inspirational. To learn more about employer-sponsored retirement programs and the changes needed to help secure employee financial wellness, visit Nationwide.

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

Employees

Why Employees Need Leaders to Lead by Example

We bought mental health tools, but has everyone bought in? Many companies understand the importance of promoting mental health in the workplace. As a result, they have enacted programs and policies designed to put the well-being of their employees first. A recent MetLife survey found that at least 68% of respondents working at companies with more than 100 employees report having a wide range of programs designed to prevent mental health problems. 

To make the most significant impact, a sharper focus on support should become a key aspect of a company’s culture. But cultural values, and the effectiveness of any company initiative, can only be established with buy-in from all parts of the company – management especially. So now more than ever, employers seeking to improve employee mental health must first improve their understanding and involvement in mental health initiatives. 

This article will discuss the role managers play in employee well-being and how to lead by example. First, we’ll look at how employers can impact employees, both positively and negatively. Then we’ll examine how employers can maximize their positive impact as they lead by example.

Understand the Role Managers can Have on Employee Well-being

While most managers aim to support their employees, they may not be aware of how their managerial style can affect mental health. A 2020 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, & Health found that in workforces where leaders and managers whose “quality of leadership” has higher levels of traits perceived as fair, empowering, and supportive, employees have a lower risk of reporting mental distress. Similarly, teams that embody these same traits show a more “protective, prospective effect on employee mental health.” 

On the other hand, passive leadership predicts higher levels of role ambiguity, conflict, and overload – all of which lead to psychological work fatigue and have been shown to influence overall mental health negatively. 

Without a doubt, managers play a huge and direct role in the mental well-being of their employees. However, managers also play a more indirect role. The example they set for employees may increase – or inadvertently decrease – how likely they are to engage with mental health resources and initiatives. Employers that show little buy-in to health initiatives may unwittingly diminish the perceived importance of these programs, thereby limiting employee participation. The stigmas associated with mental health mean that many employees may not be initially willing to bring mental health conversations into their workplace. They may require the encouragement of their managers before they can do so. 

Support Your Employees and Lead by Example

HR professionals are acutely aware of leadership’s important role in bolstering workplace wellbeing. According to Unmind’s 2022 Mental Health Trends Report, 76% of HR professionals believe senior leadership needs to boost their well-being IQ. To drive real, long-lasting change, workplace leaders must work on supporting the policies they seek to implement. You can accomplish this by being seen modeling healthy behaviors, creating open channels of communication, and continuing to learn.

Model Healthy Behaviors

Modeling healthy behaviors can be one of the most effective ways to show your employees your commitment to mental health. Unfortunately, according to a recent MetLife survey, only 1 in 3 employees believed that their organizational leaders lead by example when it comes to mental health. This included sharing their difficulty with stress, burnout, depression, and other mental health problems. While it can be difficult to talk about personal mental health challenges, doing so is one of the best ways employers can continue to destigmatize mental wellbeing. 

Modeling healthy behaviors such as those described above, in conjunction with others such as establishing breaks, encouraging time off, and creating divisions between home and work can underscore leadership’s commitment to inclusivity and communication. Most importantly, doing so may give employees the push they need to open up about their issues, thereby allowing managers to help them or guide them to the resources they need. 

Create and Maintain Channels of Communication with Employees

Opening up about personal mental health is only one part of the solution. Managers must also strive to create and maintain open communication channels with their employees. This will help them feel comfortable sharing and ultimately resolving their challenges.

Encouraging discussion and openness is a critical component of supporting employees. But unfortunately, not everyone feels comfortable or has had a positive experience opening up.  A recent survey by Mind Share Partners found that less than 40% of employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health at work to other colleagues, their managers, and HR. Furthermore, only about half of the respondents (49%) described their experience as positive.

Managers must assure their employees that opening up about mental health will be met with support and care.. Letting them know that leadership is an ally in combating – rather than a contributing factor – to workplace stressors. The Mind Share report also found that employees who did feel supported by their employers were twice as likely to talk about their mental health at work. In addition, employees reported higher job satisfaction and were more likely to stay with their company. 

Keep Learning

Unfortunately, the ongoing shifts in workplace dynamics suggest that mental health in the workplace will only continue to garner importance. Despite this, most managers lack formal training on mental health issues, which means that even though employers might be willing to help and support employees, they may be unable to do so. 

Formal training sessions and making mental health support resources available to all levels of leadership will help employers deal with employee mental health more effectively. Training and support will also tell employees that their issues will be taken seriously.

In leading by example, employers are taking on a more dynamic and effective role in supporting employee wellbeing. While it may not always be easy, doing so is the best way to drive real change and create an open, healthy workplace where employees can thrive. 

DEI

The Critical Intersection Between DEI and Mental Health

Pandemic-related mental health is undoubtedly top-of-mind. In addition, there tends to be an uptick in dialog about mental health this time of year because May is Mental Health Month. Yet here’s what I’m thinking a lot about recently that extends all year long: the critical intersection between mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)

While both topics have grown exponentially in discussions among leaders, they have often grown in tandem. However, it’s important to tie the two together. It’s a junction where belonging, health, happiness, and productivity live. But the key is to understand how they intersect and what that means to leaders who want to foster a positive workplace.

The State of Mental Health

The research and stats continue to illustrate that COVID has propelled us into a mental health crisis. In a report by Mental Health America and Surgo Foundation, “The COVID Mental Health Crisis in America’s Most Vulnerable Communities: An Analysis of the US Cities Most Impacted by COVID-19, Poor Mental Health, and Lack of Mental Health Access”, the researchers hit on an important societal issue. A community and workforce’s access to mental health services – especially for underserved populations – is a DEI issue. Period.

“Mental health benefits: A key component of DEI,” a 2021 article in BenefitsPRO, connects the dots by stating that if an organization is going to be committed to DEI, then mental health benefits must be part of the picture. So, ask yourself, are accessible, impactful mental health benefits part of your organization? And even if you say yes, there is still work to do. And it’s interesting to look back a year later and see what mental health needs were unmet before, during the height of the pandemic, and today.

Create Paths to Help

What has become abundantly clear is that organizational management – and HR leaders, especially – must include mental health benefits, resources, and services with a special lens on underserved and high-risk populations. We expect government entities to pave the way, but every company should also take proactive steps to provide its own inclusive, healthy community. (The article was published under different titles to appeal to various HR professionals, including the aptly named DEI That Ignores Mental Health Is Doomed in HRAdvisor.)

The piece states, “Mental ill-health is often a symptom of lackluster DEI within companies, and specifically among minority demographics… Regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, a majority felt that they had experienced barriers to inclusion. McKinsey’s research supports the argument that certain demographics are more likely to feel less included. Among those groups are entry-level employees, women, and ethnic or racial minorities.”

“When someone’s race, identity, and sense of who they are, are repeatedly questioned and used against them, their mental health is affected. When those kinds of questions and attacks happen within the workplace, the individual and the company suffer.”

Foster DEI to Support Mental Well-Being

Let this remind us that the conversation isn’t simply about COVID-related mental health, although that’s the world we live in at this minute. DEI leaders need to ensure that the workplace always fosters inclusivity to support mental well-being proactively.

Other problems that can impact mental health and a feeling of safety at work for marginalized populations include lack of representation/misrepresentation, microaggressions, unconscious bias, and other stressors that can be hard to see. A solid DEI approach ensures that (1) leaders are trained to watch for these issues and (2) employees have access to resources to manage or mitigate these concerns.

According to Forbes, “Managers can be the ‘first responders to address mental health in a crisis. Training, educating, and empowering managers to lead on both mental health and inclusion – and how the two intersect – can speed up needed support to employees from diverse backgrounds. Managers may be in the best position to handle these sensitive issues with individual employees, helping to answer questions, address concerns, and direct people to the best available resources.”

First, Find Your People

The CDC published data about racial inequities that continue to plague our health care system. “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought social and racial injustice and inequity to the forefront of public health. It has highlighted that health equity is still not a reality as COVID-19 has unequally affected many racial and ethnic minority groups, putting them more at risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.”

That information doesn’t require much of a leap to the gap between underrepresented populations and mental health resources. The right DEI strategy should incorporate holistic, proactive approaches to address mental health needs, especially for groups that have never received or considered support.

The Connection Between Mental Health and DEI

So how do we draw this line between mental health and DEI? What’s interesting is that it’s truly about perspective. Reaching rural, LGBTQ, ethnic, religious minorities, youth, and other groups can be challenging. But it can also be extremely fulfilling, allowing a culture of inclusion and a celebration of differences to shape an organization.

You would be well-served to take an audit of your DEI strategy. Where does it address mental health? Is it proactive? Is it realistic? Are there proper communications plans to inform employees about resources?

These questions may reveal what’s next – and I beg you to take more than a quick look. See what’s working and what’s not to take a macro and micro look at how to improve. HOW are WE making mental health a priority for ALL of our people? How can we start at the top and make it actionable throughout the organization?

Tech Innovation Can Help Close the Gap

During the last few years, one noteworthy stride has been an increased capacity by the medical community to interact with patients online. Zoom therapy wasn’t much of a “thing” a few years ago. But improved technologies and a growing savviness for online medical appointments can drastically improve our reach into underserved populations.

A fascinating interview in Forbes addresses the ripe market for a tech disruption in mental health. This points to a promising future for organizations invested in closing the gap between mental health and all kinds of populations. The article covers the importance of how connecting underserved people with the technology they need to stay up-to-date is essential.

Some interesting tech innovations in this area include, “explicit measurement-based care efforts integrated within virtual behavioral health solutions, expansion into other modalities of care such as coaching, and continued consolidation in the space.”

“Additionally, many vendors are expanding their treatment modalities from just teletherapy with a mental health professional to things like virtual coaching. Finally, tons of funding is going into condition-specific startups, including those focused on substance use care, autism, etc.”

Opportunity is Knocking

This topic offers hope. There is a real struggle right now as the fog of uncertainty has not lifted, and mental health aftereffects reverberate like aftershocks. It’s discouraging to know there are underserved populations and people who suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles. It’s not an easy task to look at the gaps in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. But we can make positive changes here. Armed with the correct information and a willingness to ask hard questions, organizations can use DEI initiatives to make actual societal change.

Mental Health Awareness

How and Why to Honor Mental Health Awareness Month at Work

Mental Health Awareness Month is here again. For leadership, it’s a critical opportunity to reassess how your organization supports the mental health of your workforce, and plot out a more effective course to do more.

Why do more? Mental health has never been more important. The pandemic not only brought the issue to the forefront but also exacerbated it. In a post we published last fall, the author called today’s mental health challenges a “bittersweet lesson.” I love that term (and his post is definitely worth a read if you haven’t already). Covid-19 and its impacts have forced leaders to look at mental health not just as a factor in performance, but in retention as well, and by extension, the whole enterprise. We’ve also seen how a whole range of factors — being minority, lgbtq+, having an existing mental health condition, or being in a difficult work situation can turn a minor issue into a major one.

So I’d say there’s some real urgency here. But one of the blind spots I’m finding among leaders isn’t a commitment to do more. It’s a commitment to understanding how mental health is interwoven throughout the world of work right now.

Connect the Great Resignation and Mental Health

Let’s acknowledge that most leaders don’t have the time or the bandwidth to play connect the dots on their own — another reason why occasions like this can be so useful. But even among top-notch HR teams and benefits experts, certain problems tend to get siloed in order to get solved. Triage is not a holistic approach, but mental health is.

Take one enormous — and nearly universal — a challenge facing workplaces: the Great Resignation. Some 47.8 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs in 2021. This unprecedented wave of quits hit many sectors. It’s certainly still happening. And it has everything to do with mental health.

Attrition and Unhappiness

There are those who argue that the real reason for this surge of voluntary departures is opportunity, not discomfort; ambition, not unhappiness. They point to the hot jobs market as an irresistible chance to try the “grass is greener” approach, despite all that their employers have done for them. They note that younger generations have a different mindset when it comes to how long to stay in a given job. The urge to career climb may drive some to great heights — and you should celebrate that — but it doesn’t account for what’s happened with nearly 50 million people.

There’s plenty of tangible evidence that when employees aren’t happy, they try to find a place to be happier. It could be employees not feeling valued and workplaces being too toxic to thrive in. (For more on toxic workplaces and how to identify and then fix them, we published a great post that still holds true.) So while it may be easier to point your finger at a workforce getting too big for its britches, I don’t recommend it. While you do, you’re likely still losing employees.

Job Dissatisfaction Goes Deeper Than we Like to Admit

So why do people really leave? A recent Pew Research survey of more than 6,600 employed U.S. adults found that the top reasons cited for leaving one’s jobs in 2021 are all related to mental well-being in some form. These include low pay (63%), lack of opportunities for advancement (63%), and feeling disrespected at work (57%). Nearly half of the Pew survey respondents cited childcare issues (48%). Others said they were frustrated by a lack of flexibility (45%). A hefty portion of respondents (43%) cited the need for better benefits, including health benefits and paid time off.

Conditions of employment? Perhaps. But all of these are factors known to play a well-established role in either promoting or detracting from emotional and psychological well-being. Concurrently we’ve seen a rise in conditions such as anxiety and depression: from pre-pandemic to January 2021, reported symptoms of anxiety or depression among U.S. adults jumped from 11% to 41%. 

What Mental Health Really Means

This isn’t a judgment, it’s an observation: While organizations tend to know what they are required to do in terms of regulations, they don’t necessarily know how to best improve mental health in the workplace. There are clear rules spelled out by the ADA, FMLA, and other legislation that help maintain clear guardrails about workplace culture, clinical support, pre-existing conditions, benefits policies, and more. But it may be easier to focus on staying within legal compliance for the organization’s sake than drilling into why these actions are so important in terms of the workforce’s sake.

I’m also finding that most leaders — particularly in the C-Suite but also high-level HR execs and managers — have their hearts in the right place. But we all need more guidance on where mental health begins and ends in the workplace. Bottom line: these days, given the blurred lines between work and life, I don’t know that it ends at all. But it does help to know what mental health stands for: an umbrella term for hundreds of conditions, clinical or not, that comprise emotional, psychological and social well-being.

Ensuring a healthier, productive workforce starts with understanding who you have,” one of our contributing authors wrote recently. I’d concur — though it’s also important to understand the nature of your workplace, virtual, hybrid, on-premises, flexible, shifts, supervised or not. And you need to understand the overall culture of your organization — not just your projected employer brand — and how that plays a role in mental health. I’ll give you one example: Organizations that made “innovate!” a key imperative in their work culture are unwittingly (or not) putting employees under an undue level of stress, and may be increasing their own workplace attrition rates. An MIT research team found that the pressure to innovate is actually one of the primary drivers of attrition.

Factoring in the Costs of Unhappiness

In mid-2021 the Great Resignation caused at least a 1.1% rise in the rate of inflation, according to the Chicago Fed; and it’s certainly having an impact on the global economy, the supply chain, and the bottom line.

We also know that the cost of replacing employees who leave can run as high as $1500 per hourly worker, and note that the figure was calculated pre-pandemic — the costs could be even higher now. SHRM also estimated that for every salaried employee we lose, it can cost the employer 6 – 9 months of that employee’s salary to find a replacement. That, too, was a pre-pandemic metric. From that perspective, there’s a business case to be made for making sure your organization is doing all it can to support your workforce’s mental health.

Get on the Bus: 10 Actions to Celebrate Mental Health Month

To honor Mental Health Month, use the time to assess all the factors that contribute to and detract from emotional, psychological, and mental well-being in your workplace. Then, commit to making meaningful improvements. This isn’t a time for performative gestures, it’s a time to take actions that count. So here’s a quick list of possible strategies:

1. Invite full participation.

Enlist the whole organization so that anyone that’s interested can participate (inviting participation is itself a form of promoting mental health).

2. Make the month different.

Treat the month as an occasion. Consider making some radical changes for May to see if they have an impact on mental health in the workplace. For instance: make a month-long policy allowing for a half day personal break once a week, no questions asked. Try a no-contact after work policy, so people can decompress and work doesn’t come home with them. Bring in meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and exercise instructors for virtual or in-house classes. Provide access to on-demand webinars and courses about self-care, mental health, and staying balanced. Bring in SMEs to talk about mental health issues. When the month is over, ask your teams what they enjoyed, and what they would want to continue.

3. Assess your mental health benefits.

Have a summit with your benefits teams and providers to see what can be added to your mental health offerings. For instance, could you offer telehealth with therapists? What about childcare/caregiver support? How hard would it be to build more mental health support for your existing program?

4. Evaluate DEI in your work culture.

Discrimination, bias, and feeling isolated for one’s identity can take an enormous toll on individual mental health. Look at how DEI is working in your culture. You may want to reach out to those who may be feeling isolated or disadvantaged to get their take. Make a safe space for women, minorities, LGBTQ+, and others who may feel disenfranchised to speak their minds.

5. Check on the impacts of your workplace conditions.

Are your employees feeling a sense of connection if you’ve shifted to remote or hybrid working? If not, look for ways to increase it, and build community no matter where people are. What safety policies have you instated to make your workforce feel less at risk if they have come back to the office? If you’re all on multiple messaging and communication platforms, is there a way to scale back and free up some mental space?

6. Take the workforce’s pulse.

Survey all your employees on their state of mind. Make sure it’s clear that this is confidential, but invite and make room for candid input — not just pre-set answers.

7. Check in with your managers.

Reach out to your managers about their own mindsets, as well as the state of things on their teams. Your managers remain a direct line to your employees. Their mental health will certainly have an impact on the people who report to them.  

8. Evaluate your recognition and rewards programs.

Recognition and rewards are the most tangible proof that employees are valued and supported by the workplace. Don’t underestimate their power to boost self-esteem and a sense of belonging.   

9. Bring in leadership for a workplace roundtable.

Having a Q&A with leaders on issues of mental health is a great way to get leaders involved. Topics might include mental health awareness, emotional well-being, workplace stress, and mental health benefits questions. 

10. Track the results for the month.

Track data on your efforts the same as you would any other: mental health has its own metrics. Participation, survey results, questions asked in a Q&A, how managers rank key issues, and much more should all be shared, and used to take further actions to improve your mental health support system in the workplace. Bonus points if you conduct an open debriefing, where not only do you share the data, you invite your workforce to weigh in on their own experiences over the month.

Conclusion

Use Mental Health Month for a reckoning — but don’t stop there. Every time we talk about mental health on our #WorkTrends podcast (for just two great examples, head here and here), the conversation feels like it wants to continue. So keep it going. Steering the organizational ship is inherently complex, and decisions need to be made with context, clarity, and humanity. But they also have to be made with compassion, commitment, respect, and hope.

Mental Health

10 Ideas To Make Mental Health Support More Accessible For Employees

What are some ideas to make mental health support more accessible to employees? This question was posed to a group of talented professionals for their insights. From offering mental health holidays to flex work schedules, here’s what they had to say.

Offer Mental Health Days

Mental health Days are meant to be used when you have too much on your mind or when are feeling high levels of stress and anxiety. We can’t pre-plan how we will feel, so it’s important to allow employees to take unplanned days off.  Moreover, it is a great way to track the mental health of your employees. If someone is taking too many “mental health days” then you can reach out and support them! It’s easy to apply and simple, yet so few companies do it!

Annie Chopra, She TheQueen

Take Time to Communicate Benefits

In our brand new research on mental health, we found that employers rated themselves a “C” while the workforce rated employer support for mental health as an “F.” When you get into the data, you see that while companies are trying to make changes, these changes aren’t always felt by the workforce. We have to spend as much time communicating the changes and benefits we offer as we do actually selecting those benefits if we want to see real impact.

Ben Eubanks, Lighthouse Research & Advisory

Provide Health Coaching Sessions

Working with a qualified health & wellness coach has the potential to make a big difference in employees’ work and personal lives.  A health coach is NOT a licensed mental health practitioner. A good health coach IS a trained empathetic listener and motivator who works with people in groups or one-on-one. They help to create and work toward solutions to increase the enjoyment of life and work. 

Employers can offer coaching services onsite or remotely, in groups or individually.  The National Board of Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) certifies coaches who have completed specialized coaching training, demonstrated coaching skills, have experience working with clients, and passed a rigorous exam.

Ronel Kelmen, Attainable Transformation

Include Inspiring and Regenerating PTO Perks

We all understand that employees need sufficient high-quality PTO experiences in order to stay sharp, satisfied, and healthy at work. But what really makes PTO beneficial for our mental health is when that time is also inspiring. 

For example, we offer our employees three fully paid 24-hour days per year to participate in volunteer activities. Not only do these experiences give our team the chance to step outside their work and breathe, but while doing so they’re also engaging in work that can reignite and reshape their worldviews.

Tina Hawk, GoodHire

Promote a Work-Life Balance

Make sure your employees are taking time away from work on a regular basis. This means encouraging regularly scheduled vacations and not rewarding a burning the midnight oil mentality. You may get short-term results, but this type of schedule will often lead to burnout and far less productivity and motivation. 

A great leader challenges their employees to regularly rest, recharge, and connect with their loved ones. When employees feel valued, they will be much more motivated.

Mark Daoust, Quiet Light

Host Mental Health Fairs

One out-of-the-box way to make mental health more accessible to workers is to hold a mental health fair. These events function like traditional health fairs yet focus on psychological health. Booths can give out information on practices like stress management and avoiding burnout. Additionally, you can do activities like meditation and mindfulness worksheets. Beyond providing at-risk employees with resources, you can also use these fairs as a way to educate the workforce at large about mental health and help professionals to be better allies to psychologically vulnerable peers.

Carly Hill, Virtual Holiday Party

Encourage the Use of Wellness Apps

Employers can provide free resources and access to mental health apps. It can be a way for everyone in your company to get the mental health help they need, especially to prevent burnout amongst your employees. Using an app might feel less intimidating when seeking professional help from a therapist or psychiatrist.

You might not be there to visually recognize when an employee is overworking themselves. But with certain apps, they can get reminders to take breaks and maintain healthy habits during their working hours.

Scott Lieberman, Touchdown Money

Foster a “Life Happens” Culture

A healthy company culture understands that even the highest performing employees will face unideal circumstances that may take them away from work. A culture of ‘life happens’ understands that company needs shouldn’t supersede employee needs but ebb and flow. As we navigate turbulent times as a nation, we’ve all faced the universal truth that life happens, and sometimes things are out of our control.

Amrita Saigal, Kudos

Allow Flexible Work Schedules 

A remote or hybrid work schedule creates more flexibility for employees to take care of their physical and mental health how they see fit. Workers want freedom – time to spend with loved ones, take care of themselves, and travel – promoting one’s mental health on their terms. Allow the space and flexibility for your employees to take care of their mental health at their discretion.

Breanne Millette, BISOULOVELY

Train Leaders to Create Inclusive Environments 

Smaller businesses can make mental health more accessible to employees by equipping leaders with the tools and resources to have open, honest conversations and by creating a safe space for employees to speak openly without fear of judgment. 

Creating inclusive environments for conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia can go a long way in making sure everyone feels supported at work. By educating people about and accepting neurodiversity, you can create an inclusive and supportive workplace where everyone can thrive.

Dan Gissane, Huxo Creative

       

The Empathetic Workplace

An Empathetic Workplace – 4 Practical Tips

As a business leader, you want to keep employees engaged at work and encourage company loyalty. How does the empathetic workplace blend in with those goals? How can you create a culture that makes people care about their jobs? The key is making empathy your central focus by starting with a top-down approach.

When leadership makes employees feel respected and valued, they provide a space where employees can bring their whole selves to work. In turn, their teams are happier and more motivated. Employers who want to facilitate a compassionate company culture need to improve communication, boost transparency, listen to employees, and include more stakeholders in the decision-making process.

The Importance of Empathy

Traditional work methods got flipped upside down at the start of the pandemic, creating additional stress in people’s work and personal lives. Research conducted by Qualtrics found that 42% of employees experienced a decline in mental health after the start of COVID-19. This stress caused a decrease in work performance, with 20% of people saying it took longer to finish tasks and 12% saying they struggled to juggle workplace responsibilities.

Creating an empathetic workplace can help ease some of the stress employees are feeling. Recent research from Catalyst shows how empathy can improve workplace performance. The survey found that 76% of people with highly empathetic leaders reported feeling more engaged at work, while less than a third of those surveyed with less empathetic leadership reported engagement. So what does this mean for you? If you want your employees to do their best work, creating an empathetic workplace isn’t an option. It’s a necessity.

How to Create an Empathetic Workplace

Empathy has the power to transform your workplace. However, it takes more than one initiative to make empathy the cornerstone of your company culture. Here are four things you can do to continuously foster compassion and create a company culture grounded in empathy:

 

1. Implement an Open-Door Policy

Opening communication lines across the company is a great way to show employees that they’re in an environment that values empathy. When appropriately implemented, an open-door policy can improve communication across all levels of an organization and establish trust among employees. Rather than keeping workplace issues to themselves, employees with this policy will feel more comfortable discussing problems with managers. This allows managers to address concerns before they become major stressors.

For an open-door policy to be successful, you need to encourage upward communication. If this is a new concept for your workforce, you may need to prompt workers to provide senior leadership feedback. One way to get the ball rolling is by asking employees for feedback in annual surveys and addressing the survey results in a companywide meeting.

 

2. Be Vulnerable

To effectively lead a team through a crisis, transparent communication is key. Yet very few leaders keep employees in the loop. In a recent survey conducted by Leadership IQ, only 20% of employees said their leaders always openly share ongoing company challenges. When employees are left in the dark, anxiety and fear can develop, causing them to consider looking for new career opportunities. On the other hand, when leaders openly share company challenges, employees are 10 times more likely to recommend them as great employers.

So how can senior managers and CEOs practice vulnerable leadership? You could try discussing challenges you or the company are facing and victories you’re incredibly proud of. By opening up to your team, you make it easier for them to open up to you.

 

3. Listen More Than You Speak

To be empathetic, you need to become a better listener. This means keeping an open mind, recognizing how your employees are feeling, and trying to understand their perspectives. While you don’t have to agree with everything said, ensuring your team feels heard can make a world of difference. In fact, employees who feel heard are 4.6 times more empowered to do their best work.

Try to listen more than you talk. Your goal should be to avoid interrupting employees while they speak. Paraphrase what was said after they’re done to show that you are listening. Although you may disagree with what was said, it’s still important to validate the other person’s perspective and let them know you understand where they’re coming from.

 

4. Talk With Your Team Before Making Decisions

As the world returns to normal, you may be wondering what your work environment should look like. Some employees may be eager to return to the office, while others enjoy working from home. Before creating a return-to-office plan, talk with your team about their preferences.

Employees will have their own unique qualities that dictate which type of working environment suits them best. As an empathetic leader, it’s important to keep each individual’s unique characteristics in mind while creating a plan that works for them. The world of work has been permanently altered, and there’s no longer a one-size-fits-all strategy that works for everyone.

If you want employees to care about their jobs, you need to care about them. By creating an emphatic work environment, you can create a space where employees feel safe bringing their whole selves to work.

Why Workplace Trust and Transparency Matters

Why Trust and Transparency Matter in the Workplace

Many business experts champion trust in the workplace. They include the likes of Stephen Covey and my dear friend, David Horsager. (His 8 Pillars of Trust and his many excellent books should be required reading.) However, what is perhaps less well known is the neuroscience of trust. As a species, we’ve developed an array of neurochemical survival mechanisms. Employers often ignore these mechanisms, and as a result, miss the opportunity to build trust and transparency in the workplace. 

The Neuroscience of Mistrust

Let’s start with the opposite of trust. It is the “fight or flight” response we experience when faced with a perceived threat. These “threats” elevate the hormone cortisol, which narrows our focus to deal only with the immediate. The threat could be actual, imminent, physical, or merely a harsh interruption in our day. The problem is, our bodies can’t easily tell the difference.

Of course, cortisol has other important functions. Cortisol controls blood sugar levels, memory formation, and blood pressure. At normal levels, it keeps us engaged with the day’s activities. When elevated, cortisol puts us on “alert status” and makes trust a low priority.

Trust and the Willingness to Take Risks

In my book, The Velocity Mindset, I discussed how cortisol can prevent leadership teams from identifying and achieving objectives. Additionally, I highlighted the role another hormone, oxytocin, plays in velocity (speed with direction and alignment).

Trust in the workplace—and its neurochemical roots—are key drivers for business success. Compelling research by Dr. Paul Zak and others champions the well-established science around oxytocin and trust. According to one study, oxytocin “affects an individual’s willingness to accept social risks arising through interpersonal interactions.” Additionally, researchers have found that oxytocin “enhances an individual’s propensity to trust a stranger when that person exhibits non-threatening signals.”

Obviously, creating artificial trust in the workplace via oxytocin injections would be a short-sighted and ethical nightmare. Nevertheless, there must be practical ways to promote trust knowing that our biology.

Fortunately, trust in the workplace can be accomplished with common-sense approaches, as Horsager and others have shown. An Oxford study summarizes the key drivers and human resource practices that develop trust. These include mutual respect, open communication, and fairness, especially in appraisals of work. The study also identifies factors which decrease trust, such as a lack of transparency in decision-making.

The Risk of Betrayal in the Workplace

Trust is the gold standard. It is the glue that makes alignment and velocity possible. The benefits of increased trust in the workplace are enormous. Over the long term, it increases individual employee productivity and engagement. To paraphrase Zak, it improves collaboration and cultivates a happier, more productive workforce. On the other hand, the consequences of breaking that trust are far worse than not having it in the first place.

Studies have shown that a betrayal of trust, whether familial, cultural, or institutional, creates high levels of long-term stress, including the release of cortisol. If such responses become ingrained in an employee’s experience and memory, the chances of returning to a state of unqualified trust are slim. Consequently, employees might resist a manager or HR professional’s efforts to right a wrong or be transparent after a breach of trust. 

Though a proactive HR team may be capable of rebuilding this trust, the effort is complicated by the very neurochemicals that make us human.

Transparency: The Path To Velocity

It is not easy to win trust and transparency in the workplace. As a result, people are taking a risk when asked to make decisions that may not benefit them. The deciding factor is often how comfortable they are with those asking the question. Transparency, trustworthiness, empathy, and understanding are not just words. They are requirements for every HR professional and executive who aspires to true leadership. 

Today, it is impossible to take a “my way or the highway” approach to business. We need everyone’s buy-in to remain focused on tasks that support a purpose. Trust and transparency in the workplace, like everything else that enables leadership, begins with an understanding of what makes us human. And most importantly, it requires a willingness to work hard to gain that trust. 

Virtual wellbeing program

Wellbeing programs create better connection for employees

impact awardWhile there’s still no clear sense for when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, one thing has come into sharp focus—the implementation of wellbeing programs. The future of work will include both in-person and remote arrangements to accomplish this.  

This new reality has various benefits for employees, including more flexibility, better work-life balance, less time spent commuting, and the freedom to work from anywhere. And a study by Stanford found that working from home increases productivity by 13%. So, there are benefits for employers as well. 

 But employees who don’t see their colleagues every day face a challenge: creating a sense of community and connection. And while it may not seem like a business performance issue at first glance, it actually is. 

Harvard Business Review says: “Employee disconnection is one of the main drivers of voluntary turnover, with lonely employees costing U.S. companies up to $406 billion a year.”  

The opportunity in front of us for wellbeing programs

At HealthFitness, we think there’s a massive opportunity for the corporate fitness industry to rethink how we help employees feel they belong and are cared for.

In fact, through our work with hundreds of companies across many different industries, we’ve seen how wellbeing programs can provide the community and human connection many employees are craving right now.

This means creating experiences where employees will find friendly and familiar faces—both in-person and virtually. This can include group fitness, personal and small group training, health and fitness challenges, health coaching, seminars and classes across a wide variety of fitness and health topics.

The classic in-person approach 

We’re all familiar with the onsite fitness center. While pandemic-era guidelines changed aspects of the experience (e.g., wearing masks, social distancing), they’re still a meaningful way to create connection.

One of our client’s employees, Eddie, said he had a hard time staying active at his job until he joined a new company with an on-site fitness center. There, he began taking fitness classes (which is something he never imagined himself doing). Plus, he also started using the center’s exercise equipment.

But he discovered an unexpected benefit as well.

Eddie noticed how the fitness challenges his company hosted allowed him to connect with coworkers throughout the company. “I’ve made tons of friends at work through the fitness center,” he says.

And the benefits he received went beyond the physical and social.

Eddie said that many of the colleagues he met through fitness challenges provided him with career advice. “The amount of networking I was able to do at the fitness center was remarkable. It’s amazing how many people you can meet while sharing the goal of creating a healthier lifestyle.”

The new virtual approach 

Like Eddie, many employees looked to their local gym or corporate fitness center for a sense of community before COVID-19. Now we know employees will seek this same sense of connection in a virtual format.

That’s certainly been our experience over the last two years.

Like many companies worldwide, we had to pivot fast in the spring of 2020. Our initial goal was to fill clients’ immediate needs and continue offering health and fitness programming in whatever way we could. To make the best of the unprecedented situation.

But then something unexpected happened.

The fitness classes delivered in a virtual format were a big hit with employees. They also allowed us to extend our reach to more employees that may not be located in a building where their employer provided a fitness center. Beyond fitness classes, wellbeing-related offerings like energy and stretch breaks, educational seminars, and even classes for kids opened up more ways to demonstrate that the company cares about their employees. Employees also enjoyed seeing the friendly faces they knew and trusted.

Given this, we think virtual corporate wellbeing experiences are an important way to create connection and community in a hybrid world. There are two primary options.

Live-streamed content

Live-streamed content can be used for live events like fitness classes, stretch breaks, educational seminars, and kid and family classes. They’re broadcast through professional-grade equipment to provide the highest quality streaming, regardless of device, bandwidth, or location.

The shift to working from home has served as the game changer for Sharon, one of our client’s employees, and her health and fitness routine. Sharon takes up to three virtual classes each day. She transfers between group fitness classes, to virtual personal training to mindfulness, nutrition and wellness classes. She regularly meets with her health coach.

As a result, Sharon is more resilient and stronger. “HealthFitness has been one of the most important aspects of my mental and physical wellbeing while working from home.”

Sharon’s weekly virtual personal training sessions with her HealthFitness trainer, Jim, keeps her connected and moving after knee surgery. This allows her to keep getting stronger in her health journey.

Not only does this benefit Sharon physically, there’s also the same sense of connection that Eddie described. When you know other colleagues are also participating in these experiences, you have a point of much-needed connection.

Video conferencing

Video conferencing offers real-time connections with wellness professionals for personal and small group training. It is also useful for nutrition coaching, ergonomic consultations, and movement efficiency assessments.

This approach will broaden based on employers I’ve talked with over the last 18 months. Employers want data-driven integration, segmenting, and targeting capabilities with programs that address subjects. Subjects like stress, resiliency, mindfulness, sleep, safety, and financial wellbeing.

Eventually, because of this data and technology integration, employers will offer this kind of programming wherever it works best for employees. That may be in person, at home, on the production line, on the go—whatever employees need.

This level of targeting has a side benefit. Employees can connect around common wellness priorities or goals, which again creates the sense of community many of us are longing for.

Regardless of format, wellbeing programs must be front and center

In their report Future of Work Trends in 2022, Korn Ferry says that “organizations that are leading the way in wellbeing embed it in all aspects of their people strategy. Research shows that this has a positive impact on retention, absenteeism levels, productivity, and overall satisfaction.” 

With all of these potential impacts, it’s time for corporate wellness programs to adapt to the permanently altered business landscape by: 

  • Recognizing how classic wellness offerings like fitness centers and programs can solve new workplace challenges, like the lack of connection 
  • Introducing virtual wellbeing offerings that employees can access when and where it’s convenient 
  • Offering a broader range of wellbeing programs that help employees connect with like-minded colleagues and create a sense of community 

When companies take these steps, they show employees they belong to an organization that genuinely cares. 

 

 

Ann Wyatt is Chief Client Success Leader at Health Fitness, a Trustmark company. With a holistic approach that extends beyond fitness, HealthFitness is a proven leader in engaging and connecting people both on-site and online, to create a strong community of health. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.  

How to find your leadership DNA

How To Find Your Leadership DNA

What is your leadership DNA? It is your authentic self. The concept of authentic leadership is often bantered about. In my experience of working with leaders from the best of the best global companies, the most impactful definition is being the leader you were designed to be. How do you do that? Find your leadership DNA.

There is no one characteristic of a great leader. There are actually millions. The best characteristics for you are already hard-wired in you.  You just need to identify, build and leverage your strengths, passions and experiences to be that kind of leader you were designed to be.

Why is being an authentic leader so powerful?

People gravitate to authentic leaders. However, so many people want to copy an admired leader. This is unlikely to work for you for your brain is not hard-wired for this style. It may, in fact, focus you on your weaknesses. 

It takes great effort to fix a weakness. Instead, take that effort and focus it on further developing your strengths. Leverage the way your brain is hard-wired.

We are uniquely created. Each of us possesses a unique set of gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses, emotions and passions. Whether it is handed down to us though our parent’s genes, taught to us as we are raised from childhood to adults, or bestowed upon us from a higher power; we are who we are. There is a reason why we act, think and feel the way we do. Who we are is hard-wired into our brains.

In “A User’s Guide to the Brain,” Dr. John Ratey writes: 

“The brain is not a neatly organized system. It is often compared to an overgrown jungle of 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons…The neurons form an interconnected tangle with 100 trillion, constantly changing, connections. The connections guide our bodies and behaviors, even as every thought and action we take physically, modifies their patterns. Our neurons are constantly competing to make connections and these connections are what make us who we are.”

If you want to be average, focus on fixing your weaknesses.

When I was a child, I was poor in math. My parents did what most Asian parents would do: they got me a math tutor. Every night with my tutor I went through hell. After three months of working hard, night after night of feeling stupid, I was able to take my math skills from poor up to… slightly above poor. 

Then I got into the business world. The end of the year performance appraisal surfaced that I was weak in my analytical planning. So, week after week, month after month I worked on it. I was able to get my analytical skills up to average.  

What am I becoming? Average.

Now, there is nothing wrong with average. If you want to be average, this is a good approach. However, many of us want to be exceptional at something. If you want to be distinctive, an authentic leader, you need to identify your strengths and leverage them by focusing on developing them even further. If your organization provides a training budget for you, sign up for training courses to enhance your strengths. 

McKinsey’s study on centered leadership shows: 

“Of all the dimensions of centered leadership, meaning has a significant impact on satisfaction with both work and life; indeed, its contribution to general life satisfaction is five times more powerful than that of any other dimension.”

Leverage not only your strengths, but also your passions. These combined with your experiences are a powerful combination. 

How to find your leadership DNA?

1. Identify your strengths and passions.

There are many tools out there that can help you find them. Here are a few to check out:

2. Drill down for specificity.

Whatever tool you use, it’s important to drill down to more specifically determine the who, what, where and when for each. This brings more clarity and breaks things down into bite-size, actionable pieces.

3. Take action, now!

In his book “Smartcuts”, Shane Snow writes about the power of the “Big Mo” (momentum). Momentum is key! 

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile has found that the answer is simply progress. A sense of forward motion. Regardless of how small. Amabile found that minor victories at work were nearly as psychologically powerful as major breakthroughs. And momentum isn’t just a powerful ingredient of success. It’s also a powerful predictor of success.

Small steps add up! Use the power of compounding. One step forward brings you joy, especially if that step allows you to work on the things you are good at or love doing. One step forward gives you a sense of accomplishment and a positive feeling that you are getting closer to your goal of authenticity.

Get on the path of being an authentic leader, more of who you already are by taking action now, and moving down that path.

Finding Balance Between Business Needs & Employee Needs

Business Needs vs. Employee Needs: Finding the Happy Medium

It’s been a hard year and a half, and as the pandemic continues to fluctuate, illness and lockdowns have taken their toll. The effects extend into the workplace, too, as companies struggle to find a happy medium between employee needs and business needs.

During this time, employees reevaluated what a workplace means to them and how job satisfaction plays into their overall happiness. Many employees found that they’re happier when they don’t have to commute, dress up, or stick to prescribed business hours. Others are ready to get back to the workplace where there are fewer distractions and more in-person collaboration.

Many businesses, on the other hand, are eager to get back to an in-office model without Zoom meetings. Managers want to communicate quickly with employees at their desks, instead of via chat. It’s understandable but short-sighted for employers to try to get back to a pre-pandemic way of operating. As the health implications of COVID-19 can’t be undone, neither can the effects it’s having on the workplace, which is why the need to find a happy medium is important.

These changes create a need for HR teams to adapt to the realities of these changes. Therefore, it’s time for businesses to adapt their return-to-office plans to ensure that they are employee-centered. Now more than ever, balancing employee needs against the needs of the business is imperative.

Listening to Employees

Work-from-home employees are not shy about their preferences and pain points around remote work. Coworkers commonly talk amongst themselves about how much they like not having to dress in full business attire or commute. They also expressed frustrations around digital communications and how, since they’re online, the workday can stretch beyond regular hours.

Before putting forth a return-to-office plan, businesses must listen to what employees truly want. To avoid turnover, some employers plan to skip a return-to-office life altogether, especially since a lack of remote work options is a deal-breaker for many employees and may send them searching for a job elsewhere. Many employees have already made that step, citing lack of remote work options as the main reason for seeking other opportunities. Notably, according to a survey by ResumeBuilder, 15% of workers are planning to leave their jobs before December.

What is the best way to find out what employees need to be happy in their current positions? Ask them. Hold a company-wide meeting to discuss what they like about working remotely, what can be improved, their thoughts on returning to full-time office work, and any questions they may have.

HR teams should leverage anonymous channels like digital surveys to make sure every voice is heard. These tools are perfect for individuals who are not comfortable speaking up in a large group, or for those who worry that their opinions will reflect poorly on them. 

Company leaders should also trust employees. They know how they work best, as well as the ways working from home affects their work-life balance. HR teams know happy employees are more engaged, produce better work, and stay in their positions longer, creating positive business outcomes.

Balancing Employee Needs With Business Needs

While keeping employee needs top of mind is essential, HR professionals must also evaluate how best to serve the company. If remote work begins to negatively impact employee and company performance, that can’t be ignored. Conversely, if an organization consistently meets KPIs, is growing, and employees are engaged, there’s no need to return to the office five days a week.

Instead of assuming performances and company operations will improve in an office setting, HR teams should strive to find balance. There’s no need for extremes. Companies don’t need to decide to keep operations fully remote or shift them entirely back to the office.

Over the course of the pandemic, it’s become clear what job functions need to be performed in person versus remote. Some team members can complete all of their job functions from home, while others have duties that require in-person work.

Companies should try to strike a balance and meet their employees in the middle. Offer a schedule that accommodates working from home alongside in-person work. For example, some organizations can easily let employees work from home three days a week, while requesting in-person attendance for meetings.

Companies can also strike a balance by easing the dress code to make going into the office feel more comfortable. Additionally, they can find cost savings by allowing employees to work from home. Businesses should evaluate whether they can stagger when different staff members come in. By doing so, they can use a smaller office space, saving on rental costs and utilities, among other expenses. At the same time, employees will appreciate the flexibility of being able to choose to work from home on a regular basis.

Looking to the Future

Before implementing a return-to-office plan, HR teams must equally weigh the needs of the business against those of their employees. Therefore, it may be tempting to develop this kind of plan quickly. However, HR teams must take time to listen to employees and measure their needs alongside business goals. This will create a happier and more effective workplace for everyone.

Retain Female Talent

Women in the Workplace: How to Retain Female Talent

Millions of Americans have left the workforce due to the ongoing public health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. This situation has particularly impacted female employees who had to become the primary caretakers of their children when schools and daycares closed. As a result, many women had to leave their jobs, and companies lost some of their most outstanding employees. Now companies need to spend time deciding how they can better accommodate, empower, and retain female talent with children.

I am a life coach, helping ambitious working moms become their best selves every day. Part of this is educating companies on how to better support women in the workplace, especially those with children. Using valuable insights from my clients and my own experience as a working mom, I’ve put together five suggestions for companies on how to retain female talent, both pre and postpartum.

Find Out How You Can Support Women in the Workplace

Administering a survey is one of the best ways to determine your company’s ability to hire and retain working moms. Ask open-ended questions so you can find out more about the challenges female employees face and which are the most important. If possible, allow them to give their opinion anonymously to share their feelings without worrying about retribution.

Revamp Your Company Policies & Benefits 

Once you’ve reviewed the survey, you’ll better understand the company policies and benefits that need revamping. For example, do the majority of female employees want paternity leave or extended maternity leave? Or perhaps they would prefer a more flexible work schedule? The company can also assess its employee performance evaluations, possibly changing from time-oriented to task-oriented. 

Whether female talent want to feel more involved during meetings or expectant moms require a designated parking spot, companies should accommodate the needs of women in the workplace. Listening to your female employees, and implementing change, can make it easier to retain talented pre and postpartum female employees. In doing so, you’ll not only improve your business, but women in the workplace are more likely to feel heard and acknowledged.

Start a Mentorship Program 

A study published by McKinsey, titled ‘Women in the Workplace 2020’, reveals that women may face significant roadblocks without the right mentorship and sponsorship opportunities. For example, a sponsor can amplify the voice of lower-level female talent, while a mentor can help guide women towards their career goals.

An official company mentor program is an excellent way for you to capitalize on your most fantastic resource, your employees. It also demonstrates the company’s commitment to nurturing talent and providing employees the opportunity to learn from a trusted advisor. Retaining female talent is far more likely for those companies who actively invest in their professional development. Women in these types of workplaces are also likely to be more loyal and productive. This further increases female employee retention rates.

Create an Employee Reward and Recognition Program

Every employee wants their manager to acknowledge their hard work. This recognition is especially true for pre and postpartum female employees who may quit their jobs due to feeling unappreciated, dismissed, or victim to gender inequality in the workplace. If possible, create a monthly reward and recognition program for outstanding employees. This straightforward strategy will foster a positive work culture and inspire employees to improve their work ethic. Working moms will also enjoy the positive reinforcement, especially those working from home who still want their efforts acknowledged outside the office.

Close the Wage Gap Between Your Employees

The pay gap between male and female talent is a long-standing issue of gender inequality in the workplace. It impacts female employees across all socioeconomic and racial groups in almost every industry. Companies should advocate for women in the workplace by closing the wage gap. After all, there’s a higher chance of female talent remaining loyal if they receive equal pay for equal work.

Make it Easier for Working Moms to Progress in Their Career

Are your pre and postpartum female workers anxious about potentially losing their job? Do the women in your workplace fear they’ll miss out on a promotion because of maternity leave? A top tip for supporting female workers is developing tools and creating opportunities that will allow them to advance their careers like their male counterparts. One way to do this is to focus on results, not on time spent; a great way to support a working mom’s need for flexibility. By creating opportunities for women, you can also tackle gender inequality in the workplace, encouraging female leadership and retaining your female employees in the process. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that moms are some of the hardest workers on the planet. With the right strategies and support, you can create a supportive environment for pre and postpartum women. In doing so, your company can encourage women in the workplace to thrive at all stages of life.

 

grief and substance use

Supporting Employees Navigating Grief and Substance Use

Grief and substance use disorders have been considered taboo topics in the workplace for too long. With more than 600,000 lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. and alcohol consumption on the rise, we face crises related to mental health and substance use disorders—along with the pandemic itself.

We spend about one-third of our lives working, so employers must tackle grief and substance use challenges if they hope to improve the health and well-being of their workforces. To do that, they will need to address the relationship between alcohol and grief in the workplace.

Statistically, your employees are struggling.

Heavy alcohol consumption has been climbing for years, but the pandemic further exacerbated this trend. Nielsen reported a 54 percent increase in national alcohol sales in early 2020 compared with early 2019. Meanwhile, online alcohol sales had surged by 262 percent since 2019.

In an online survey, 60 percent of respondents reported drinking more than before COVID-19 because of increased stress, increased availability of alcohol, and boredom. Participants who reported being stressed by the pandemic also consumed more drinks over a greater number of days. This study is yet another reminder that many people use alcohol to cope with distress in the absence of better tools. And for anyone living with alcohol use disorder before the pandemic, isolation and stress presented additional challenges in their recovery.

Beyond all of this, another influence on our relationship with alcohol that has become exacerbated and hyper-relevant in light of the pandemic is grief.

Grief Is Present and Evolving in Your Workforce

It’s estimated that one in three of your employees is grieving, which makes it important to understand what grief is: a normative (nonpathological) experience that involves emotional, physiological, and cognitive responses. It impacts our mood and behaviors such as sleep, appetite, and substance use.

Although there are common patterns in grief, it impacts every person differently and looks different for the same person over time. Grief is a process of adaptation, and people naturally move from “acute grief” to “integrated grief.”

Acute grief is how we typically envision grief. It includes an intense and persistent emotional experience, difficulty accepting the loss, and disconnection from one’s social and professional world. As a person learns to live with the reality of their loss, they move to integrated grief. This grief might not be as frequent or as intense, but it remains a part of a bereaved person forever.

All of this said, how do alcohol and grief interact and intersect?

The Relationship Between Grief and Substance Use

Dr. Dan Wolfson, a clinical psychologist specializing in grief and a Lantern.co advisor, says alcohol can slow or prevent the ability to move from acute grief to integrated grief. He also says it’s a form of avoidance.

“When grieving, we need to engage with our emotions rather than avoid them,” Wolfson says. “Our psychological immune systems are tapped, so people fall back on the coping strategies they’re familiar with—even maladaptive ones like alcohol use. So we have to be proactive in engaging healthy behaviors and access support systems early and often.”

Sabrina Spotorno is a therapist for Monument, an evidence-based online alcohol treatment platform. Spotorno has helped many of her patients navigate grief and alcohol use disorder simultaneously.

“Grief can feel incredibly isolating, and we can temporarily lose our sense of self,” she says. “That’s why alcohol can often serve as an artificial source of comfort and companionship. Once we regain our awareness of how much we are in need of community, we can regroup from our period of emotional isolation and find our safe people in support groups and in therapy. Holding space for all feelings, sensations, and experiences, including grief, is what enables healing and change.”

How to Promote Healing in Workplaces of Tomorrow

Recognizing the relationship between grief and substance use, particularly alcohol, and knowing that your employees might be struggling are important first steps. Shifting company culture to support team members is an ongoing practice. Here are four ways to make that transition:

1. Encourage self-care in company policies.

Spotorno recommends encouraging self-care at all times, including consistent and concrete company policies that support this stance: “Offering flexibility with schedules, encouraging time off, and designating company mental health days can be invaluable ways to create a company culture that promotes self-care.”

2. Create open communication channels.

You should also create open communication channels to support grieving employees. This lets you share your support in concrete ways and ask direct questions about how to best meet employees’ needs. Even companies that supply every resource possible to grieving employees can’t truly foster a supportive environment unless they openly communicate about that grief and create space for it.

3. Revisit your bereavement policies.

To address grief and loss as specific influential factors in alcohol use, Dr. Wolfson recommends revisiting your bereavement policies or ensuring you have a bereavement policy in place.

“Someone taking a week off for bereavement leave doesn’t mean they are coming back at 100 percent,” Wolfson says. “We need to build their endurance back up. Expect an employee to start at 40 percent. When people feel overloaded or overstressed, they’re going to regress to potentially unhealthy behaviors. Wouldn’t you prefer a healthy employee performing well at 40 percent than an unhealthy one struggling to meet 100 percent of former expectations? We all need to be given time to work our way back.”

4. Examine the role alcohol plays in your culture and environment

Finally, take a closer look at how alcohol shows up in your office. Challenge your own biases and consider these tips from sober entrepreneurs. Perform an audit of where alcohol shows up in your work environment, whether that’s physically in your office, at company events, or during celebratory moments.

If you’re still not sure how to get started, know that there are numerous incredible ways to help your workforce. You might share grief resources and tools with your employees through internal communications and expanded benefits policies. You can also provide anonymous community support and point team members to virtual, evidence-based online alcohol treatment, including therapy and medication. Finally, connect employees with outside support designed to help with the logistical side of bereavement and grief management.

vaccine-mandates-masks

The Impacts of the Vaccine Mandates on the Workplace

As of January 2022, the federal vaccine mandate will require all businesses with a hundred or more employees to impose coronavirus vaccines, or implement weekly testing. This news has already sparked debate and friction in workplaces across the country. According to the New York Times, this requirement has left many companies on the cusp of fielding calls from wary employees.

COVID-19 has been at the omni-center of countless business decisions since March 2020, with encouraging employees to work from home perhaps being the most obvious one for businesses across the globe. But the new vaccine mandate shouldn’t stifle your plans for encouraging your employees back into the office. Instead, the vaccine mandate should simply become a part of your leadership and HR discussions, in-sync with your company’s return-to-work mandate.

If you’re wasting too much time debating the vaccine mandate, you’re wasting precious business hours that could be devoted to staying competitive instead.

Our Guest: Ed Dischner, Proxy Technologies

In this episode of the #WorkTrends podcast, sponsored by Proxy, I was joined by Ed Dischner from Proxy Technologies. Ed discusses shifting workplace priorities to focus on what really matters, without losing sight of COVID-19.

An expert in his field, Ed has years of experience in Enterprise Sales of Workplace Tech Solutions. Previously holding executive leadership positions at Tealium; a customer data platform, and BlueJeans; a video conferencing provider. Ed also spent 6 years at Salesforce, as it scaled its operations from IPO to two billion in revenue.

I asked Ed about some of the biggest problems faced by businesses when verifying vaccines and employee health status. Ed suggests that vaccine mandates uncertainty and maintaining employee safety are at the forefront.

“Is there going to be a mandate?… There’s a little bit of chasing a ghost on regulation,” Ed comments. “We want to make sure that we’re coming back into a workplace in a safe environment. We’re going to do everything we can.”

Best Practices for Vaccine Mandates

Ed then goes on to talk about how employers can learn about best practices for vaccine mandates. He believes that employer opinion on vaccine mandates typically splits into two separate camps.

“One is just saying, ‘Okay, it’s owned by HR.’ … And it’s really a third party or an industry-recognized organization with a lot of content,” Ed says. “The second group, or cohort, is that there’s a committee. Whether or not that’s workplace solutions, and whether or not that includes HR. And we’re increasingly seeing risk and legal involvement.”

Ed notes that there’s implications across it all, especially when you go cross-departmental. Not to mention, when you take into consideration the number of offices your business has, and how many countries you are in, there’s all the local, regional, and national regulations to take into account, too.

What Companies Get Wrong About Vaccine Proof

Proxy recently published a White Paper identifying some of the key things many companies get wrong about vaccine proof. Ed has experienced some of them first hand, from both an employee and consumer point of view, and shares his thoughts with us:

“So, the first one is just asking for physical cards as proof,” says Ed. “That’s maybe one way that a 10-person company can do it, but there’s no way that a 10,000-person company can do it, especially with being remote.”

Ed goes on to discuss another error – daily temperature checks – and questions whether body temperature falling within a certain range is reasonable enough assurance that employees are protecting themselves and each other, in and around the workplace.

“The third one I kind of alluded to is using spreadsheets,” Ed continues. “It’s good for the first day. It’s not good for three months in, eight months in, and how you’re going to continue to scale this with more and more people coming in.”

But, as Ed points out, the tricky thing with spreadsheets and data is not only where to store all of it and ensuring it is constantly up-to-date, but it’s also the issue of consent. Health information belongs to each individual, so as much as employers may like the visual verification, they may not necessarily need or want to retain each individual record.

Incentivizing a Return to the Office

In response to some of the things companies get wrong about vaccine proof, Ed rounds off his discussion by sharing a positive incentive to encourage employees who have been vaccinated back into the workplace.

“If you want to come back to the office and you have a negative test, or you’ve done your vaccination certificate or a certification, then guess what? We’re going to give you $10 every day for you to be having a subsidized lunch,” Ed suggests. “It kind of gamifies some of the things that aren’t necessarily considered fun or games.”

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends, sponsored by Proxy. Listen to the podcast here. You can learn more about shifting your workplace priorities to what really matters in light of the proposed vaccine mandate, by reaching out to Ed Dischner here.

reward remote employees

10 Ways to Reward Remote Employees And Why You Should Do It

How we reward employees is changing. New work cultures have seen a shift in the number of employees who prefer working from home compared to working in a company office. As a result, HR teams are rethinking the perk and reward systems that have traditionally benefited employees in an office environment.

Interestingly, a study by Harvard Business Review revealed that nearly two-thirds of staff are motivated to stay at their job with the presence of a motivational program for employees, and are 87 percent less likely to resign. Motivation is a powerful tool that can keep employees engaged.

Rewards and recognition for remote employees must not be overlooked, as they can transform remote culture. It’s more crucial than ever to keep employees who work from home motivated. These employees have to be self-driven and proactive on a daily basis.

With more distractions than ever and the absence of a manager looking over their shoulder, finding ways to reward remote employees is a good way to combat low productivity.

What are remote rewards?

A remote reward is a perk, benefit, or gift given to a team member that is sent and/or received digitally.

Employees who consider themselves remote workers or part of a hybrid working model may not be physically present in an office. This makes rewarding an employee in person challenging.

Remote rewards, therefore, need to be flexible as a person might be working anywhere, anytime, and in any place. Businesses should adopt recognition into their natural flow of work to ensure rewards are part of their culture.

Traditionally, you might reward an employee by giving them praise in person, buying them a gift and giving it to them during a team meeting, or even letting them work from home for the day. These rewards, while still impactful, do not work well when an employee works remotely.

Why should you reward employees?

You might be wondering if employee rewards are worth investing in? The short answer is yes.

According to Reward Gateway, 90 percent of HR workers agreed that an effective recognition and reward program helps drive business results. The return on investment (ROI) makes it worth doing.

10 ways to reward remote employees

Creating a digital business culture remotely is all part of the changing HR world, and remote rewards are just a small part of digital transformation. Try these 10 ways to reward your remote employees as part of your next strategy meeting.

1. Send a physical gift via post.

Starting with the most obvious, you could send an employee a physical gift to their home address. Food and alcohol are among the most popular ideas, but gifts are easy to get wrong. It’s always good to find out from close colleagues about personal preferences and tastes.

Another important consideration is that digital nomads and remote workers might not always be in one place. If they are moving around a lot, posting gifts might be tricky.

2. Offer a software upgrade.

Software is somewhat overlooked when it comes to perks and rewards. Although most companies will provide teams with the software they need, what about the software that is considered “nice to have”?

Premium features and additional tools can help improve an employee’s day-to-day workflow and be a nice reward with lots of upsides.

3. E-vouchers, gift cards, and subscriptions

E-vouchers, gift cards, and subscriptions are an easy way to say thanks to someone digitally. Amazon is a great choice when it comes to gift vouchers, as there is such a broad selection of items an employee can buy.

If your team members know the employee well, they might have a more personal suggestion. Below are some other ideas that are popular among teams:

  • Netflix subscription
  • Starbucks gift card
  • Apple Arcade subscription
  • Google Play gift card
  • Shopping or restaurant vouchers

4. Workspace upgrades

A remote employee will spend most of their day in their workspace environment. Rewarding an employee with a workspace upgrade could be a win-win situation.

You can help members of your team maximize their productivity while also rewarding them for great work.

Typical home workspace upgrades might include:

  • A second monitor
  • Improved hardware (new laptop, computer, mobile, or tablet device)
  • An adjustable standing desk
  • Hardware accessories (headphones, webcam, wireless charging devices)
  • A comfortable computer chair
  • Creative/ fun desk items such as a desk treadmill

Ultimately, it’s best to ask what could be improved about an employee’s current setup and customize it to each individual.

5. A message of appreciation (get creative)

Videos, GIFs, or a simple email are also great ways to reward someone for their efforts. A nod to their achievements and a message of gratitude is too often underrated.

6. Health perks

A gym membership, spa day, personal trainer, or online fitness class are all great health perks that might be a great reward to some employees, particularly those who enjoy regular exercise and fitness regimens. Employee well-being is important, so health rewards are always a good idea.

7. Payroll bonus

Let’s face it. Everybody loves a bonus in the bank account at the end of the quarter. There is certainly nothing wrong with an unexpected, generous payout to show your employees that they are appreciated.

8. Days off, half days, and early finishes

Who doesn’t love a day off or a half-day on Friday? Employees who have worked hard and stood out amongst their peers will appreciate a moment to recharge their batteries. Even an early finish for the week could help.

9. Kudos on LinkedIn

A free and easy way to show appreciation might be to send a thank you via LinkedIn. This is a relatively new feature on LinkedIn for 2021.

Using LinkedIn Kudos is a fun and simple way to share your appreciation with team members in the LinkedIn community. Celebrate every success–big and small–directly on LinkedIn. This also has great brand awareness benefits as you are publicly acknowledging people’s hard work and efforts. Kudos to you.

10. Learning and personal development

Reward remote employees with opportunities for self-improvement; it can be great for teams. It’s a nice way to show you care for someone’s personal development and future by supporting them to upskill and better themselves.

Examples of learning and personal development rewards might include:

  • Online courses such as Udemy
  • An online coach
  • Courses and certifications
  • 1:1 mentorship programs
workplace safety

A New Era of Workplace Safety: Prioritizing Psychosocial Health

For too long, the workplace has been viewed as a mystical place where we bring a version of ourselves that is unbreakable. It’s a version of ourselves that powers through every obstacle, even if it takes a toll on our health. Sadly, it’s a version that is essentially unsustainable. How often have we seen an employee get lauded for “going above and beyond,” even when we know that what we’re saying is just code for working through illness. Or forsaking personal commitment? Or working well beyond reasonable and safe hours?

That attitude–celebrating the workaholic, to put it bluntly–is an example of how the conversation around mental health has been too narrow. It’s especially been too narrow when discussing mental health in the workplace. Also, until now, occupational health and safety management was focused almost exclusively on physical safety rather than psychological health. That changed this past summer. An international standard was issued in June to provide a structural framework to help businesses manage psychological health and well-being in the workplace.

In essence, the ISO 45003 Psychological Health and Safety at Work guidelines have two goals:

  1. Lay out global standards for organizations to create and administer an environment where the psychosocial well-being of employees is as clearly defined and cared for as their physical safety
  2. Offer a helpful baseline for HR professionals across industries to evaluate how effectively their organizations are providing a psychosocially healthy atmosphere, without the need for in-house specialists with deep expertise in mental health

For HR and training leaders, it’s important to recognize:

  • Three common mental health and wellness issues that organizations face
  • How the new standards for workplace safety could lead to a more psychosocially healthy work environment

1. A Stigmatized or Nonexistent Support System

The pandemic highlighted the lack of supportive environments for employee mental health at an organizational level. It also shed light on unsustainable and unfair workloads and untimely or ineffective recognition practices. Because of these issues, employees have very little time during the workday and very few, if any, tools to take care of themselves psychologically or emotionally. In a 2021 survey that covered 46 countries, 89 percent of respondents said their work-life was worsening. Eighty-five percent said their well-being had declined, and 56 percent said their job demands had increased.

A strategy for change: Discussing mental health openly at work starts with a clear organizational strategy. You need to create an environment of psychological safety. That means a workplace where employees feel comfortable being themselves and discussing emotional and mental concerns. The ISO guidelines go a step further. They ask top leaders to remember the important role they play in supporting these conversations. They also ask leadership to set a culture of protection from reprisal or judgment for employees who speak up.

2. A Diverse Workforce Has Diverse Mental Wellness Needs

More than nine out of 10 respondents in a 2021 survey felt that mental health should be a focus within the company culture, up from 86 percent in 2019. The increase shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that between 2019 and 2021, mental health was cited as an increasingly prevalent reason that employees left their jobs. Overall, 84 percent of respondents felt that at least one workplace factor negatively impacted their mental health. Further, the problem is most acute among Millennials and Gen Z.

The numbers were disproportionately higher among younger workers and members of underrepresented groups. Women, minority groups, remote workers (in some organizations), and the younger generation joining the workforce are all prone to feeling excluded from blanket policies and run-of-the-mill pledges of inclusion.

A strategy for change: Sure, companies have increased investment in employee mental health over the last decade. The global mental wellness industry grew nearly twice as fast as the global economy from 2015–2017 alone. But the quality and reach of these programs are what matters. ISO guidelines call out the need for organizations to consider the diversity of the workforce and the needs of particular groups around a psychosocially healthy workplace.

3. Burnout Remains Pervasive and Prevention Is the Best Cure

Meet the new mantra, same as the old mantra: Prevention is the best medicine. Yu Tse Heng, a researcher who uncovers ways to humanize workplaces, puts it this way: “It starts with employers, to protect employees from becoming resource-depleted in the first place. And it’s also on the employer to provide the resources necessary to support employees’ mental health.” The employee’s responsibility, meanwhile, is to try and understand where their burnout stems from and to craft a way to get out of it.

Even pre-pandemic, the results of implementing mental health programs at work spoke for themselves. In a 2019 study conducted by Deloitte and the Australian Institute of Health & Safety, the ROI for workplace mental health programs yielded $1.62 for every dollar invested. That’s just in one year. For companies with programs that had been implemented over three years, the median ROI was $2.18 for every dollar spent.

A strategy for change: Self-reflection and self-care are crucial to recovering from or preventing burnout. But the ISO reiterates the importance of employers implementing and maintaining support systems in the workplace for burnout prevention. For example, having trained personnel on staff who can take charge of these programs further mitigates the risk of psychosocial damage.

A Significant Opportunity for Organizations Ready for Change

As mental health and workplace safety become increasingly important and open subjects, employers are at a crossroads. Traditional solutions just won’t cut it. A vacation does not erase the dread of returning to a draining work environment. In fact, American workers last year left an average of 33 percent of their allocated paid time off on the table. At the same time, they reported a 49-minute increase in the average workday.

Organizations seeking a transformative solution to employee mental well-being should consider activating the new ISO guidelines. They present an opportunity for companies to take a fresh look at:

  • How they view employee mental health
  • The role their leadership is playing to change the company culture around mental health
  • The effectiveness of their mental health strategy for today’s changing workforce

As with everything around workplace safety, you can be superficial with fixes and apply Band-Aids to mask the issues. Or you can choose to step up and transform how you approach workplace mental health.