Jan Bruce & Brad Smith Ph.D
CEO & Chief Science Officer meQuilibrium Follow Follow

On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks with guests Jan Bruce and Brad Smith of meQuilibrium about employee wellbeing.

Jan and Brad are in the virtual studio today to discuss data focused around current threats to employee wellbeing.  They are observing an upward trend over the past 18 or 19 months in stress, burnout, and work life imbalance due to the pandemic.

All of these things certainly have a cumulative effect on employee wellbeing.

meQuilibrium is an HR SaaS digital platform, built to help employers and workforces deal with the challenges of work and life. These challenges can include stress, burnout and mental health as well as purpose and personal wellbeing. People access the program through a personalized app that acts like a personalized coach for each individual.

Our employee wellbeing experts discuss:

  • We discuss their tools to help predict or identify levels of burnout across an entire organization.
  • How the cycle begins with stress, moves to burnout and ends with employees leaving.
  • Perceived support is shown to have a powerful, protective impact on wellbeing.

Tune in for the conversation.

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Listening Time: 29 minutes

 

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William Tincup:
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Jan and Brad on from meQuilibrium that’s equilibrium with an “M” in front of it. And we’re going to be talking about new data on the threats to employee wellbeing. And so I can’t wait to jump into this with both Jan and Brad. So we’ll do introductions first. So Jan, introduce yourself first and Brad-

Jan Bruce:
Sure.

William Tincup:

… You introduce yourself second and one of you introduce meQuilibrium.

Jan Bruce:
Sure. Well, why don’t I start? And I hope you can hear me?

William Tincup:
Oh, you sound great.

Jan Bruce:
Oh, excellent. So always good to have the sound quality. So I’m Jan Bruce, I’m the CEO of meQuilibrium and meQuilibrium is a HR SaaS digital platform that helps employers and workforces deal with the challenges of work and life stress, burnout, mental health, but also things like purpose and personal wellbeing. And we do that with a very personalized app that acts like a personalized coach for each individual

William Tincup:
And Brad?

Brad Smith:
So Brad Smith, Chief Science Officer of meQuilibrium. I’ve been around in various forms since the very early days, 2015. I’m a data Wrangler and a storyteller with data and really help our customers understand the value of resilience using our data and their data.

William Tincup:
Oh, I love that. So let’s deal with… Because we start off with the new data. So while we start there, Brad, we’ll start with you because you’re a data nerd. And so what are you seeing right now when you look at your data and your customer’s data, what are you seeing in terms of kind of newish things that are being threats to employee and wellbeing?

Brad Smith:
Yeah. Great question. We’ve been really taking a care for look at wellbeing, mental wellbeing in particular, since the dawn of the pandemic and really the earliest thing we saw in July 2020, we checked in with our members on a sort of biannual basis since about July 2020 on our third round. And we really saw early the rise of stress. People showing stress as saying, “I’m stressed out.” But also sort of more subtle symptoms of stress like sleep impairment, and reduced motivation. People saying they’re burned out. They’re less positive about their life. And really as the pandemic started to drag on and continues to drag on, we’re seeing different kinds of impacts in our data today. So a quarter of the population is reporting taking on new duties at work. How do you do retail? How do you do customer centric stuff with social distancing?

Brad Smith:
How do you move a whole call center to people’s houses? Somebody had to figure that out. Job responsibilities shifted and more so there’s a change in responsibilities. We saw the pandemic take a toll in self-care. So employees saw the merging of work and life really unlike it, it had ever happened before. Kids in the background of Zoom calls, as you were saying before we got started William doing virtual school or kids going across the Live CNN feed that we saw on TV. And just like having additional responsibilities at work, people who stopped doing those things that help them refresh them and recharged saw consequences. So people had greater increases in stress when they’re not taking care of themselves. People have greater increase in sleep difficulties and burnout and decreases in motivation were greater for people who didn’t have time for self-care. So in that second phase, we saw more responsibilities at work and decreased time for self-care.

Brad Smith:
And then in this most recent look that we took in July, July really into August. Unfortunately the trend still really continues upward in a negative way. So double digit increases in somatic stress, people feeling stress in their shoulders than their headache. The back of their neck. The cumulative impact really of this over the last 18 or 19 months has been huge. Job stress remains high, work life imbalance is high. Burnout saw a double digit increase in our most recent check-in with our members. So the trend is consistent and unfortunately not add in the direction we’d like to see, but it’s consistent with the other data we hear about employee wellbeing out there right now.

William Tincup:
Well, Jan because Brad he teed us up very nicely with that in terms of kind of the cumulative effect of some of the things you especially see in mental health. There’s the initial phase that we all kind of went through world line and then again, 20 months later or whatever it is now, it’s compounding. It feels like it’s compounding. So what are your customers and what are you seeing when you talk to your customers about kind of the cumulative effect because mental health pre-pandemic was… I wouldn’t say it was taboo, but it was not as openly discussed as it is now. Now employees talk about it, candidates talk about it, managers talk about it, it is talked about. And it’s not a one and done as you well know. How have you kind of thought about the cumulative effect and worked with your customers to think about the cumulative effect in mental health?

Jan Bruce:
Well, basically I think the events of the last two years have made it abundantly clear that mental health in this country is at an epidemic level. It may have taken both the pandemic and a lot of the social political events to kind of get that out of the closet, so to speak. But the reality is that demand with increased awareness, you have white hot demand for resources. At the same time, you don’t have any increase in supply. We actually have seen that the number of practitioners has remained fairly constant in the last two years and is actually on the decline as a lot about 25% of the clinical… The professional therapists and coaches are aging out of practice. So you have like increased demand, limited supply. And I think what employers are really scrambling for is how to come up with whole scale affordable, effective ways, scalable ways to support employees with burnout.

Jan Bruce:
Because the thing about burnout is, it starts with stress and left unattended, it kind of blossoms into burnout and from there it can turn into even more serious issues in terms of the talent of maintaining optimizing talent engagement, performance, things like that. People able to do their work, but also health issues. And so what’s critical, what we are seeing is that employers really are looking for wide scale and sort of scalable solutions. And the other point I would make is that, it’s really a good thing that they are scrambling because the data is very clear that when people feel supported by their employers, it definitely has a positive effect on burnout.

William Tincup:
So, and now [inaudible 00:08:42] all of us up for dealing with burnout risk. So we used to call it flight risk. [crosstalk 00:08:47] and that was kind of is a little bit different or maybe even some of the similar things. How does a company keep track of that? Measure that? Understand it? And then like you said, being supportive it’s going to help stem the tide or at least reduce some of that risk, but it’s burnout risk that people are trying to figure out. Brad we’ll start with you first then we go to Jan too you as well. But how do they get their arms around burnout risk and what are the precursors and what are the measurements that they can look at that will help them understand what risk looks like?

Brad Smith:
That’s another great question. What we see in talking to our customers really over the last two years is that nobody before they adopt our solution, I’m sure there’s other ways to measure burnout. There’s other indices that are out there, but they’re rarely part of normal pulse data or employee satisfaction data or engagement data collection. And there’s a great anecdote we heard from one of our very large West Coast pharma companies. There’s an article in Harvard Business Review that came out and it was about the epidemic of… This has been several months ago, but the epidemic of burnout came out in Harvard Business Review, and one of the executives of this company walked in and was waving around and saying, “We don’t really have a burnout problem, or it’s not that bad.” And our customer contact there said, “Oh, but wait. We do.”

Brad Smith:
And so we have some tools in our suite, our assessment, where we’re able to predict burnout or identify levels of burnout with a pretty small set of questions. And it tracks well to an externally validated third party tool called the Copenhagen Psychosocial Inventory or the COPSOQ. And this burnout indicator allows people to see really either if the gross level, across their whole company, sort of what the level of burnout is. But also then if they provide us an eligibility file, they can drill down sort of the deep, dark recesses of the company and look around.

Brad Smith:
So there are tools out there. Again, we’re not the only tool certainly that can claim to measure to burnout. But that’s been a really feedback we’ve heard from our customers in terms of being able to say to the guy who walks in with the Harvard Business Review article, “Not only do we have a measure of burnout, but I can tell you where it’s highest and where it’s lowest and which organizations and which kinds of functions.” And that as they have told us has been proven very valuable in terms of identifying additional resources and additional supports.

Brad Smith:
So let me pass it to Jan and if I can follow up and come over the top with a little more, but I want to make sure Jan can weigh in on this as well, too.

Jan Bruce:
Sure. Well, I kind of feel, again, I think this is, yeah, it’s a spectrum or it’s a continuum in that you’ve got people are stressed out, they’re burned out, they start to check out and then they actually walk out. And so for people who are thinking about talent and they really want to start the support early and often. Prevention is the name of [inaudible 00:12:01] the ounce of prevention is really, really important here. And what we see in our data, Brad told you a little bit about some of the huge increases in job stress and sleep problems and burnout, in the last two years based on our up to the minute stress check or surveys. But we do see a powerful impact of employer support. When people feel supported, their job stress is actually about 10 times less or it doesn’t increase.

Jan Bruce:
It increases 10 times less than if they don’t feel supported. And the sleep problems are ameliorated. And their burnout is essentially flat as opposed to in other organizations, burnout is up like 29 to 50%. And then most important employer support has a real impact on motivation. And what we find is that the degree of perceived support is shown to have a powerful, protective impact on wellbeing. And strongly supported employees are showing essentially flat trends, as I just said. And I think that the bottom line here is that we really want to… Helping people with their wellbeing, making it a priority, goes a long way to helping them manage all sleep, their stress, their burnout, and be more productive people.

William Tincup:
Right. You mentioned a couple times, Jan you’ve mentioned support and supported, and you even mentioned the perception of being supported. So that the audience understands when you all say employer driven kind of support, what are tangible examples? Because [crosstalk 00:14:13] I would assume that when somebody hears this, they’re going to think that it’s subjective, right? So is that EAPs? What type of support are you all seeing that’s the most useful for employees today?

Jan Bruce:
So, well, first of all if we start with what’s not support. I mean, attitude-

William Tincup:
Yeah. That good point? Let’s start there [crosstalk 00:14:39].

Jan Bruce:
Let’s start that. I mean, to pick up on what Brad was saying, an attitude that, “We don’t really have a problem around here,” is probably not supportive. An openness and a commitment to acknowledging, I think it starts with acknowledging that we are all under pressure because of the current environment. And I think that that kind of transparency and trust from managers and from leaders can go a really long way. I think it’s not… And then beyond just… You bring up a good point about, well, does it mean we have an EAP? Or does it mean we have an emotional wellbeing solution, all of the above are good. But what we see is that companies who have a whole scale and not a half hearted or siloed, a whole scales commitment to emotional wellbeing and wellbeing in general, do a lot better.

Jan Bruce:
And there are several aspects of that are really critical. The first is that you want to make sure that you stress the importance of people having the basic wellbeing skills and sort of mindset about self-care and also self-awareness, i.e Like, “Oh, I’m not doing so well. I’m not supposed to feel this way.” The basic preparedness, that allows the organization as a whole to be open and engaged with their wellbeing and makes it easier. The second thing is you do need to use data as we do at meQuilibrium to surface risks, detect problems and make sure that people who do need help get the kind of help they need. I mean, if you have an EAP, but people don’t feel like it’s really well accepted to use it and no one uses it, then it’s not really doing any good, and you’re paying a lot for it.

Jan Bruce:
But if we help people have the primary skills to be self-aware, self-motivated and then also if we can detect risk and help people get the help they need, that’s helpful. The third thing is you really got to make it a cultural initiative. Managers, leaders, employees, it’s got to be part of the values of the organization. And then I think a wrap all around that is a really strong data set that can help [inaudible 00:17:27]. The data doesn’t lie. Most business leaders once you show them how people are doing [inaudible 00:17:34] compare, benchmark data, they start to pay attention. The last thing I would say is that managers are people too, and managers in our data, what we’ve seen is that managers they don’t necessarily feel well supported. They’ve been under the gun in the last couple of years. They’ve often picked up more work and it’s important to make sure that they feel support and that they turn around and support the individual contributors or their teams.

William Tincup:
Right. It’s interesting because you brought it back to things that most people would understand. You need to listen, you need to actually create actions and fulfill on those actions. You need to communicate, you need to have great data in order for all of this to work. As you were talking about kind of the bases, of course I went to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and I thought about, is there a hierarchy of wellbeing needs?

Jan Bruce:
Oh, that’s really so interesting. Well, I can try to help with that and Brad you jump in. My opinion is that… I’m going to start at the very bottom. Everyone wants wellbeing and [crosstalk 00:19:05] everyone wants positive outcomes and they want healthy behaviors. They want to offer people the opportunity to engage in wellbeing practices to deliver on those outcomes. But the problem is, this is very hard. And usually the reason lies in the root cause, the mindset, the thinking, and the attitudes that are sort of ingrained in people about what they should and shouldn’t do.

Jan Bruce:
They may feel guilty about self-care. They may not be that self-aware about how they’re feeling. They may be running on emotions or on thoughts about what they should do to be a good employee, a good manager, a good parent, a good person, but not really what’s effective for them. So we have to get… I think in terms of the hierarchy of needs, we often don’t do some of the most important things first. Which is address the thinking, the mindset around self-care. So that people then start to take time and make time to take care of themselves. And by doing that, if we get those things out of the way. On top of that, there’s-

William Tincup:
Yeah. Just build.

Jan Bruce:
There’s your typical self-care. You have to understand that this is not a guilty pleasure. This is a necessity. And I mean, I could describe the whole thing, the physical self-care I could say, “Eat less, move more, sleep more.” Right? And that’s a whole lot of it, but easier said than done, but unless you have the mindset.

William Tincup:
So, Brad, because you sit on all this wonderful data from your clients and elsewhere, how have you seen the data play out in terms of how different employees kind of show different symptoms? Because I’m really interested in just like, we’re not painting all employees with the same brush, right? So like, if you’ve got an hour [inaudible 00:21:15] client, that’s in retail, you might see certain symptoms and they look like this. So what are some examples that people they want in listening to the show, they can kind of go, “Okay. Yeah. That’s something I can see too.”

Brad Smith:
Yeah. I mean, you’ve heard sort of tidbits of this along the way. Jan was just talking about managers. Managers as a place where we’ve seen an increased burden of taking on responsibilities at work. And they’ve seen really like twice or more than twice, the increase in burnout symptoms as individual contributors have. There’re all also four times as likely to say, there’s not enough hours in the day to get things done. And they’re also suffering sort of more from anger. So managers is definitely a group that needs special attention, especially as a move forward. Caregivers is another one. I’m sure in your own experience and each one of us had some experience related to COVID where there was new caregiving responsibilities. We had a college student in our house for four months, that we didn’t expect to have. Not one of my kids.

Brad Smith:
And other people are dealing with kids or with elders who couldn’t get out. And we saw that caregivers were sort of, it’s about 60% of the population of us, have some kind of caregiving responsibility. Those folks had much larger increases in burnout, worries about their own health, increases in job stress that were larger than people who weren’t taking care of someone else during the pandemic. Women is another group. And for all the reasons that women have worked harder and longer than men in almost every era or in certainly in every area. They’re coping with COVID, they’re managing their family’s health concerns. They’re engaging in childcare, they’re assisting with virtual schooling, taking care of housework like they always have. And the host of other second shift responsibilities that they’ve had, all while trying to remain productive at work. And really in women, we saw early in the pandemic almost 10 times the stress increase in that population [crosstalk 00:23:11].

William Tincup:
Right. It’s interesting because I was talking to folks that had studied this and women disproportionately stepped up at the beginning of COVID this Harvard, no, it’s a McKinsey report, but basically women stepped up and so that’s one thing, they stepped up to the beginning of the pandemic and through the pandemic. And on the second part, which is soul crushing is they didn’t get through the recognition for stepping up. Which again is soul crushing on some level. Jan, I know folks are going to wonder after hearing this, how do they know they’re doing this right? And maybe if there is such a thing as right, but how do they know that they’re on the right journey?

Jan Bruce:
Well, it’s a great question. I would say that… We’ve talked a lot about data today and I think getting a good baseline and then coming up with a strategy to prosecute or inspecting the data and coming up with a strategy to prosecute the issues clearly is a very good first step. I think also what we see is that the customers of ours who are most successful, who are doing it right and getting results are very tenacious about getting the baseline, embracing strategy or embracing holistic strategies as I said, with preparedness, widespread, they don’t silo it. They don’t make it like one and done, or once a year we talk about this or the theme of the day, it’s very much part of their culture.

Jan Bruce:
They have a coordinated approach. In today’s day and age with data and technology, we should not have an employee who seriously needs trouble, in a serious state and know nothing about this before it’s too late. Companies that have EAPs good health insurance plans, behavioral health services, it doesn’t need to be surprises and the data can make the critical difference and the prevention.

William Tincup:
So last question, and it is for both of you and there’s really no right answer. It’s curiosity of that, who owns wellbeing? And the companies that you all work with that you see just, they get it. They do it really, really well. Their attrition rate and retention rates, all those things are just well and their people are happy. Just all the things that are positive. Who owns it in the organization? Who owns wellbeing?

Jan Bruce:
We find that it is… The business owner might be in benefits and [inaudible 00:26:42] that might be in sort of HR strategies or even total rewards or even talent and leadership development. But it is usually a growth minded individual because today successful employers are thinking of this as a way to optimize the potential of the business, not control costs.

William Tincup:
Right. Right. That’s one of the things about wellness, not wellbeing, but wellness 20 years ago thought of it as a nice to have, not a need to have. Now we wake up with wellbeing, which is different and to attract, engage and retain talent. If you’re not thinking about wellbeing, you’re already a step or two behind. Any closing thoughts, Brad?

Brad Smith:
Yeah. I think there’s who owns it and who should own it. I think Jan’s got a good point about who owns it and that’s realistic. But I think who should own it, is the CFO and the CEO, because it’s really wellbeing and ensuring your employees are in tip top shape cognitively and emotionally, and physically, is something that really does impact the bottom line. And our customers that are the most forward thinking are the ones that have wellbeing indicators. Numerous wellbeing indicators on their people dashboards that have C-suite visibility. And I can think of a couple of very progressive customers of ours who are in addition to our metrics, putting other mental wellbeing metrics at the very top levels of organization. So yeah, that’s my closing thought, I think.

William Tincup:
I love it. Jan, Brad, I know you’re busy. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast and helping us understand the inside some of the threats to wellbeing. So thank you so much.

Jan Bruce:
You’re welcome [crosstalk 00:28:41].

William Tincup:
And thanks for everyone [crosstalk 00:28:42] that listens to the RecruitingDaily podcast until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast


By William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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