This is an interview style episode:
The Surgeon General recently released an extensive report on the state of workplace health and well-being that was not very favorable to employers. The report emphasized the chronic stress that is prevalent in workplace culture, and employees are paying the price. Chronic stress from the work environment can have a myriad of physical and health consequences.
On the podcast, I pull in an expert on the nutrition and wellness, Heather Carey (who, full disclosure, happens to also be my wife). Heather is a nationally recognized culinary nutritionist and chef. Together, we have many thoughts about how chronic stress can be improved.
In This Episode Mark Talks to Heather About:
The impact that daily chronic stress has on our health and the lifestyle diseases that result because of it; the seemingly simple things employers can do to help stress at work; what, exactly, causes workplace stress, and if employers are responsible for helping employees.
Click HERE to find out more about Heather Carey and her Healthy Online Cooking Classes for your corporate wellness program.
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Hey, it's Mark here and welcome to the next edition of the Employee Survival Guide where I tell you as always, what your employer does definitely not want you to know about and a lot more. Today's episode is about the US Surgeon General's release of his framework for workplace mental health and well being. But for this episode, we are doing something a little bit different. If you are new to this podcast, you may not know that I work alongside my wife Heather Carrie, in the same office. Heather is a well known culinary nutritionist chef and provides individual one on one nutrition consulting, but also provides online cooking classes for corporate wellness programs nationwide. Heather has also also has a podcast called Real Food stories, where this episode will also air we both read the Surgeon General's report and had similar reactions. And we decided to hit record a conversation over the weekend about the report regarding employee stress and well being. We hope you enjoy this episode which explores the crossroads of how companies treat employee in particular employee mental health, and their well being. Our combined focus in this episode is on the whole employee, a topic never discussed before. Until this episode, enjoy the show. So the Surgeon General just released a report on the state of the workplace mental health and well being, I believe in response to the COVID lockdown. I was very curious about this report since in case you didn't know this, a big part of what I do is corporate wellness. This was not on the forefront for me until we actually had the COVID lockdown. And with the help of zoom, I was able to not only help corporations gather their teams together through healthy online cooking classes and webinars. But I was also able to help with their general well being eating healthy and well has a cascade effect. As you probably know by now. When you know how to eat simple, healthy foods and make them taste great. You are in turn helping to stay healthy, consistent, healthy eating helps with all those lifestyle diseases. I have mentioned in prior podcasts, heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and obesity to name a few. And eating healthy and well can help lower your stress to the Surgeon General's report was interesting to not only me, but I also happened to be very closely connected to someone who is an expert in the field of employment law. And to help me with the conversation, I thought I would include Mark Carey, who also happens to be my husband. Mark is a nationally recognized employment plaintiff's attorney. He also has a podcast called the employee Survival Guide. And we both read the report separately and had a lot of thoughts on it. So Hi, Mark. Hi, Heather. How are you today? I'm actually pretty good. How are you? I'm good. So not only are we married, but we do work pretty closely together, our offices actually sit side by side. That's right. And we don't normally put our heads together because our careers are very different. But in this case, we thought it would be a great idea to have a mutual conversation about the workplace and stress. And I think we felt the same way about reading the Surgeon General's report. That's correct. So the report states that chronic stress is responsible for the over activation of the fight or flight response, which in turn raises our stress hormone cortisol and can be responsible for disrupted sleep, slower digestion and an increase in the risk of infections, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, some cancers and some autoimmune diseases. Not to mention that chronic stress is a primary factor for mental health. And this applies to our workplace. So I wanted to ask you a question mark today. Is work really that stressful? Do we place too much emphasis on work being everything to us? Because the workplace cannot be the only thing that is causing us this much stress. But it was clearly enough for the Surgeon General to do a great deal of research on it and write up an extensive report. Right. I agree. I want to start off by saying that. This very obvious that we all have our identities, our work identities, and we spend a substantial amount of our lives working and we're working in work cultures that sometimes are a little bit archaic, they this nine to five schedule. But today we have this really new example for us. And it's called the work flexibility remote work because of the pandemic. Now we're in because you and I are now having a podcast discussion about wellness and, you know, working. I think the everybody is now seeking those answers. And I think the two of us just independently had similar thoughts about that. So work is stressful, but does it have to be I don't think it has to be. Well, it did say in the report, also that in the working world, stress can come from long hours, long commutes, unpredictable schedules, low wages. And I know some of your personal favorites, which are the hostile and toxic work environments, we can sometimes be in dangerous work conditions, and of course, a lot of discrimination. We also know that during the height of COVID, the rate of risky health behaviors, smoking, drinking, alcohol, medication overuse and bad eating habits absolutely went through the roof to alarming levels. So what do you think, can be done about all of this from an employer's perspective? Is there anything that is in their control to help their workers, we're at a great pause moment in our working society. And it's because of the pandemic. And it's really shed light on a very important aspect, which is, you know, our work culture, what are we doing, and everybody seems to be responding very favorably to the flexibility of our life, determining their own time, and employers are taking notice. And it's really a monumental pivot in our work history. So I do have favorites about toxic working environments and light bulb. We can talk about that later in the podcast. But once you go on to the next part of this, so do employers have an obligation to be concerned about the health of their employees? So we have so much stress going on outside of work inside of work? But are our employers legally obligated to help employees with their stress? Because the Surgeon General seems to think so. But I wanted to get your perspective on it. Yeah, the surgeon general did have a very strong perspective of that it's an obligation for employers to help in the well being mental health, well being of employees. My belief is that the employer has a very strong obligation, a moral one, and also a financial one, they're making money off the hours of people work. And if they're not running, the machines are not in well tuned order, you're gonna have less profitability. And we know that to be factually true, statistically true. So yes, employers are have a very strong motive there, people are spending a large measure of their lives working. So I know from like, you are probably addressing the more like macro level, you know, initiatives like you are using legal action to sometimes Sue employers and things like that, my, from my perspective, I am more at a micro level with my healthy online cooking classes, and I do healthy, webinars, lunch and learns all online now. And I read a statistic somewhere that said 52% of US companies offer wellness programs. And more importantly, 72% of employers saw a reduction in health care costs after implementing a wellness program. So do you think that these micro level moves are helpful? I dramatically so but the employers are, or they're not spending enough time and money to do it to make employees be become aware that they should utilize them, the employees are in fear of using them, generally speaking, or their How about this, like, I've watched, like you do your corporate classes, and the companies are only buying an hour and a half at a time and then back to work? How about like doing some more time, it's your they're only just band aiding something, and they're not. I their perspective I give my clients is a very different culture than what you're seeing in your in your cooking class. What I'm seeing is fear based management practices, that people are just waiting to get their performance improvement plan, or they're just they're, they're operating with a very different perspective. And so when you overlay this with the corporate wellness, they're not solving the initial problem of reducing or eliminating the fear. So it's a really strange environment. Yeah, I see that sometimes. I think that a lot of companies sometimes have budgets that they have to use before the end of the year, and so they'll sign up for one cooking class here or there and not really consider the bigger picture that much multiple classes, you know, maybe a weekly class or something would be really helpful, rather than just for the record saying that they did a cookie healthy cooking class with their employees. It's not like a checkbox approach, it's something more deeper than that. And people can really be I think employees know, they know whether employers are being, you know, transparent and genuine, right. And a lot of times, I also read that, it really, it's really helpful to employees, when the upper management, you know, in the higher ups participate also in these wellness programs, they, which, you know, just makes them feel like we're all in this together. And a lot of times, the managers and you know, those, just those higher ups are not there to participate in the classes. So I think that really makes a difference. You brought the thought I remembered early on the pandemic, that companies actually had more of a empathy factor for employees and employees noticed more, and actually, that has now shifted backward to because we're pushing people back to work and using kind of default, you know, do as I say, approach mentality, and we're losing that that was very important. Everybody knew that early on. And now that empathy factor is kind of waiting away. And for the sake of profits, it's weird. So you're saying that there wasn't more of an empathy factor? During COVID? Yeah. During the lockdowns, there was more care factor was physically proven everybody. They liked that. Yeah, I think I saw that, too, that during the height of COVID, and we were all in isolation. And employers seemed a little more concerned about the well being of their employees, and just making sure that everyone was happy, and you know, contend to being at home. And luckily, we had zoom, luckily, to bring us all together. But that I think segues into my next question that I had was, Do you think that a good work environment creates good health? Or does being healthy create a better work environment? I know, this is a very vague question. The first part makes sense. To me, it's a good working environment is one where it's not fear based, you're, you're in a trusting collaborative relationship as you would with a good, you know, family environment, and people can trust. I mean, if you have trust with employees, you really can go far and do a lot of things. But a lot of our practices and corporations mainly, maybe is it because we're the companies are too big, that they can't create that environment. So a good work environment, yes, creates a good health basis, or for employees to form and have good health habits. Because I read that also, with some of these wellness programs, that the people who get the most benefit out of them are the ones who are already at some level of health and wellness, they're already participating exercise classes are already eating at a level of healthy eating, that they don't think these are just added bonuses. So that I think was my question was, you know, is it under? Is it the obligation of the employer to tell people how to eat well, and how to deal with their stress, and how to get more healthy? Rather than, you know, we do this on our own, we do live in a society where we are independent, and, you know, can take our own initiative for our health. And so I think that was just my question again, do employers have the obligation to make sure that their employees are, quote, unquote, healthy? I think what we're all witnessing now is the corporate management is basically reevaluating this exact question that you're raising, it's a good point, because we're, these employees aren't without a company, you don't have an employee, you don't without employees, you don't have a company. And they're now looking at these, instead of a very D, human, humanized way. They're looking at, you know, the names of people and where they are and what they're doing and, and maybe the mental disabilities that they have and trying to, they're looking at it, whether they're actually taking action to care for them as I'm not seeing that yet. I'm seeing the exact opposite. I'm seeing the same old cases come into my office, the people are just being ruined, it just literally gotten fired. And it's devastating. I mean, they've lost their identity. So I'm not seeing a good, you know, hearted good field approach from companies that don't have that feeling from them. So overall, you don't see a lot of initiative from from employers. No, I don't see it. And I've been criticizing that. That aspect entirely. We have this quiet quitting thing happening now. And I've been shouting out saying while this is why it's happening, and it's because of these old management practices that are only geared to making profit, and they're just driving employees to on happiness levels. Can you explain what quiet quitting is? I actually don't I, I've heard you talk about this. But I don't actually know exactly what that is. It means doing your 40 hours of work, and nothing more. So just going to work, putting your head to the grindstone and leaving work for the day and shutting the door. Correct. That's it, and just getting your paycheck. And it's it's ripping companies apart. Do you think that quiet quitting is adding to this level of chronic stress in the workplace? I think it's a reaction to the chronic stress. It's emanating from, unbelievably it's emanating from the, from people who are 30. And under, those employees are looking at the workspace and saying, We don't like the older way of working has been done of our parents, and then we want something more meaningful. And then something ironically happened. Everybody started quiet quitting, not just the 30 and under. Okay. All right. Well, let's talk about the report a little bit more. So the report did state a lot of facts and figures about the workplace. But it didn't really offer. I think we both agreed, when we read the report, it didn't really offer any concrete solutions as to how to tackle stress from a health perspective, which was interesting to me as a nutritionist, because I know how linked stress is to health. So the report stated, these five initiatives are these essentials for workplace mental health and well being, again, not much emphasis on the specifics of how to achieve these essential goals. But the one that stood out to me as a nutritionist was the connection, and community bucket. And again, this is where cooking with others be it online via Zoom is a great first start, I have seen my classes bring employees together from all over the world. And corporations are rarely ever based in just one location anymore. Everyone needs to know how to cook cooking, and eating well is not just for the upper management. Now the other essentials in the report were protection from harm, which included safety, work life harmony, mattering at work, and opportunity for growth. All of these can contribute to stress. So Mark, what specifically do you see, that needs to change in these areas. And if any of these buckets stand out for you, again, I see these this micro level change that needs to happen. And these are small steps that can happen just like with a having a cooking class or a healthy webinar. What do you say from the legal point of view, that could be changed. Or I have a very strong opinion about this. And it's because I've looked at something for 25 years of doing this. And it's really the trust factor. I'll use my example in my office, everybody is what's called a for cause employee, this at will employment situation, we threw out the door. And the reason why I did that is because I wanted to create more trust that the employee knew when what type of basis they can get fired for not just any day at any hour. So creating the trust, but that's only one aspect. Trust can be created by, you know, the actions of a manager to create a collaborative in safe working environment, that they mattered that the that everybody was equal, not just people who are brown and black work these days, but everybody's equal the work flexibility issue, that's a huge issue that came out of the pandemic. You know, we're working remotely. Obviously, not everybody has that special opportunity to do that. Most people have to a large manager population has to go work in 95 workspaces. And you just can create a trusting relationship whereby your opinion matters, and you basically a community, a family environment that is not one based upon fear. But that is the norm these days experienced by many, many workers, both blue collar and white collar. So it was mattering at work. It was trust that really the trust had been the first part. And I know that sounds like a laudable high goal, but it's really basic. And it really is about communication. And it's not putting fear and presumption of fear out in the workspace. It everybody identifies with trust at work. So I would start there and the report is by the surgeon general didn't provide solutions. And this thing is about mental health, of course, if we can get into those solutions in a second. So I think from a corporate perspective that employers can do a much better job at offering the small things like wellness initiatives to their employees. I think that will help with the trust factor, like you said, right will help with feeling like they matter at work that connection Unity work life harmony, I think it all intermingles with each other. I agree. I know that there's some big benefits of incorporate wellness initiatives. And I think the address with the Surgeon General Report has to say. In fact, the report says that, quote, organizational efforts to invest in workplace wellbeing can in turn support the development of a happier, healthier, more productive workforce and contribute to the success and economic well being of an organization. So again, for me, I teach cooking classes on zoom to a variety, a number of people, and it's been a game changer for some corporations. People can cook from their homes, I can see what they're doing, they can taste what I teach and see that healthy food can be easy and tastes great. I think it's a total win win. How can I add a little thought here, I've been your kind of secret sous chef all along. And I can honestly say, and I'm pitching that people can learn how to cook, I'm actually a better cook. And I can actually cook any recipe that Heather can give me without asking your questions. It just because I practice cooking. And it works. That is true, you have been a very good student over the years. So I've been talking about the micro level moves that employers can initiate, like corporate cooking classes, to help with the well being of their employees. But what if you, from a legal standpoint are just in a toxic work environment, and you just feel like no matter what all these little, you know, cooking classes and things like that are just not helping? Can you just explain what a toxic work environment is? And why this would cause so much stress? And then more importantly, what can people do from a legal standpoint to help themselves? Okay, so let's start with what the Surgeon General define toxic workplaces to be or at least the attributes, the five attributes of the most predictive of a toxic work environment number one disrespectful to non inclusiveness, three, unethical for cutthroat and five abusive behavior. What about discrimination? I mean, I'm sure you I know that you deal with this all the time, sexual discrimination, racism, right, ageism. So in the the Surgeon General's definition, disrespectful, non inclusive, all of these attributes are, they include discrimination they include, you know, on base of any sexual orientation or mental illness, I want to make sure that we all understand what toxic work environment means to the average person is different than how the courts interpret it, the courts interpret it as being a very high bar of really bad, bad behavior by management, by encode coworkers, to the point where it just becomes outrageous, where one would say, That's outrageous. That's what the courts think of it is. Well, that sounds very subjective. That's outrageous. I mean, that that doesn't it's a pretty high bar is that a no law, it is outrageous, I literally have to summarize the law in a couple of seconds, it's literally has to reach that far. Abuse. And that's not what the Surgeon General's, he's addressing any level of abuse, because no lay zero level of abuse, let's all agree is, is the is the is the goal. So I think toxic work environment equals stressful work environment equals a hit to your mental health, and your physical health, which then in turn, comes up with a whole bunch of different lifestyle illnesses, like I said earlier, diabetes, heart disease, amongst you know, the few of them. So what can people do, then from a legal perspective, to help themselves if they are feeling very out of control and helpless at work? I think the first thing you do is start off with educating yourself about what your rights are. Did you know that the average person coming in my office doesn't really understand what their rights are? And I have to spend the time which I'm, I'm very happy to do so through working with clients to explain what the rights are. So get education, don't just assume things and don't what how would they get educated? Well, there are websites out there that people like myself, right, well, right, or podcasts we put out. It's designed to educate you so it's free. So do that. The second level you can ratchet it up is you don't talk to an employment attorney. That's what I do. And it doesn't mean you're hiring a lawyer to go sue anybody. I actually my oath to the client is to preserve your job and I want you to know I'll work behind the scenes and examine everything that happens there. And let's say for example, we're talking about mental illness here, we'll work to try to create a discussion between you and your manager to ask for reasonable accommodations. Like, you know, you need a flexible work schedule to deal with sometimes when you have an exacerbation of your condition. And the employer is obligated to respond to that. And to a point of reasonableness, of course. But asking reasonable accommodations is part of the law. There are essentially federal, state, and local laws that protect employees from disability discrimination and provide for a framework to ask for reasonable accommodations. Now, if you get into a situation where you're working behind the scenes with a lawyer, and it's just not working out with your employer and you get fired, then you really need to up the ante a little bit and think about approaching your employer to ask for severance negotiation, but using the allegations of discrimination that you have and your fact pattern, which will help you develop to essentially assert claims, not a lawsuit, but obtain money, so you can transition to your next job, because that's really what my goal is, is to help you transition with money. And we want you as a last resort not to file a lawsuit. And you have to understand most employers don't want you to file a lawsuit either. So with that knowledge, use this information I've given you to help develop a game plan to address these issues. Once things get really terrible at work and you are fired. There are solutions and hopefully you're not feeling too stressed. Hearing this. Okay, well, hopefully, we're not going to get fired today. Right. And I think that we both recognize that the Surgeon General Report is a big push in the right direction, I think for understanding stress, and mental health and that work contributes to a significant amount of it. But it's just the start. Right? Would you agree with that group, and there is a lot to do and to work on. I talked about small steps such as wellness initiatives in the workplace and Mark, you are talking about what I think is the larger picture of the future of work post pandemic. And we will definitely continue this conversation about stress and how unhealthy it can be on our well being and health, the toxic work environments and how to remedy this bigger topic. The whole employee is what we just coined it, I think we did. So if you feel like you're having a work related problem that is out of your control. The links to Mark's website and podcast, you'll get a ton of information from his podcast will be in my show notes. And you can absolutely reach out and speak to him directly. To help you get some peace of mind, in your work environment. And to take action steps at work. Do you have a wellness committee or wellness initiatives in your workplace? These small steps count, you can reach out to human resources and ask about creating more wellness in your environment. Knowing that chronic stress and health are so closely linked together. I think employers can help people bring their people together through fun activities like healthy online cooking classes. And I will also link my information about that in the show notes. Great. Anything else you want to add? No. We have a lot to talk about. If we do okay. Okay. Well, I hope you enjoyed this very important conversation between Heather myself regarding employee wellness and mental health and a lot of things related to employees in what and how they're treated by employers. This is a very important subject matter a crossroads between employee well being and the way the employers treat employees. And you know that I've been shouting out the rooftops this new agenda that everybody's really has been asking about. So Heather, and I will be doing further episodes, addressing these issues from again, the perspective of the whole employee, because no one else is doing that. And we find it very important to continue that discussion instead of ignoring it. So have a great week of additional informations in the show notes below you'll find access to Heather's podcast, the real food stories podcast, a very informative resource for food nutrition and cooking and we will talk to you next week. Thank you