Stressed out. Burned out. Anxious. Depressed.
The COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation, economic uncertainty, work overload, natural disasters, mass shootings, and more have taken a toll on our personal and professional lives these last few years. Studies by the American Institute of Stress show that 83 percent of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress, with more than half (60 percent) of worker absences directly related to that stress. A Barco ClickShare survey of 5,000 office workers across France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States found that more than 1 in 4 employees report experiencing burnout over chronic work-related stress that has not been managed successfully. In the tough-as-nails construction industry, suicide rates are among the highest of any profession, notes Brooke Jones-Chinetti, director of Learning, Development & Engagement at construction firm The Haskell Company.
In response, many organizations today are implementing wellness training and providing resources that aim to bolster employees’ physical, mental, and emotional health. But that doesn’t mean employees will utilize it.
“The stigma around mental health and wellness and seeking help and support is still strong,” explains Transworld Systems Inc. (TSI) Vice President of Compliance and Talent Development Lori Sauers. “Unfortunately, not everyone in your organization is going to embrace trainings around mental health and wellness.”
That’s why it is so crucial for leadership to step up and lead the charge—both in terms of helping employees openly cope with mental health issues and serving as role models for self-care. But before that can happen, most leaders first need training themselves. Here, four 2023 Training APEX Awards winners share their best practices around how they are training their leaders to help employees cope with stress, burnout, depression, and other mental health issues.
TAKING CARE OF EACH OTHER
TSI CEOJoe Laughlin established one of the company’s primary values as “We Take Care ofEach Other.” In response, Tiva Abreu, senior director of Talent Development, Training and Knowledge Management led her team to design and develop an interactive multifaceted approach to promoting health and wellness, including employee and leadership training and a network of resources for additional support.
Specifically, the Leading the Way to Wellness Program assists managers and supervisors with encouraging wellness among their teams and recognizing employees in need of support. Courses within this series include:
- Inspiring Wellness as a Leader: This course outlines best practices for the organization’s leaders to encourage physical and emotional well-being.
- Respectful Workplace Training: This lesson is assigned to all TSI leaders and assists them with sensitive topics such as diversity, inclusion, bullying, and helping employees who may be struggling with physical health or mental wellness.
“Each of these topics is delivered initially through asynchronous interactive Web-based courses, followed by collaborative workshops, allowing leaders to share best practices and take part in spontaneous interactions,” says Manager of Training Content Development Devon McDonald.
TSI’s leaders also have access to the Leading the Way to Wellness social learning group, which is a virtual space for leaders to gather together to share skills, resources, and best practices, and discuss current events that impact employees’ well-being. Features and functions include a moderated peer-to-peer file-sharing portal; blog posts written by McDonald, with contributions from Talent Development Training management and TSI’s leaders; discussion groups on a variety of leadership skills and topics; and the ability to like, share, and follow other leaders within the organization.
Karina Christina Abiog, senior manager of Training Instructional Design, explains TSI’s Centers of Excellence and Human Resources teams partner with local healthcare providers and employee engagement vendors to deliver specialized Mental Health Awareness training to the company’s leaders. She notes this training includes:
- Sources of stress and stress management
- Causes of emotional challenges in employees
- How to prevent and address burnout
- Identifying need and providing support, including prevention and early intervention
- Mental health first aid
To lead by example, Abreu says, TSI’s Talent Development leadership team hosts monthly team-building gatherings, which are internally referred to as the “SPA,” or the “Small Party At-work.” “Like a spa day that employees may take in their personal time,” Abreu says, “these gatherings are intended to allow employees a chance to mentally decompress and focus on their own individual well-being as they refresh, recharge, and contribute to a healthy team environment.” Each SPA is led by a volunteer from the team in activities such as self-care tips, personal affirmations, and professional best practices.
SUPPORT ON TWO LEVELS
The Haskell Company’s Stress & Resilience trio is geared toward all team members. But every training— from hour-long virtual instructor-led trainings to 15- to 20-minute “Lightning Rounds” focused on wellness and well-being—offers specihc guidance and direction for managers, notes Jones-Chinetti. “The information is meant to offer support on two levels: to help leaders raise their self-awareness and to empower them to offer help to the team members they manage. The big takeaway for our leaders is that we must care for ourselves—in all matters of wellness—to adequately care for others.”
Haskell’s Stress & Resilience trio includes three classes: Grief & Loss, Managing Burnout, and Resilience & Grit. In the latter, participants learn Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) as a powerful resilience tool and increase their understanding of their impact on individuals and teams.
After all courses, Haskell instructors take a high-touch approach, personalizing resources for all attendees, including managers. As a result, Jones-Chinetti says, “Haskell’s overall Gallup Engagement Ratio is 132 percent higher than the U.S. workforce average and 78 percent higher than our industry’s average.”
Haskell also hosts trainings for teams by request. Recently, Haskell’s director of Corporate Safety and one of its Corporate Safety subject matter experts joined together to offer a Friday meeting with a focus around mental health and wellness for their entire team. “While they typically meet on Fridays for their weekly huddle, they chose to devote this time to talking about well-being,” says Master Trainer Taylor Williams. “Our facilitators drove the discussion, but what was most striking was the leaders involved speaking up about their own struggles or what they have observed in their years of experience. We discussed the prevalence of mental health challenges in the construction industry. And we walked through tangible ways to build wellness on the job, such as time management, healthy habits, and building strong relationships.”
A HOLISTIC LOOK AT WELLNESS
Starting in New Leader Pathway right at their first session, new leaders at Bronson Healthcare are introduced to CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management) and given resources to both have the conversation with staff and offer tangible support, says Mary Schabes, system director, Center for Learning, Bronson Healthcare. “They meet the director of Well-Being & Resilience (a new role for Bronson Healthcare), where they are exposed to a holistic look at wellness, exploring all dimensions and how to support themselves and their staff in each area. Facilitators role-model what is being taught in the session during sessions in the Leadership Curriculum. This includes transition moments before diving into content, mindful moments, breath work, stretching, etc.”
Bronson Healthcare offers two additional optional trainings on suicide prevention (SafeTALK and QPR), plus additional training on “career survival” strategies (2 the Rescue) that addresses emotional well-being and burnout prevention strategies.
A CULTURE OF TRUST
Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) offers a Leadership Mental Health eLearning for supervisors and above. Sponsored by the chief wellness officer, Dr. Amy Frieman, the two-hour course covers resources available to leaders to support their teams in regards to mental health and focuses on increasing awareness around training, mental health resources, and the company’s support line. More th an 4,100 leaders completed the training. As a result, the HM H Team Member Engagement Survey statement: “This is a psychologically and emotionally healthy place to work” increased 3 percentage points from 2021 to 2022, according to Patrice Ventura, vice president of Talent Development at HMH.
A focus of the Leadership Connections: New Leader Orientation for supervisors and above is leader well-being. “Leader well-being is critical to a highly functional workforce,” stresses Sandra Isaksen, director of Learning & Development at HMH. “We need to address self-care, talk about it, and promote the resources across all levels.”
HMH also holds a full-day in-person Annual Trust Symposium for all team members and leaders. “It helps participants gain a greater awareness and understanding of the crucial importance of developing trusting, collegial, and highly collaborative relationships— all contributing to health and well-being,” Dr. Frieman says. “Interactive sessions focus on cultivating a mindset where all team members feel confident in speaking up without fear of consequence, discussing the key role trust plays in relationships between leaders and team members, and understanding the key pillars to operationalize a culture of trust.”
TIPS FOR LEADERS
For Schabes, a wellness culture starts with introducing leadership tools, skills, and mindsets—“specifically the things leaders have control over that impact how they approach their employees and show up to their teams, i.e., focusing on internal skills for external impact.”
She says leaders need to understand how each member of their team is unique, and because of this, how stress may manifest differently. Bronson Healthcare teaches leaders how they can adapt their support and continue to build stronger relationships, primarily using DiSC personality assessments.
Leaders also learn about active listening and humble inquiry. “We emphasize that leaders shouldn’t wait for their team to come to them—leaders should take initiative and be accessible,” Schabes stresses. “Leaders often feel they need to implement large initiatives to make a difference, but the small—what may almost feel insignificant—moments are what truly sow the seeds of change in their culture.”
This could include starting out team meetings with a BOFD Moment video (microlearning on demand), intentional breathing, stretching, a gratitude reflection, or simply checking in with someone and asking how they’re doing.
Self-awareness is also important. “Knowing that leaders want to fix things, we help them understand when it is truly outside their scope, and recommend they connect their team members with additional resources such as those found on the BE Well site or in Employee Assistance Programs,” Schabes says.
Haskell encourages its leaders to practice mindfulness. “We teach leaders to prepare their daily tasks and try performing ‘work intervals’: After executing a task or project, allow yourself a few minutes to step away to refocus your mind and come back to work feeling rejuvenated,” Williams says. “We also encourage leaders to project realistic optimism—to be a motivated leader and encourage employees to set intrinsic goals.”
From Bronson Healthcare:
- Make sure your leaders have their own wellness strategies that will work for them. Leaders usually put themselves last, but in order for any wellness training to have lasting impact, leaders need to make sure they are taking care of themselves, both for their self-care and for role-modeling to their team (i.e., being truly “off” when on vacation, not sending e-mails during all hours of the night and on weekends, etc.).
- Consider wellness as holistic, meaning it includes every part of a human’s being.
- Make sure your training reflects an environment focused on wellness (take breaks, encourage movement, etc.).
From Transworld Systems Inc.:
Offer a self-led learning option. Some people find issues of mental health to be very private. They might need to do their own work before sharing with a group.
Do not ignore diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in your mental health and wellness initiatives. Mental health affects different groups for different reasons or in different ways, depending on their context. A “catch-all” training ignores marginalized or underrepresented groups. When applicable, make sure that you are attending to a wide variety of needs. At the very least, it is important to mention your awareness that different people have different experiences and support systems, and that those needs are respected.
Have resources ready. Build out resource lists that include readily accessible information for all kinds of learners: podcast episodes, articles, book recommendations, Websites, hotlines. Add local support groups and contacts.
Be ready for push-back. It is highly likely that not everyone in your organization is going to accept trainings around mental health and wellness—at first or maybe ever. You might consider “rebranding” mental health initiatives. For example, you might have a course focused on strategies for mental toughness that incorporates statistics and strategies around mental health. Stick with your efforts—this work will serve people well.
WOMEN’S WELLNESS AT WORK
By Carolyn Nevitte, HR Director, People Insight (https://peopleinsight.co.uk/)
Women can face health and well-being challenges at all stages of their careers, including pregnancy, fertility issues, and menopause. Yet women’s health issues often are missing from workplace environments and policies. Talking openly about female health issues, raising awareness, and putting the right support in place can have a transformative impact on how women feel and, in turn, how they perform at work.
To make meaningful progress with women’s well-being, organizations need to start by assessing current well-being levels and gathering feedback from female employees via an anonymous well-being survey. Then dig into specific issues from the survey results through focus groups. Use these insights to shape a well-being program that creates a supportive and inclusive workplace for all health issues. Initiatives might include:
1. Flexible working policies to make it easier for women to flex their schedules around appointments, care responsibilities, etc.
2. Utilize inclusive office design with elements such as breastfeeding rooms and temperature-controlled areas.
3. Start conversations around mental and physical health to destigmatize issues.
4. Provide training and support for managers to improve their understanding of female health issues and the resources available.
5. Encourage stress-reduction habits such as mindfulness classes, practicing meditation, or taking regular breaks.
To learn more, visit: https://trainingmag.com/how-canemployers-support-womens-well-being-in-2023/