Burnout: Don’t Be Fooled Again

in burnout, Employee Wellness Programs, industrial organizational psychology, Stress, Uncategorized

Magician holding fireThe prospect of organizational burnout interventions has finally caught the attention of thought leaders. When reading articles comparing organizational approaches (ill-defined strategies targeting workload, job control, rewards, community, fairness, and values) to individual approaches (like mindfulness and resilience training) I’m reminded of The Who’s classic lyrics:

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

We’ve gone from the “superstition” of self-help, to paraphrase Jonathan Malesic in his brilliant book The End of Burnout, to the Gospel According to Maslach. Continue reading »

Evidence: You’re foot is on fire — what do you do?

in Employee Wellness Programs, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

feet in shoes that are on fire

In an online discussion, Don McCreary, the senior consultant of Donald McCreary Scientific Consulting, and someone for whom I have the utmost respect, was making a case for “a scientific publishing paradigm that supported the publication and dissemination of negative findings.” To exemplify this need, he offered the example of workplace mental health prevention:

There are so many programs that say they are evidence-based, but there’s no evidence that they actually do what they say they do. Are they marketing us snake oil by relying on the phrase “evidence-based” because they’re too lazy to collect the evidence or is it because they have data to show that the program they’re selling or marketing doesn’t work?”

Claims of “evidence based” in all aspects of wellbeing warrant closer scrutiny.

“Are they marketing us snake oil?” I offered my take:

There are other possibilities, though they may be variations of those Dr. McCreary identified:

  1. Buyers and sellers are naive and/or ill-informed, and believe their products/services are evidence-based, even when they’re not. They feel it’s accurate to call something evidence-based because it draws on a framework for which there’s evidence, because they have internal data demonstrating positive outcomes, or even because they can cite a study showing that an intervention like theirs was effective—none of which justifies calling their program evidence-based.
  2. Employers/purchasers don’t care about evidence and aren’t persuaded by it. But they like buying stuff they can say is evidence-based.
  3. Consumers of services, including many employees, also deem evidence uncompelling. This is borne out by a simple glance at the self-help bestseller list or health food section of a grocery store — endless claims of science-ishness (including mental health benefits!), with no real evidence.

All that said, to make evidence a prerequisite for all employee wellbeing interventions might be an unnecessary and unachievable burden. Someone once said:

If my foot is on fire, I don’t need a meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies before I ask someone to throw a bucket of water on it.

Or, as I wrote to Dr. McCreary:

Instead of calling everything evidence-based just to fuel the wellbeing marketplace, there’d be value in broad discussion about “when should a workplace intervention be limited to evidence-based programs/strategies?”

I’ve come to believe it’s okay to implement an intervention if it’s something employees want and we have good reason to believe it will do no harm. This might include, for example, mindfulness programs and physical fitness opportunities, as well as organizational interventions to reduce psychosocial risk factors.

Most HR managers and business leaders don’t know the first thing about evidence — nor should they, any more than a research methodologist should be able to, say, describe the details of workers’ comp regulations and practices.

It will be better to promote education about evidence and the role it should (or should not) play in employee wellbeing strategies, rather than just pretending programs are evidence-based when they probably aren’t.

A Doubt About Burnout

in burnout, Employee Wellness Programs, Featured, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

silhouette and flame representing burnout

I have doubt about burnout.

Understand, not only do I feel certain that employees experience exhaustion, cynicism, disengagement, self-doubt, and depression often as a result of work stressors, but I’ve spent the better part of my career spotlighting these processes in my work as a well-being practitioner. Further, if an employee says they’re burned out, I believe their experience is credible — it should be accepted, respected, and addressed.

Continue reading »

Facty Wellness Study Facts Get Factier

in Employee Wellness Programs, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Now that year-3 data is out, yielding findings just as blah as the year-1 findings (meaningful outcomes nowhere to be found), I’m re-sharing this 2019 post about the BJ’s Wholesale wellness study. Little has changed. Indeed, these facty facts have gotten no less facty. In fact, they may be factier.

Tip: If you —  like many critics of this research as well as media reporters confused by the study design  —  think the BJ’s research was primarily a study of intervention outcomes, or that it only looked at physical health and health care costs when wellness programs these days are all about happiness-ishness, or the program was sub-par because it consisted of “modules,” you’ll find this post enlightening.

The 4 Factiest Facts Overlooked in the Latest Wellness Study Kerfuffle

2020’s Trends and Transactions Foretell the Wellness Industry’s Future

in business, Employee Wellness Programs, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Work-from-home, social connection, telehealth, social justice, mental health… and, of course, the COVID-19 disease itself have been the hot topics of 2020 in the employee wellbeing world.

Meanwhile, the US wellness industry — the business of employee wellbeing — grinds on, with a slew of trends and transactions that foretell its future. Here, I’ve summarized the commercial patterns and milestones that signal which doors are closing and which may open. Continue reading »

Wellbeing and Pizza: In Search of the Secret Sauce

in Employee Wellness Programs, humor, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

pizza[Originally published on LinkedIn 2018-03-15]

“It’s the damnedest thing, hahaha” my father-in-law would say, his thick Irish brogue muscling its way forward through his baritone laugh. “I hate tomato sauce and cheese, and I don’t like bread, but I like pizza. Hahahahah!”

As a Brooklynite weaned on pizza, this really was the damndest thing I’d ever heard. But the corporate world’s newfound adoration of “wellbeing” gives me insight into my father-in-law’s pizza predilections. And vice versa.
Continue reading »

Get the Facts: University of Illinois’ Randomized Controlled Study of an Employee Wellness Program

in Employee Wellness Programs, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

dice suggesting randomized controlled trial

In her incisive Redesigning Wellness interview with Julian Reif (principal investigator of the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study), Jen Arnold elicits answers to controversial questions like how the research team defined “comprehensive program” and why they believe their randomized study design “cancels out” most previous wellness program study findings.

Thanks Jen (and thank you for the shout-outs), and thank you, Julian Reif.

Essential listening for wellness leaders who care about results. Click below to go to the podcast episode page:

198: Research on the Effectiveness of Traditional Wellness Programs with Julian Reif, Assistant Professor of Finance and Economics at the University of Illinois

In the Aura of the Wellness Microcosm

in Employee Wellness Programs, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Abstract image suggesting insightI don’t agree with everything in The Hard Problems of Corporate Wellness, including the premise that wellness hasn’t worked. But I’m grateful as all get-out that my friend and colleague Scott Dinwiddie is saying it. We don’t all need to agree, but we progress only by questioning the status quo, engaging in civil dialog, and seeking better solutions.

If we’re inclined to look, in this article we find wellbeing as a microcosm for the human condition. In fact, Scott’s exploration of personal accountability in the context of systemic disorder may shine a light on social issues that appropriately preoccupy us today.

In the aura of this microcosm, we in the wellness profession are called upon to renew our own personal sense of purpose.

Wellness Doesn’t Work. And It Won’t Work. Until It Does.

in Employee Wellness Programs, Uncategorized

Out of OrderNew study findings from the University of Illinois confirm that an employee wellness program doesn’t improve health or healthcare costs.

Here’s what will happen next:

  • Wellness critics will argue that wellness programs must cease at once.
  • Wellness profiteers will, once again, falsely claim that the studied program was atypical and that the researchers failed to report on measures such as mental health, energy levels, quality of life, or job satisfaction.

Here’s what should happen next:

  • We should be prepared to accept, based on a growing body of evidence, that typical wellness programs don’t deliver on their promise.
  • We should collaborate with employees to figure out how we can effectively support their wellbeing.

Research should be leveraged to improve employee wellbeing strategies. Circling the wagons around the status quo or interpreting studies simply as a yay/nay on employee wellbeing are both unproductive.

See the abstract/article:

Effects of a Workplace Wellness Program on Employee Health, Health Beliefs, and Medical Use: A Randomized Trial