Emotional Well-being for Workers: Why We Need New Approaches

BY Sheila Flynn | July 14, 2021

During the pandemic, the stressors in life haven’t come one at a time–they’ve piled on. Employees and managers have struggled with burnout. They’ve juggled working from home and child care. They’ve felt a sense of anxiety and fear across the social landscape. And now America’s workforce is faced with a lessening of restrictions and an equally stressful return to some semblance of normal life.

The result is a lot of psychological wear and tear. “There is a mental health crisis in this country,” said Karsten Vagner, senior VP of people for Maven, a virtual care platform for women’s and family health. Vagner cited data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that “half of employees today say they experienced high to extreme stress over the past year.”

The scope of the crisis, as well as new approaches for employee emotional well-being, were the focus of a conversation between Vagner and Cassidy Stevens, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) at Massachusetts General Hospital, who also provides care through Maven’s platform. Speaking at From Day One’s June virtual conference, “The New Benefits that Employees Need and Want Today,” Vagner and Stevens discussed historic shifts in the workforce and ways to increase support for worker health and wellness–particularly among underserved populations.

Maven partnered with Great Place to Work to conduct the largest-ever survey of working parents in the U.S. “We wanted to dig a little bit deeper–and here’s some of the insights that we found: 2.65 million women have left the workforce since February of 2020. We know that working mothers are experiencing burnout more than they ever have,” said Vagner. “Black mothers, in particular, are experiencing burnout. We know that 40% of parents are changing their job situation to balance work and child care. We haven’t been juggling one crisis this year, we’ve been juggling several crises all at once.”

Karsten Vagner, Maven's SVP of people (Photo courtesy of Maven)

"Eighty percent of employees say they would consider quitting their current position for a job that focused more on employee mental health,” said Vagner, adding: “The irony is that we all have these people, especially from diverse groups, leaving their jobs at a time when more companies than ever before are looking to hire and retain diverse employees–and more job candidates are scrutinizing companies’ diversity strategies, too.”

As a mental health care provider, Stevens has seen firsthand the impact of burnout and other pandemic-related stressors. “Our systems are just overloaded right now,” she said, continuing: “With the medical complexity of the pandemic also came an increase in psychosocial complexity–so that includes mental health concerns, family dynamics, substance use concerns.”

“The patterns that I’m hearing are actually quite similar to what we see in the hospital environment,” she said. “Any underlying stressors that someone might have been experiencing before the pandemic, or before a hospitalization, they tend to be exacerbated and all bubble up to the surface when they come to the hospital. So the pandemic has actually been quite similar. Anything underlying, such as workplace burnout, mental health concerns–all of that bubbled up to the surface and actually worsened in the setting of the pandemic.”

Studies since the onset of the shift to work-from-home have repeatedly shown that productivity on the whole has increased, but that comes with an emotional cost. Stevens cited “the sense of pressure that you might have felt to demonstrate your performance accurately from home and especially in an environment where work layoffs were happening. That led to many employees developing unsustainable work habits, which is what I work with patients on, and then, especially, that unclear boundary between work and life.”

According to Stevens, establishing routine and structure is key to addressing these pressures and blurred lines.. “Most of the recommendations I provide are related to, one, creating structure, and two, setting boundaries. Distinguishing clear boundaries in the workplace can help optimize mental well-being and also, [from an] HR perspective, increased motivation from home. So that can include having a designated space to work that’s obviously not in your living, sleeping spaces. Or doing anything you can to maintain that routine and sense of normalcy, like mimicking a morning commute, doing anything that creates that sense of structure,” Stevens said. “From a mental health side, lack of structure, routine and social connectedness really creates an environment that is opportune for depressive symptoms.”

Cassidy Stevens, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) at Massachusetts General Hospital

On top of adjusting to remote work itself, many parents are attempting to demonstrate remarkable productivity to their managers while simultaneously taking on new roles as teachers to young children. A large percentage of them “felt like they were failing at both of their jobs,” Stevens said. The experience is often worse for underserved groups, including many Black mothers. “Just the chronic safety concerns and distress that Black mothers face on a daily basis have a significant impact on health,” Stevens said. “Stress hormones in the body like cortisol increase the number of health risks and hormonal dysregulation. Secondly, the person feeling persistently anxious, unsafe, worried, the whole gamut–that’s a lot of stress for the body and mind and soul.”

Employers need to be vigilant in recognizing such challenges, work on their cultural sensitivity, and, most importantly, implement meaningful support systems. “Rethinking work schedules, rethinking flexible, remote opportunities and benefit packages, really helps modify the environment to be more supportive for everyone,” Stevens said, adding that perhaps a silver lining of the pandemic will be the increased conversation about employee mental health and well-being.

“What’s great to me is that there’s a whole conference right now talking about this–really talking about mental health at work and stating that mental health matters,” she said. “But what’s important is going beyond that and creating those systems and structures that can really demonstrate to employees that their mental health matters–and particularly for underrepresented populations who are at greater risk of facing distress.”

Such longer-term, solid plans–fortified by increased employer awareness and openness–will be crucial in maintaining productivity and easing workplace transitions as post-pandemic life gradually evolves. But employers must be vigilant when it comes to mental health, Vagner said, and committed to implementing long-term support strategies. “We can’t be short-sighted,” he said. “When the pandemic is done (whenever that is) and we resume normal life (whenever that is), these issues aren’t going to just disappear.”

Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner who sponsored this thought-leadership spotlight, Maven.

Sheila Flynn is a Denver-based journalist who has written for the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, the Sunday Independent, and the Irish Daily Mail. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame.


Consistent Reflection and Coaching: A Proven Method to Genuinely Support Employee Well-Being

The high costs associated with employee burnout and turnover demonstrate the need for a more effective and holistic approach to well-being. Genuine investment in employee well-being yields better outcomes: Gallup reported that employees who feel supported by their workplaces are 55% less likely to watch for other job opportunities or actively search for jobs and 68% less likely to feel burned out consistently.During From Day One’s Manhattan conference, Anita Hossain Choudhry, co-founder and CEO of The Grand, spoke about a new approach to employee well-being and cultivating an engaged workplace culture. This approach involves measuring, addressing, and enhancing employee well-being, while encompassing all aspects of wellness: physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, social, environmental, intellectual, and career.The Grand coaches leaders to help achieve clarity and self-awareness to reach their personal and professional goals. Choudhry strives to create a work environment that fosters a learning and authentic growth mindset, rather than solely highlighting performance.Understanding the self and what we need within our environments and communities to achieve greater success and well-being requires reflection, intention, and connection, Choudhry said.“Only when we reflect and take the time to learn from our experiences do they become a source of growth. If you’re not doing that, you’re missing out on 70% of your learning.” she said. “That’s why at The Grand, we believe it’s really critical to have reflective practices so you can better understand where you are and where you want to go.”Anita Hossain Choudhry, Co-founder and CEO of The Grand led the thought leadership spotlight in ManhattanThe keys to fostering individual self-awareness involve managers helping employees achieve clarity through meaningful discussions of the areas of their lives they wish to improve, using shared language to define and measure well-being goals effectively in direct reports, and taking every individual’s unique journey into account to allocate resources more efficiently. Upon reflecting on where one is and wants to go, it’s essential to create intentions based on those reflections and also to experiment. It’s critical to move from a performance-based mindset to a growth-learning mindset, says Choudhry.“A lot of times at organizations it doesn’t feel safe to flex and experiment because we always have to perform,” she said. “The opportunity that we have is to create safe spaces where people can experiment. [We need to] make that the norm and give them permission to do that.”Shifting from strictly performance-focused coaching to reflective and growth-oriented coaching, helps employees become emotionally resilient, self-aware, healthy, and more engaged with others. This holistic support of individual growth leads to more successful business outcomes: higher performance, retention, and engagement.Achieving well-being requires a comprehensive approach accounting for all aspects of life. It includes investing in experiences that encourage personal and professional growth. Evolved reflective coaching techniques are crucial in the modern-day workforce as employees prioritize fulfillment in their careers without compromising other facets of their lives.When employees struggle with well-being, business performance and employee satisfaction dwindle. Business costs also rise to compensate for higher turnover. When employees achieve higher levels of well-being, they use fewer sick days, experience less burnout, are more engaged at work, and perform more efficiently.“Our future vision is really to make sure that no one will have to walk through life alone. And everyone will be able to understand their strengths and use it to become the grandest version of themselves.”Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, The Grand, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.Stephanie Reed is a freelance news, marketing, and content writer. Much of her work features small business owners throughout diverse industries. She is passionate about promoting small, ethical, and eco-conscious businesses.

Stephanie Reed | July 02, 2024

Reducing Healthcare Costs by Reversing Chronic Care Conditions

Chronic health conditions don’t just impact the individual and their personal sphere, they have loud, wide-ranging implications for the workplace and economy at large. Obesity, and the litany of secondary conditions linked to it, such as heart disease and diabetes, cost the U.S. economy alone over $4 billion annually.The question is, how can employers be more proactive in fighting obesity among workers to help reduce healthcare costs and support employee well-being?“According to the CDC, 70% of the U.S. population is overweight, and 40% are technically obese. These are pretty staggering numbers,” said Dr. Connie Huang, the chief medical officer at Accolade. She also pointed out that obesity leads to nearly 200 other chronic diseases.Dr. Huang spoke with her colleague, Dr. Marika Holte, the associate medical director at Accolade, during a From Day One webinar. Their conversation covered the relationship between obesity and chronic conditions as well as effective measures to combat them.Dr. Marika Holte knows about weight management and cardiometabolic health – she guides the program at Accolade. She says patients don't always have a good partnership with their doctors in terms of losing weight and managing chronic diseases. “People have struggled with diet and exercise recommendations. And we really tried to recreate a space, both as physicians and as a program overall, that would make people feel really empowered to understand the factors that contributed to weight gain and chronic diseases.”She says it’s key that people succeed in taking care of their own health outcomes. “It’s often a progressive disease, and it causes inflammation and organ damage throughout the body. The link between obesity and life-altering chronic diseases can’t be overstated,” Holte said.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 42.4% of all adults in the United States are obese, and obesity affects 650 million people worldwide.“11% of the U.S. population, or 38 million adults, have type two diabetes. 38% of the U.S. population, or 97 million adults, have prediabetes,” Holte said.Elevated blood sugars of any kind are toxic in terms of blood vessel health, and leads to higher risk factors for heart attacks and strokes, Holte says. “Heart disease costs the U.S. about $240 billion annually. And this included the cost of healthcare services, medicines, and loss of productivity in the workforce due to death. Obesity also increases the risk of chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancers,” Holte said. “These facts really underscore the need to treat obesity and weight-related medical diseases in order to prevent chronic diseases as secondary outcomes.”Treating Obesity as a Chronic ConditionHolte put obesity into stages, where zero represents a normal, healthy weight and stage four being “irreversible complications of obesity.” Waiting until the end stage exacts a high financial cost, but there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.Dr. Marika Holte of Accolade led the webinar (company photo)“The biggest breakthrough that we’re really seeing in the past few years is that we both know how to diagnose and treat weight-related conditions before they lead to secondary medical conditions.” Diet and exercise programs that many companies promote don’t always work, though. About 90% of patients regain the weight, and then withdraw from the programs.“We now understand that obesity is [a] multifactorial, chronic medical disease caused by a combination of easily accessible high calorie foods, lack of exercise, loss of muscle, poor sleep, chronic stress, unhealthy fat, and abnormal body signaling and lack of ability to feel full. Anyone who’s supposed to lose weight with diet and exercise is going to struggle if they're always feeling hungry,” Holte said.Newer treatments that affect Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar and appetite, like Ozempic, Saxenda, and Wegovy, are major breakthroughs Holte says. “The first thing that most people say when they start these medications is 'I'm not always thinking about food.’ So these medications have been profoundly effective [at] helping people lose weight.”Yet, knowing how to implement cost-effective programs in the workplace remains a major hurdle for employers. According to Holte, HR benefit managers can play a valuable role."You play a crucial role in identifying your employees health needs, you can also drive the shift and the perception of viewing obesity as a chronic disease, rather than a lifestyle choice, and prevent secondary complications of weight related diseases."The Way Forward to Combat ObesityDespite the overwhelming cost of obesity in the workplace, and the fact that these treatments are popular, Dr. Huang says many employers are still on the fence.“How should [employers] consider approaches to the initial medical evaluation [and] digital solutions to manage obesity and chronic disease among their employees? And what would this ultimately mean for employers and the workforce?” Huang asked.“The best way to really improve access to treatment for weight loss and these chronic conditions is to have a primary care-based program with physicians who understand how to treat obesity as a chronic disease, and can provide medical supervision and comprehensive support,” Holte said.Holte breaks up effective treatment into four categories. A visit to a primary care physician is the first category. The others are designing and outlining a comprehensive program (this could include long-term care), making sure the programs are proactive and data-driven, and having a personalized plan.Digital solutions can also play a big role in people’s personal weight loss journey, says Holte. “I’m in a telemedicine world, and I really [have] been blessed to be able to use digital solutions to help our patients with weight management and chronic disease management.”Holte points to the stigma of being overweight that keeps people from showing up in-person. Being able to have an appointment from the comfort of home brings more people to the doctor. And where there’s a lack of availability for appointments and time, telehealth can fill a gap. “Patients can often schedule an appointment with me within a week or a few days, or sometimes even the next day, if they want to.”“I think what matters most for our patients is really what makes them feel healthy. That’s the big question that we often try to get to. Listening to their stories and understanding what these goals are can really help us figure out how to achieve those goals and engage them in the process. And it helps them feel like they’re in control of this journey, and that they can really learn how to learn how to maximize their own health.”Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, Accolade, for sponsoring this webinar. Matthew Koehler is a freelance journalist and licensed real estate agent based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Greater Greater Washington, The Washington Post, The Southwester, and Walking Cinema, among others. 

Matthew Koehler | July 01, 2024

The Best Managers Don’t Fix, They Coach: Actionable Strategies for Your Leadership Toolkit

Anita Hossain Choudhry, co-founder and CEO of The Grand, a group coaching platform, learned the importance of coaching when she was managing several people who had just graduated from college. “I reflected on my first job after college, and I had this manager who was so unclear,” said Choudhry during a thought leadership spotlight at From Day One’s May virtual conference. “She didn’t give me the right level of support to be successful. And I really vowed to do the opposite. I had this notion that I had to fix my direct reports’ problems.”One day, one of Choudhry’s direct reports came to her because she felt overwhelmed with everything on her plate and couldn’t figure out how to prioritize things. “I told her to take out a sheet of paper, draw a triangle on it, and break it up into thirds,” Choudhry said. “In the bottom section, I wrote down three to five things she had to complete for the week. In the middle section, I wrote down three things she had to complete in the next three days. And then at the top of the triangle, I wrote down one thing she needed to focus on before the end of the day.”Choudhry did this every day for several weeks with the employee, thinking she was solving the problem for her. However, over time “I really saw her creativity wane. She would spend long hours trying to do her best to get those critical tasks done,” she said. At around the same time, Choudhry took her first coaching course, “and I realized I wasn’t actually helping her fix her problem. I was actually hurting her because I didn’t empower her to trust herself.”Anita Hossain Choudhry, co-founder and CEO of The Grand, led the virtual thought leadership spotlightThat’s when Choudhry shifted her default approach from fixing to coaching. “Instead of being the hero that saves the day, I asked myself how I could enable my direct reports to do their best work and be their best selves,” she said.During her next one-on-one session, Choudhry asked the employee to take the lead in filling out the triangle. She also questioned her about the type of work that attracts her and where she saw opportunities for the firm to grow. “Over time, it helped her come up with some of the most creative ideas deployed at the firm,” Choudhry said. “She returned to that vibrant, innovative person that I hired in the first place.”When managers attempt to fix problems rather than coach an employee, they tend to do most of the talking, says Choudhry. “The conversation style is really directive and advice-oriented,” she said. On the other hand, coaching involves asking employees questions that get them talking so they can come up with a solution on their own.So how do you do it? You start by asking, “‘In this situation, what would you like?’ And then you repeat back what the other person said. And then you ask, ‘What will having that do for you?’ And then you repeat it, and ask, ‘What will having that do for you?’ And so you go through this process, over and over until you get the core of what someone wants.”The next step is exploration, which moves the employee from the problem that they’re spinning on and helps them brainstorm actions they could take to pursue what they want, says Choudhry. The manager does this through another simple set of questions, like ‘what options do you have to make progress toward that outcome?’These conversations can lead to some awkward pauses, but that’s expected because “this is a muscle to build,” Choudhry said. “When they’re staring blankly at you, it’s working because they’re thinking in a way that they haven’t in a long time.”Coaching is effective because “we help our direct reports by investing in their inner teacher,” she said. Rather than solving a one-time issue for them, coaching helps employees see patterns and behaviors so they can develop their own resources and best practices to navigate challenges, according to Choudhry.“We also empower them to trust themselves,” she said. “You’ll see your team members shift their ability to move more confidently and clearly in articulating next steps that they can take to really solve their problem and achieve their goal.”Choudhry says that fixing isn’t always the wrong approach, but it’s simply ineffective in certain situations. Coaching is better in many cases because “it leaves your teams feeling more empowered, understood, and valued.”Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, The Grand, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.Mary Pieper is a freelance writer based in Mason City, Iowa.

Mary Pieper | June 21, 2024