Fitness Trends Survey Gives Short Shrift to Mental Health

in Featured, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Body builder

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recently announced the Top 10 fitness trends for 2023, based on its international survey of fitness professionals, who were asked to rate specific trends on a scale of 1-10.

The findings are ho-hum:

  1. Wearable Technology
  2. Strength Training with Free Weights
  3. Body Weight Training
  4. Fitness Programs for Older Adults
  5. Functional Fitness Training
  6. Outdoor Activities
  7. High Intensity Interval Training
  8. Exercise for Weight Loss
  9. Employing Certified Fitness Professionals
  10. Personal Training

The survey* included almost 3,000 respondents from the US.

Conspicuous Absence of Mental Health

Exercise for Weight Loss is a high-ranking trend, as we’d expect. But, despite a global movement to raise awareness about mental health at a time when mental ill-health and deaths of despair are reported to be at all time peaks, Exercise for Mental Health apparently wasn’t even listed as a possible trend for respondents to rate — an inexplicable omission by ACSM, especially as physical activity is ubiquitously cited as a building block of emotional well-being.

Less unexpected: Exercise for Brain Health also is omitted, despite the fact that evidence links physical activity — more than any other behavior — as a moderator of risk for age-related cognitive decline and dementia. Generally, wellbeing leaders haven’t given brain health the attention it warrants, but this undoubtedly will change as the prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease increases in coming years.

The 1990s Called. It Wants Its BMI Charts Back.

Hey, ACSM… Exercise is good for cardiovascular health, physical functioning, and (you’d have us believe) weight management. We get it. But it’s time to grow. Why not join the global public health movement — play a leadership role, even — to support emotional wellbeing and brain health? Including them in your survey — especially as you already list more esoteric possibilities — would be a start.

*ACSM’s article in its Health and Fitness Journal describes the survey instrument as including “42 possible trends,” which we may interpret to mean that respondents were asked to rate a provided list of possible trends — actually 42 – 51, depending on each country’s survey customizations. The full list of trends in the US survey apparently isn’t published (I’ve reached out to ACSM to double-check), but the 51 trends listed in Mexico’s report seem to be exhaustive, and the various analyses for each country, with year-over-year comparisons and listings of the top 20 and the least popular trends — yield clues about all the potential trends that were included.

Is the Sky Falling on Mental Ill-Health? Maybe not.

in Featured, Uncategorized


hand reaching up to the sky


Gallup recently published new data showing an increase in American’s self-reported mental ill-health. As Gallup put it:

Americans’ positive self-assessments of their mental health are the lowest in more than two decades of Gallup polling.

The polling and consulting company included this graph:

graph showing an increase in mental ill-health

The social media universe reacted with its usual outrage, pointing fingers toward the health care system, lack of primary prevention, big pharma, bad employers, lousy insurance, social determinants, and the other usual suspects. Most of these conditions, of course, almost certainly contribute to emotional wellbeing challenges.

Gallup, however, was more cautious in its conclusions:

Given the length of time between the measurements, the cause of this increase in mental health visits is unclear but likely the result of a number of factors. It may be related partly to the pandemic; to a growing appreciation for the importance of good mental health; to reduced stigma about seeking treatment — particularly among young adults versus older adults; to changes in the ways health insurance plans cover mental health treatment; or to other factors.

Indeed, upticks in mental ill-health metrics are not necessarily a bad thing. More than likely, part of the increase is due to bad things (limited access to care, insufficient preventive measures, etc.). And some of it may be due to good stuff (reduced stigma, compliance with the Mental Health Parity Act, etc.).

Employee benefits and wellbeing professionals, consider…

…We lament woefully low EAP utilization rates… and increased mental ill-health prevalence. Make sense? Maybe, because ideally we want more people seeking care (and/or preventive measures implemented) with the long-term goal of decreased prevalence. (Gallup did also report that more people are seeking care. Good, right?) But with this outcome being a distant goal, it seems we want to have our cake and eat it too: We want fewer people saying they need support, but more people receiving it.

Gallup got it right in stating, as objectively as possible, “this increase in mental health visits is unclear but likely the result of a number of factors.” The sky may be falling, but we can’t conclude that based on this Gallup data.

My Top 10 Business Books to Avoid Like the Plague

in business, Featured, Uncategorized

a child with thick sunglasses reading a book

Here’s a list of the Top 10 Books I chose not to read in 2022 and suggest you don’t read in 2023. Books are from Amazon’s current Business & Money bestseller list:

1. The Myth of American Inequality

2. I Will Teach You to Be Rich: No Guilt, No Excuses, No B.S.

3. Think and Grow Rich (TIE)

3. Stop Overthinking (TIE)

5. Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead and Win

6. The 12-Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months (TIE)

6. The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (TIE)

8. Never Split the Difference: Negotiate as if Your Life Depended on It

9. The 48 Laws of Power

10. Discipline Is Destiny — The Power of Self-Control

Reviewing the Amazon list, I’m reminded of what a bunch of wealthy bad-asses business-book authors are, and what a bunch of broke, flawed slackers we readers must be.

Some books I’m excited about reading in 2023, in some cases because I know the author to be someone who has something valuable to say and has authentic experience in business:

Books I’ve previously recommended include:

[The links above are NOT affiliate links. Feel free to click away to your heart’s content and rest assured I will not earn one red cent from your purchases.]

Why Not Assess EAPs like We Assess Online Therapy?

in EAPs, Uncategorized

Frustrated teletherapy client

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about the underbelly of “online mental health” treatment, pinpointing as a driver this:

…Sensing opportunity, investors last year poured $4.8 billion into startups offering digital mental-health services.

After the Gold Rush?

Some of us refer to this as the Mental Health Gold Rush, which doesn’t stop at online therapy platforms.

Indeed, in the context of employee mental health, it may be beneficial to compare these online platforms to their traditional EAP counterparts.

The article describes intake team members and therapist networks for whom “training is minimal.” Unacceptable? Absolutely. Employers and employees should accordingly ask their (external, US-based) EAPs how they train the therapists in their network.

It also describes the platforms’ egregious, tragic efforts in matching care-seekers to appropriate therapists (e.g. based on LGBTQ-based needs). Let’s ask… How well do our EAPs do this? What are their provider/client matching systems? What processes assure those algorithms work optimally?

Similar questions can be asked about resources for clinical oversight, and some can even be asked about care obtained outside the employer relationship (i.e. care seekers who find and pay for therapists on their own).

The WSJ article wasn’t specifically about employer-sponsored care, and consequently didn’t warrant comparison to EAPs. Either way, its anecdotes demand attention.

It would also be useful to see a follow-up that addresses online therapy’s outcomes compared to benchmarks, as well as access to care. Is our problem “The Failed Promise of Online Mental Health Treatment” or the failed promise of mental health treatment in general?

P.S. The WSJ article noted celebrity endorsements of online therapy platforms. I find all the endorsements by athletes, actors, pop stars, and royals to be objectionable. But I’m generally bewildered by our obsession with celebs.

Opposition to Paid Sick Leave Derails Wellness

in Featured, Uncategorized

railroad worker

The majority of US railroad workers reportedly aren’t eligible for paid sick time, a statutory benefit in most industrialized nations. This is the centerpiece of the current (late 2022) union negotiation/conflict.

Railroad megacorp CSX, in the Prioritizing Health & Holistic Well-being section of its 2021 Environmental, Social, and Governance report, states:

We offer benefits related to physical, emotional, social and financial support to ensure all CSX employees, at all stages and levels in their careers, are able to receive assistance across the health and well-being spectrum.

Union Pacific, on its website, boasts:

We understand that every step taken on the path of wellness leads to a richer, fuller life. That’s why we fully support and encourage employees and their families to take charge of their health and well-being.

Workers pay the consequences when employers perform a wellbeing charade, mostly by buying trendy wellness and mental health services and checking them off their list while ignoring the job conditions and policies essential to well-being.

But the wellness and mental health industries suffer as well. Our credibility erodes when we’re positioned as the sole solutions for well-being.

Are Mental Health Days Just a Band-Aid Solution for Burnout?

in burnout, industrial organizational psychology, Uncategorized


Jonathan Malesic, in Mental Health Days Are Only a Band-Aid Solution for Burnout, wrote the book on burnout  —  literally. (I recommend his painstakingly researched The End of Burnout above any other on the topic.)

I agree with what Malesic writes in the article, including this under-appreciated observation:

“[Mental Health days] might not reduce someone’s workload, if they have to overburden themselves catching up after—or before—their rest.”

I agree, also, that mental health days are a simplistic response to employee mental health challenges.

But, ultimately, I’d like to see organizational/societal strategies put forward more persuasively and independently, rather than elevating them only by denigrating the Band-Aid solutions employers (and, sometimes, employees) favor.

Band-Aid solutions aren’t displacing effective strategies. Employers just prefer trendy solutions that don’t require much of them.

But, to do anything meaningful, we have to figure out how to get employers to genuinely care about mental health. Employers can suss out our specious claims of ROI.

Saying that mental health is a business strategy  —  the battle cry of many thought leaders and psych scholars —  doesn’t make it so. Wellbeing isn’t just investment, it’s a public health imperative.

[Hat-tip to Fred Schott who brought Malesic’s article to my attention on LinkedIn)

Adam Grant Gets an “F” for His Controversial Tweet

in Uncategorized

Workplace psychology idol Adam Grant recently stirred up a social media brouhaha with his uncharacteristic tweet bemoaning students who expect credit for their effort. He insists that students earn A’s for excellence, not effort. Some thought leaders, including Kaleana Quibell on LinkedIn, astutely drew parallels between academic and workplace merit systems.

The usually insightful Adam Grant in this case demonstrates naïveté.

Academic grading is notoriously flawed. In the seminal article, Teaching More by Grading Less, Schinske and Tanner review the evidence on grading and conclude:

In summary, grades often fail to provide reliable information about student learning. Grades awarded can be inconsistent both for a single instructor and among different instructors for reasons that have little to do with a students’ content knowledge or learning advances.

They go as far as encouraging the integration of effort-based grading into achievement-based systems:

The entirety of students’ grades need not be based primarily on work that rewards only correct answers, such as exams and quizzes. Importantly, constructing a grading system that rewards students for participation and effort has been shown to stimulate student interest in improvement.

Along similar lines, those who responded to Grant by arguing that workplace recognition and rewards are based on merit are living in a fantasy world. Managers often dole out rewards (such as promotions and salary increases) based on favoritism, hunches, and their own self-interests — the same criteria known to lead to doomed hiring decisions.

What’s more, suggesting that workplace recognition is based on merit defies evidence showing the influence of race, gender, disability status, and LGBTQ status. As a recent article in Nature reported:

A large, comprehensive study reveals what privilege looks like in science: straight, white men who are not disabled get more pay, greater respect and a wealth of career opportunities compared with all other groups.*

Diversity, equity, and inclusion — organizations love it until it necessitates a change in how they do things.

You may not like people asking to get A’s for effort, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is getting them for achievement.

I’ve corrected Professor Grant’s tweet to more accurately reflect the psychological safety, kindness, open communication, and commitment to evidence he promotes in most of his work:

Adam Grant tweet about grading for achievement rather than effort (with mock edits)

*Cech, E. A. (2022). The intersectional privilege of white able-bodied heterosexual men in STEM. Science advances, 8(24), eabo1558.

Eavesdrop On Jen Arnold And Me In A Farewell Redesigning Wellness Podcast

in Employee Wellness Programs, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Podcast: A fishing rod casting a pea pod

The last interview of Jen Arnold’s Redesigning Wellness podcast…

I was honored by Jen inviting me to interview her to chat about what she’s learned from her unprecedented 250+ interviews with wellness practitioners, researchers, and thought leaders.

Jen is the most insightful, influential, and hardest working provider of employee wellness content. Her voice on the state of employee wellness and the industry is not to be missed. Continue reading »