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.

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.

Movember Celebrating Men's Health at Work

Celebrating Movember: Men’s Health at Work

EDITOR’S NOTE: At TalentCulture, we recognize a healthy workforce is a more engaged and productive workforce. That’s why we’re spreading the word about the importance of “Movember” men’s health awareness in this article.


The holiday season is upon us! As the days get shorter and colder, schedules are getting busier and more packed with activities. It’s common for us to let some things slide — including taking care of our health and wellbeing. We’ve all been there. But health should never take the backburner. That’s why we’d like to talk about the Movember movement.

What exactly is Movember? What does it mean for men’s health? And more specifically, how can employers leverage this opportunity to encourage discussions around important workplace health issues? We’ll even touch on how you can start a Movember event with friends and coworkers. 

What Is Movember? 

Two friends kickstarted Movember as a grassroots effort to promote men’s health in Australia. It began in 2003, at a time when the mustache had all but disappeared from popular culture.

That’s when Travis Garone and Luke Slattery first convinced 30 friends to take up the challenge of growing out their facial hair in solidarity with men’s health issues during the month of November.

This simple challenge grew faster than anyone imagined. In fact, by the time it reached the U.S, in 2008, the Movember charity had raised more than $46 million, in partnership with global charities dedicated to raising awareness around important men’s health issues.

Over the years, this movement has continued to gain traction across the globe. Now, nearly 7 million men and women contribute to the cause by funding more than 1200 men’s health projects. The Movember project and its enthusiastic supporters (known as “Mo bros” and “Mo sisters”) have addressed many worthy health causes around the world. 

Why Movember Matters

The importance of raising awareness and encouraging communication around men’s health can’t be overstated. Unfortunately, men are still statistically far less likely to take care of their health. That’s not an opinion, but a well-documented fact.

For instance, a 2021 study found that less than half of men (47%) had a routine medical checkup in the previous 12 months. Embarrassment and perceived stigmas are the primary reasons.

Our culture of stoicism means that when men experience pain, many feel societal pressure to simply push through it. And although women tend to become familiar with healthcare from a young age — seeing gynecologists and being encouraged to schedule annual checkups — men generally don’t develop the same kind of connection.

Simply put, conversations about men’s health aren’t common. In fact, they’re often stigmatized. Ultimately, this leads to poorer health outcomes. 

The Movember Mission

The Movember movement celebrates men’s health in all its forms, but emphasizes mental health and cancer prevention, in particular. Here’s why:

1. Preventing Cancer

For men, two key health concerns are prostate and testicular cancer. Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in men. Fortunately, testicular cancer is less frequent. However, it still affects about 7 out of every 100 men.

Both cancers are considered highly treatable if caught early. However, when left untreated, they can be very difficult to cure, and the statistics are less promising.

Most experts recommend starting prostate exams around the age of 45 and getting an exam every 3-5 years. Doctors often perform what’s called a PSA test. A PSA is a reliable metric that helps determine the risk of prostate cancer.

Similarly, to help detect testicular cancer, men should perform self-exams, looking for signs like lumps, swelling, or dull aching pain. Anyone who experiences any of these symptoms needs to see a doctor immediately.

Bottom line: Routine checkups are crucial for effective cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. That’s one of the most important messages behind the Movember movement.  

2. Communicating About Mental Health

Although mental health is extremely important, it is also perhaps the most stigmatized men’s health issue. Statistics show that although mental health challenges are relatively common among men, less than half will seek treatment.

This problem is especially important to recognize in the workplace, where burnout and stress are common. People often don’t realize how stressed they are until the symptoms become unavoidable.

Left unchecked, stress or burnout can not only affect your mental and emotional wellbeing but also wreak havoc on your body. Fatigue, anxiety, and depressed mood — even changes in weight and thinning hair — all can occur.

Of course, it’s important to see your doctor to make sure you’re not dealing with underlying medical issues like hypothyroidism or male pattern balding. But these symptoms can also be a response to physiological changes caused by stress.

How Employers Can Get Involved

Encouraging your workforce to be part of the Movember trend can be an excellent way to raise awareness around these important men’s health issues. For example, you can set up a Movember fundraiser, either in person or virtually. This can foster teamwork and solidarity in the workplace, while also encouraging people to take charge of their health. 

If you decide to start a Movember campaign, you don’t have to focus on only one topic. It’s an opportunity to help men feel more comfortable talking about a variety of issues that affect their health.

Conversation Starters:

  • Are you getting enough exercise
  • Are you sleeping well?
  • Do you feel overloaded with work lately?
  • How healthy is your diet?
  • Do you schedule regular check-ups? 
  • Have you talked to your doctor about things like prostate screening? 

Talk to your coworkers, talk to your friends, and bring the Movember movement to your professional and social circles. It’s not just for men either. It’s for anyone with a man in their life they care about — a significant other, a family member, or a friend. Every man matters. Encourage open conversations, show your support, and get involved!

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.

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.