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.

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 »

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.

“Weak Ties” Round Out Your Social Portfolio

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing

tangled spaghetti

Weak social ties are essential to your “diverse social portfolio.” Yet they get short shrift in discussions of connection and loneliness.

Even Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, in his landmark Harvard Business Review article “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic” (which sounded a much needed alarm), bypassed our learnings about weak ties, writing:

“Happy hours, coffee breaks, team-building exercises are designed to build connections between colleagues, but do they really help people develop deep relationships?”

The answer is no, but the next question must be, “Are ‘deep relationships’ the only kind that count?”

Really enjoyed researching and writing this piece for Health Enhancement Systems (HES):

Social Connection: Beyond Besties

Burn-Washing Job Burnout: Close, But No Cigar

in burnout, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

 

Cigar with smoke

A lot of employers offer pseudo-interventions I call “burn-washing” — they give employees a week off, for example, and proclaim themselves mental health heroes — to deflect accountability for job burnout.

I’m all for time off, but it doesn’t do anything for burnout if workers return to the same job conditions — or conditions that are worse because workload accumulated while everyone was kicking back for a week.

In a recent post, I shared the American Psychiatric Association’s latest tips on how to burn-wash. Yeesh.

A new vision of burnout solutions will have to address not just individual treatments and not just organizational interventions… but requisite changes in how our society views work, merit, and leisure. More on this in a future post.

A Doubt About Burnout

in burnout, Employee Wellness Programs, 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 »

The Great Resignation May Be a Thing. Here’s What We Really Know.

in business, Data, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

 

The word "job" going out the doorThe data is starting to support the hype about The Great Resignation.

Don’t be too awed by media reports of “record-breaking” resignations. Record-breaking quit rates were entirely predictable based on their upward trajectory over the last 10 years. What changed was a steep drop in those rates early in the pandemic. Data released today (November 12, 2021) shows a rate (indeed, record-breaking) of 3.0% for September and, yes, this trend looks to be ramping up.

Until now, we’ve known only that there’s been a Great Compression of Resignations — an inordinate amount of resignations in a short period of time. It’s a distinction of little consequence to employers, as they still have the operational hardship of a surge in people heading for the door, regardless of whether it’s a new trend or simply a snapback following the unexpected freefall of resignations that occurred at the outset of the pandemic. Continue reading »

Good Work: Getting Real About Job Characteristics, Job Design, and Job Crafting at “Impairment Without Disability” 2021

in industrial organizational psychology, job crafting, job design, Uncategorized, Wellbeing
Impairment Without Disability logo

I’m honored to be among the distinguished slate of speakers presenting at Impairment Without Disability 2021, where I’ll discuss the science behind “Designing Jobs People Want To Do.”

IWD 2021 promises “No fluff, no fodder.” YES! We need more conference hosts that respect our work — and the employees we serve — enough not to waste our time with celebrities, motivational speakers, athletes, and new-age wonks who have no idea what we do. Those speakers may give attendees a lift during the hour of their presentation, but the growth that comes from information, case studies, and idea-sharing can last a lifetime and facilitate results that spread exponentially.

If you’re interested in supporting the wellbeing of sick or injured workers, join us at this year’s all-virtual IWD Conference 2021, November 18. Register here.

Check out conference organizer Jason Parker’s LinkedIn post, below, for more info.

There’s Mental Health in Them Thar Workers

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing, Workplace Mental Health Resources

woman with gold face

In the red-hot employee mental health industry, two of the reddest, hottest companies — Ginger and Headspace — announced their merger. As reported by Stat:

The new company, called Headspace Health, will have a reported value of $3 billion, placing it in the top echelon of companies vying to own significant chunks of the mental health market….Headspace, which sells directly to consumers as well as to businesses, is focused on self-directed meditation and mindfulness…Ginger also offers self-guided treatment in addition to text-based coaching and video-based therapy and psychiatry.

Oliver Harrison, CEO of digital mental health competitor Koa Health, magnanimously blogged that the merger represents “a tremendous moment signaling the growing market demand, innovation and transformation for digital mental health and wellbeing.”

This might be true, but we might also conclude that this is a moment in which two unrelenting enterprises join forces to, as Stat said, “own chunks of the market.”

Innovation? Later in the post, Harrison quotes HR expert Josh Bersin:

“Bigger companies with thousands of customers try to innovate, but the demands of their large, existing customers distract their engineering teams and they can rarely innovate like they did when they were small.”

A colleague recently described employee mental health as a modern day gold rush, with money gushing into it from exuberant employers — clawing for precious solutions, while surrounded by barkers hawking unauthenticated replicas — and venture capitalist prospectors jumping aboard the gravy train.

Tremendous Moment? Or Wild West?

Headspace and Ginger are joining hands as they stake their claim in the mental health landscape. Good for them. We can only hope it also turns out to be good for care seekers, employers, and mental health in general.

In other news, in-person therapy is now available at Walmart. Find it somewhere between the ammo, tobacco products, and baby strollers.


“Gold face” image courtesy John Vasilopoulos via Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/users/sjv_john-9645453/