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Good Leaders accept reality

It is your turn to present the area’s sales results, and you already feel stressed. You know that you are far behind your target, but you also know that you and your team did your best, given the pandemic situation. The problem is that forecasts haven’t been adjusted to this new situation; Hence in this meeting, there is not one area manager having reached their goal. You take your turn, you present the results; the sales director interrupts you, screaming “I don’t accept these results. You have all been incapable to do your jobs. Clear the room, I need to think about how to deal with you all.”

In this not-so-fictional scenario, we witness a series of bad decisions: first, the meeting is too stressful for team members, hence their decision-making skills are tainted. Secondly, at some point in the past, someone failed to accept the -harsh indeed- situation of the pandemic and didn’t update the forecasts. The sales team was trying to reach unrealistic goals, amidst a stressful setting. And, finally, the director, during the meeting bursts in screams “not accepting” these results.

What we have here is a failure to accept reality. At some point in our lives we all need some time to cope with changes, but, when it comes to business, accepting reality becomes a leadership skill. Otherwise, we delegate failure, jeopardizing the morale of the team and the performance of our company at large. A good leader has the clarity of mind to separate hopes and wishes from real situations and the power to deal with them. After all, denying to accept what is going on will not change it. Neither will our persistence in denial make things right. Good leaders can take a step back, take a deep breath and look at things bravely and as they are.

The manager of our example couldn’t control himself. He was resisting reality, and he projected his frustration to the team. In the end, nobody was happy. Accepting reality takes courage and sincerity. A good leader knows how to calm themselves and avoid panic or aggressive behaviours towards the team. They can separate their thoughts and emotions and give time to their mind to create some space between thinking and acting.

In other words, good leaders are mindful.

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Employer support has a direct impact on the health and resilience of employees, according to a Mercer survey

  • The pandemic has had a material impact on the mental, financial and physical health of employees.

    • Over half of US employees report feeling some level of stress in the last year, nearly one fourth say they experienced mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, a fifth are financially worse off, and nearly a fifth feel less physically healthy or fit.
  • However, 53% of employees feel their employer has provided good support during the pandemic – and, compared to those who have received little support, they are less likely to have experienced the pandemic’s impact as mostly or entirely negative. 
  • 45% of employees who feel they have received good support from their employers during the pandemic say they are less likely to leave their company as a result. New York, September 13 – As the pandemic continues to unfold, the ability of employers to have a positive impact on employee health and resiliency cannot be understated and is one of the most important findings of the latest Mercer “Health on Demand” survey released today. Since the onset of COVID-19, when employers stepped up to provide essential support, it made a difference.  Employees who say they received good support from their employers are much less likely to view their personal experience of the pandemic as mostly or entirely negative compared to those who received little or no support – 25% vs. 49%.  And almost half (45%) of those receiving good support say they are less likely to leave their job as a result.Survey results confirm that the pandemic has had a material impact on the mental, physical and financial health of employees. Over half of US employees feel some level of stress in the last year; nearly a fourth of US employees say they experienced mental health issues such as depression or anxiety; a fifth are financially worse off; and nearly a fifth feel less physically healthy or fit. Low-wage earners were more likely to experience each of these negative impacts – and less likely to feel supported by their employers during the pandemic.  These findings reinforce that employers have room for improvement when it comes to understanding the diverse needs of their employees and providing resources to support the well-being of the entire workforce.

    “There is nothing more important to the health of a business than the health of its people and the communities in which that business operates. COVID-19 challenged our global healthcare system, but the ability of employers to have a positive impact on employee health and resiliency is one of the most important findings from our 2021 Health on Demand survey,” said Martine Ferland, President and CEO, Mercer. “The research is clear – employers that place health and humanity at the center of business transformation will build a more energized and adaptable workforce that is better able to persevere through periods of crisis.”

    The 2021 report lays out several key findings and implications for supporting employee health and well-being:

    Provide varied and valued benefits: Well-being is at the core of an employee’s relationship with their employer. The amount of support, type of support, and ability to personalize that support matters. The ability to customize a package of benefits to meet individual needs is highly or extremely valued by 55% of employees. Variety matters as well: the more benefits and resources that are offered, the more likely it is that each employee finds something of value.  Of employees offered 10 or more health and well-being benefits or resources by their employer, 52% say that their benefits are a reason to stay with their company, compared to only 32% of those offered 1-5 benefits or resources. In addition, employees receiving 10 or more benefits are more confident that they can afford the healthcare they need – and more likely to agree that their employer cares about their health and well-being.

    Enable digital access to healthcare: COVID-19 necessitated that healthcare be delivered indifferent and innovative ways. One-fifth of employees used telemedicine for the first time during the pandemic, and another 23% increased their usage. Of those trying telemedicine for the first time, the great majority – 72% – intend to keep using it.  The survey also registered a sharp increase in employee interest in other digital health solutions, ranging from apps that help find healthcare providers to virtual reality tools for self-care.  Compared to the 2019 Health on Demand survey, a greater percentage of employees in the 2021 survey found digital solutions to be highly or extremely valuable. The ability to access care virtually has gained momentum and become a valued option for employees. Survey results reinforce that employers need to plan for a future in which most healthcare journeys include virtual visits and digital healthcare supports.
    Reduce stress and anxiety: Notably, US employees are more stressed than those in many other countries. While 59% of US employees say they feel some level of stress, one-quarter report being highly or extremely stressed. That’s the highest percentage of the 13 countries included in the survey.  In the UK, for example, only 16% of employees feel highly or extremely stressed.  With 48% of US employees rating employer support for mental health as highly or extremely valuable, employers that provide robust mental health and counselling benefits will foster greater loyalty and create a stronger bond with their employees.  However, 40% of employees say it is difficult to find and access quality mental health care.  It’s even harder for some employees: among low wage earners, that number rises to 47%.  Employees identifying as LGBTQ+ place the highest value on employer support for mental health – 61% say it is highly or extremely valuable, but nearly as many (58%) say quality mental health care is difficult to find and access.
    Clearly, employees have unmet needs when it comes to mental health care. Half (49%) of all US employees say that programs that reduce the cost of mental health treatment are highly or extremely valuable.  Employers looking to provide affordable mental health care support should note that many employees would highly value virtual counselling via video chat with a therapist (42%), virtual counselling via text with a therapist (38%), and even virtual mental health advice via AI-powered text chats, with no human involved (31%).

    Tackle healthcare inequities: Healthcare inequality persists, with higher-earners better able to access medical coverage, income protection and mental health counselling than low-earners. Participants with household income (HHI) at or below the US median are significantly less likely to feel confident they can afford the healthcare their family needs (60%) than those with HHI above the median (83%).
    Unfortunately, the people who need support the most are the least likely to receive it. Those with HHI above the median reported having better access to benefits through their employers: the survey revealed a gap of 21 percentage points in access to employer-sponsored medical coverage between those with HHI at or below the median and those with HHI above the median and a 19-point gap in access to life insurance.   Employers should consider a strategy that targets benefits to the groups that need them most. In a time of labor shortages, a strategy for achieving greater equity may also give employers a competitive advantage.
    “Every good leader knows that when employees feel they are treated well they are more likely to stay, be engaged, and flourish,” said Kate Brown, Mercer’s Center for Health Innovation Leader, “With significant shifts in attitudes towards mental health, sustainability and digital healthcare over the last year, employers must evolve their health strategy to reflect a modern workforce that prioritizes flexibility, choice, a caring culture, and digital access to support their health and well-being.”

    About the survey

     The 2021 Mercer Health on Demand survey asked 14,000 employees across 13 countries across the globe about what they want when it comes to their health and well-being. Country and regional results were weighted to the true sample, with 2,000 in the US. The resulting report captures the voice of the employee to inform debate about employee health and wellbeing preferences, digital delivery of benefits, inclusive and environmentally-friendly solutions that meet ESG agendas and mental health solutions.


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Defining productivity in a hybrid world

According to a newly published survey, the new, hybrid workplace is pressing us to redefine productivity and how we measure it. Obviously, when working from home new KPIs are called for we cannot measure productivity by the number of emails sent. To do so, managers need to observe and understand what motivates remotely working employees and, mostly, what are the major challenges this new status brought up. Based on a case study running at Microsoft, the “hybrid paradox” revealed that employees tend to work more when at home than when they were in the office. And, while one might think that this is a boost in productivity, looking a bit further in the future proves this wrong.

As the levels of burnout skyrocket and social isolation deeply impacts our mental health, staff well-being is a matter of retention and sustainability. The research findings propose 3 tiers of initiatives for the newly defined productivity:

Well Being

We have talked about it a lot and we keep return here, as management scholars place tremendous focus on practices that secure employees’ mental health. The role of the manager, today, shifts from monitoring performance, to motivating home workers to set boundaries and adopt new habits to keep them calm and focused. Rather than joggling between the laptop and the kids, employees should have the freedom to choose their working hours and make the most out of the flexibility that remote work allows us. From Solas VR point of view, gifting a subscription to our VR meditations is active proof of this shift of focus. Note that microbreaks emerge as a major productivity booster, so inviting your staff to meditate for few minutes during the workday will bring visible results, as empirical and research findings support.


 The same case study at Microsoft shows that “the biggest reasons employees want to go back to the office are collaboration and social connections”. Yet, since it not sure when (or if) the whole team will finally return to the office team bonds need to be strengthen otherwise. What the researchers propose is to enact team rituals for everyone to participate. So, starting the day with a meditation on our app or entering a virtual meeting room are definitely some ideas tailored to the new needs.


This is one way we can monitor productivity nowadays: the levels of innovation as a result of “people getting together to exchange and prototype ideas and brainstorm solutions, balanced with time for individual focus and reflection”. In other words, innovation is the outcome of well being and collaboration. Having said that, the approach of Solas VR to productivity is a synergistic solution, producing results in the two aforementioned areas but also help team members to stay focused and keep an open mind.

New circumstances call for new measures and a new mindset towards productivity and corporate standards.

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How virtual reality can help to recruit and train staff


By Bernd Debusmann Jr

For many who leave the military, entering the civilian workforce can be a shock, with an office culture devoid of the routine and chain-of-command that shapes a life in uniform.

“There’s a loss of structure, and a loss of all those things that held daily activities together,” recalls Tristan Carson, a US Marine veteran. “In the military, your days are dictated for you. You know what you’re going to be doing.”

To make matters worse, the culture shock that often comes with this transition from military to civilian life is compounded by a communication problem.

For instance, many employers outside of the military cannot comprehend the myriad of acronyms soldiers may initially struggle to stop using in their daily work. Some veterans may also struggle to explain how their experience can be applied in a non-military environment.

One potential solution comes in an unlikely form: virtual reality (VR).

For most people VR is nothing more than a fun gimmick to enhance the experience of playing video games at home however the technology is now starting to be used in some exciting new ways.

In Mr Carson’s case, he took part in a pilot scheme testing a programme called Artificial Intelligence Designed for Employment (AIDE). It was devised by Onward to Opportunity, a free career training programme created by the University of Syracuse for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).

Using an Oculus Rift headset, which will soon be distributed at 19 military bases throughout the US, the initiative briefs soldiers on their transition to regular life as well as on how to conduct a virtual interview.

The technology includes a “jargon analyser” and examines its users’ speech patterns to detect things like nervousness and hesitation.

“It will tell you, for example, how much jargon and military terminology you used. [Participants] get a full transcript and feedback,” says Bryan Radliff, who spent 31 years with the US army and now manages the CyberVets programme, which trains veterans in IT skills.

“They need to know that they are explaining things adequately to a hiring manager so as not to create confusion,” he adds. “Then programme coordinators and transition specialists can sit with the individuals to talk about their experience, or work on their interviewing skills.”

This programme is just one of a number of initiatives that are using virtual reality to recruit or train workers on everything from job interviews to complex mechanical processes, and even wellness initiatives.

These programmes, in turn, form a growing part of the global virtual reality market, which Fortune Business Insights estimates will grow to $57.55bn (£40.19bn) by 2027, up from just $3.1bn (£2.24bn) in 2019.

Tom Symonds, the chief executive of online training platform Immerse, says the use of VR has a number of benefits for companies, such as giving them the ability to conduct training sessions or complicated assessments with employees around the globe, without the need to fly out personnel to do in-person sessions.

VR is also often better at maintaining the interest and focus of employees, Mr Symonds adds.

“Generally speaking, the accepted way of developing talent within an organisation has been some kind of classroom training-based experience and some kind of PowerPoint presentation,” he explains. “I think there is a growing awareness that this old blend can be enhanced by new technology.”

As an example, Mr Symonds points to multinational oil and gas company Shell, which uses VR to train and assess its widely-dispersed workforce, some of whom are located in remote offshore facilities.

“We see virtual reality as another instructional method that provides teams with a safe place to practise skills, and more importantly, fail within a safe and controlled environment,” says Brent Kedzierski, head of learning strategy and innovation at Shell.

“When learners are not in the classroom, they can continue to perform VR simulations to practise and reinforce intellectual and behavioural skills,” Mr Kedzierski adds. He says the “scenario-based training simulation exercises” are designed to be repeated at increasing levels of complexity, without the support of an instructor.

While the use of VR in recruitment and training pre-dates 2020, Mr Kedzierski said that the benefits were starkly highlighted during pandemic-induced travel restrictions.

Being able to familiarise new joiners with the company, anytime and anywhere has been a big advantage. “We’re able to give learners a physical orientation to our assets when they don’t have the luxury of being in the actual control room, mess hall or sleeping quarters.”

However, industry insiders warn that the VR technology still has limitations.

Sophie Thompson, the co-founder and chief operating officer of VirtualSpeech – a UK-based VR education platform which focuses on skills such as interview technique, sales and public speaking – says that while the firm’s revenues grew 300% in 2019 and 2020, “user habits simply aren’t there yet”.

“It’s quite a jump from looking at a computer or phone and observing the digital world, to then becoming an active participant right in the middle of it,” Ms Thompson says.

“People aren’t used to putting a headset on their face and being completely immersed and teleported to another location or experience, and some people feel vulnerable doing that,” she adds. “This is already starting to change as the headsets become more sophisticated.”

Kevin Cornish, the chief executive of Moth + Flame, a VR company that has partnered with the US Air Force to provide training aimed at combating suicide and sexual assaults, said that “once people adopt this training, it’s tough to go back to computer-based training”.

“This is just so immersive and engaging that companies will definitely be adding this to their overall training solutions,” he says.

Mr Cornish adds that the fact that younger employees in particular are quick to pick up headsets, and feel comfortable, bodes well for the future of VR in the workplace.

“As these generations move into positions of management and leadership that will likely accelerate the adoption of the technology, but we are seeing a lot of enthusiasm for the product with Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers,” he says.

Immerse’s Tom Symonds, for his part, says that much of the future growth of VR will be a result of companies turning to the technology to help them manage the wellness and mental health of their employees.

Already, Immerse has partnered with meditation app Solas VR to create a library of VR meditations aimed at boosting mental wellbeing and brain productivity. The partnership include a selection of 360-degree videos featuring idyllic Irish nature scenes to relax in, as well as breathing exercises and other features.

“The technology has the ability to transport you to a different place, take you out of your daily work stress, and put you in an environment that allows you to be calm,” he says. “That’s a brilliant use of the technology.”

“Its great quality is the ability to focus you on something 100%,” Mr Symonds adds. “Once you are in the headset, you are focused.”

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Returning to the Workplace with Mental Health in Mind

An Employer’s Guide for Managing Workforce Mental Health in the Next Stage of the Pandemic by

More cars clogging metropolitan-area roadways during commute hours, accelerated plans to welcome employees back to offices, and a federal push to reopen schools are all signs of an imminent return to the workplace for many workers. A year into the coronavirus pandemic, growing numbers of people worldwide are getting vaccinated against COVID-19, paving the way for more offices and worksites to reopen their doors. Whether employees return to their workplaces full-time, on a hybrid schedule, or not at all will depend on an array of factors, and planning for reopening during a still-unfolding pandemic is new and uncertain territory for employers and employees alike. Amid all of the upheaval brought by this pandemic over the past year, one thing has become clear: The mental health effects of this crisis are significant, and they won’t disappear upon returning to the workplace.

As a result, businesses must prioritize workforce mental health as they prepare to bring employees back to their shared workplaces. Employers looking to shore up workers’ mental health and well-being–and therefore their ability to be productive, let alone thrive–have a vital role in ensuring access to care and support during this still- uncertain time. The good news? There are highly effective, evidence-based treatments that are helping people manage and overcome their mental health struggles, even amid COVID-19, and technologies that facilitate virtual care, which can be vital for those who continue to stay home. Offering access to these resources, as well as communicating regularly with your workforce about the support available to them, can make all the difference for workers in distress. As you prepare for employees’ return to the workplace, the following guidance and insights from Lyra clinicians and human resources leaders can help you better respond to workers’ needs during this transition and position you to emerge from this crisis with a healthier, more resilient workforce.

“It’s causing a number of employers to really rethink, as we manage the immediate impact of COVID-19, how do we support employees as they return to work, and the longer impact on mental health is going to be a huge and unfortunately ongoing theme in the future.”
— Jeff Brodsky, CHRO, Morgan Stanley

Set the right tone from the start

Offer empathy and gratitude
Approach return-to-work discussions with a positive tone that conveys compassion as well as thoughtful leadership. To show that you understand the mix of emotions employees are likely feeling, it’s important to acknowledge the types of personal and professional challenges people are facing and communicate the efforts you’ll make to allow for flexibility during the return-to-work process.
Reinforce this message by letting your team know how much their work is appreciated and valued, while highlighting the shared mission that unites each member of the team. In stressful times, employees need to be reminded that their work is valued and serves a bigger purpose. Over time, you can bolster this message by freely acknowledging and praising employees for excellent work or for meeting goals under difficult circumstances.

Communicate next steps and rationale, early and often
Credible information is a powerful antidote to anxiety. Consistent communication from your company’s managers, leadership, and human resources team can reduce some of the uncertainty employees may feel during this stressful time. Without concrete information, our minds naturally fill the gaps–often with imagined scenarios that exacerbate anxiety. Even while plans are in development, share regular updates to your workforce across multiple channels (this might include emails, newsletters, talking points for managers, allhands meetings, and videos from leadership) to ensure that messages are highly visible and reinforced.
In your communications, be sure to:

  • Provide clear rationale for business decisions about the return-to-work timeline, policies, and safety protocols. Employees are more likely to accept policy decisions when they understand the underlying process and considerations behind the decisions. Be sure to include any references and sources that helped inform your decisions.
  • Offer reassurance from corporate leaders regarding the steps the company is taking to ensure everyone’s health and safety. Be empathetic and considerate in your tone. Signal that the company understands the high stakes involved and is proactively prioritizing employee health.
  • Include specific guidelines on social distancing in the workplace and necessary preventative measures to reduce health risks, such as mask-wearing. Concrete guidance for employees on how they can mitigate the risk of illness at work can boost their sense of control in the situation, which helps reduce worry and anxiety.

Also, if your business has had to make difficult financial decisions affecting your workforce, such as laying off or furloughing employees, be as transparent as possible in communicating the rationale and reality behind these decisions. Use this as an opportunity to tell unaffected employees how much you value them.

Take the pulse of your employees

Your return-to-work plan for your workforce will be more successful and well formed if you can first understand employees’ immediate needs and concerns. Consider launching a pulse survey to capture feedback and give people an opportunity to voice their worries. These types of surveys can go a long way toward making your workforce feel heard, especially when they may be feeling disconnected. After collecting feedback, remember to share a summary of the results and information about how the company will address major themes reported in the survey.

Consider these questions as a starting point for soliciting feedback from your workforce.

For employees:
• How do you feel, personally, about returning to the office, on a scale from 1 (not eager) to 10 (very eager)?
• How would you feel, personally, about returning to the office, after getting the coronavirus vaccine, on a scale from 1 (not comfortable) to 10 (very comfortable)
• What actions would you like to see us take before you’re comfortable returning to the office?
• Are there conditions that are unique to you that we should be aware of, regarding returning to the office?
• How effective do you feel you have been at working remotely, on a scale from 1 (not very) to 10 (very)?
• If given the option, how would you feel, personally, about continuing to work from home, on a scale from 1 (not eager) to 10 (very eager)?
• Concerning equipment, support, and conditions, how well prepared are you to work from home?
• What are your top concerns if returning to the workplace?
• What are your top concerns if continuing to work from home?

For managers:
• How has working from home impacted your team’s effectiveness, on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 10 (very much)?
• What are your top concerns for your team if they return to the workplace?
• What are your top concerns for your team if they continue to work from home?

Offer benefits that can ease the return-to-work transition

For companies that don’t already offer a dedicated mental health benefit, or benefits tailored to working parents, family caregivers, and commuters, there’s never been a better time to start. With all of the stressors your employees are experiencing right now, providing supportive benefits can make a big difference in their ability to return to the workplace.
In addition to common benefit programs such as paid time off, child care, and commuter benefits, considering flexible work arrangements is more crucial than ever to help workers who are still dealing with the uncertainty of pandemic times. Meanwhile, research shows that more than half of employees— 55 percent in a recent survey by consulting firm PwC and 61 percent in an IBM survey—would prefer to work remotely most of the time, even post-pandemic.

Consider providing dedicated mental health supportIf your company is seeking ways to boost employee mental health, you’re not alone–73 percent of employers in our latest survey said their organizations planned to invest in this area in 2021. Plans to expand employee mental health support appear to be a response not only to the significant mental health impacts of the pandemic, but to employers’ growing recognition that health insurance and traditional employee assistance programs (EAPs) are insufficient to address the behavioral health needs of today’s workforce.
Supporting employees not only through the transition back to the office but on an ongoing basis may mean partnering with a dedicated mental health vendor that offers easily accessible, comprehensive care.

“For many, the transition to shelter-in-place has been isolating, but we can’t underestimate the additional strain of readjusting to going back to work. A crisis of this magnitude has far-reaching implications on our collective mental health, and the impact of economic recession on depression, anxiety, and substance abuse has been well established. It’s important that companies consider programs with demonstrated benefits
in addressing these areas, which have long been stigmatized. Thankfully, we’re seeing many companies prioritize behavioral health, and we’re happy to partner with companies that continue to push this space forward.”
– Dr. Sanjay Basu, Director of Research and Population Health at Collective Health

Remove practical barriers to returning to work

In addition to expanding mental health support and following safety protocols advised by OSHA related to creating a safe and healthy physical environment, consider these additional benefits to help employees ease into a new routine.• Child care and PTO benefits—Many working parents may still lack access to the child care support they relied on pre-pandemic. Consider offering child care benefits, flexible schedules, and more paid time off.
• Commuter benefits—Employees may depend on public transportation to commute to work and now feel uncomfortable with the potential risk. Consider offering a stipend to cover the cost of more private transportation, such as ridesharing.
• Return-to-work programs and disability insurance—For some, returning to work may be challenging if job modifications aren’t available and an employee needs to take extended leave. Disability insurance is another way companies can help alleviate increased financial stressors for employees.

Offer flexibility for vulnerable employees, parents, and caregivers
While there are specific roles and functions that may be required to return to a physical workplace, for many others, it may be less clear when it’s the right time to return. If you’re developing a phased approach, offer specific guidelines for these populations requiring special considerations.

Vulnerable populations:
Individuals who have certain chronic health conditions, are immunocompromised, or are 65 or older, or those who live with or care for people in these groups have a heightened risk of contracting the coronavirus and therefore may not be advised to return to work right away–especially if they haven’t been vaccinated. Consider additional precautions and flexible work schedules to accommodate these employees.

Parents and caregivers:
Working parents and caregivers may face additional challenges in managing returning to the workplace and caregiving responsibilities without their usual support systems. It may feel overwhelming to imagine how they can make this transition logistically, especially amid worries about their health and that of their loved ones.

There may be circumstances when in-person meetings are more efficient and productive than virtual ones. Provide managers with specific guidance on the appropriateness of in-person meetings and how to conduct them safely, if necessary.

Encourage employees to take time off
After a year of cancelled vacations and in many cases, longer hours at work, many employees are in need of a break, even if pandemic travel restrictions remain. Encourage employees to schedule time off and consider formulating policies in advance around how paid time off (PTO) requests can be managed to minimize disruption. Some companies are also offering “COVID-19 leave days” as an additional benefit to support people with limited PTO. And for employers with a “use it or lose it” PTO policy, now is a good time to consider amending it to give workers who have accumulated lots of unused vacation days a chance to take PTO at their convenience.

For workers who may need extended leave, consult your disability insurance provider to ensure the coverage you are providing is appropriate for these unprecedented times. They can also offer guidance and programs that can help employees return to work sooner.

Offer support for coping with anxiety as COVID-19 restrictions lift

Coping with uncertainty means accepting that there is so much outside of our control. Even as we take swift and needed action societally to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, we can only do so much to control the behavior of those who still may not take the situation seriously. This is a scary reality, but it doesn’t help to deny it. In fact, research shows that simply acknowledging how difficult uncertainty is can make it easier to bear. Ultimately, though, that energy is best focused on the things you can control, including how you support employees who may be experiencing emotional distress at work.

Be on the lookout for mental health symptoms
Data show that the prevalence and severity of depression, anxiety, and substance use have surged since the spread of COVID-19 began in the United States. With the return to shared workspaces, managers will be better positioned to spot signs of emotional distress or behavioral problems that were less visible when working from home or if the employee was on leave.

Also important to note: Mental health symptoms that emerged or worsened while employees were working remotely will not suddenly resolve once they’re back in the office. (On the contrary, research suggests that the pandemic’s mental health impacts are likely to last for years). Review our guidance for how to identify signs of concern in the workplace and talk with employees about wellness and appropriate support resources.

Be proactive about checking in
In Lyra Health’s survey of more than 1,000 workers at the end of 2020, 42 percent said they would feel uncomfortable discussing their mental health with their manager. It’s critical that managers consider strategies that make employees more comfortable with speaking up if they’re facing challenges, in addition to responding to signs of concern.
• Individually: Check in casually with team members throughout the week about how they’re doing, how they’re managing their work, and what support you can offer. This demonstrates your care and concern, while providing opportunities for them to share unseen struggles.
• For team meetings: Consider designating the first five to 10 minutes for a “wellness check” by asking people to share how they are feeling and what they’re doing to support themselves. You can start with something like, “What’s something you’ve tried this week for self-care?”

Be a steady leader, even under stress

Returning to the workplace means a period of readjustment for everyone involved, even in less exceptional circumstances. Meanwhile, as you support your team members with this transition, chances are, you’re dealing with your own stress behind the scenes. People leaders are not immune to the cumulative effects of the pandemic that can erode patience and intensify emotions. But managers can help ease the impact of those emotions on their management style by using the following four strategies.

1. Check the stress levels. Instead of focusing on managing conflict, first try to lower the risk of it occurring unnecessarily. Before meetings with your team, try to assess three things:
• Your own stress level
• The stress levels of others involved
• The level of stress you expect the situation to provoke
If the stress level in two or more of those areas is high, consider the pros and cons of rescheduling until cooler heads prevail, or changing the scope or amount of content discussed in that moment. You don’t want to avoid difficult conversations altogether, but it’s better to engage when you’re emotionally equipped to handle the situation and you have a plan to help minimize the stress that could follow.

2. De-escalate your own emotions. When you tune into your own stress levels, try to notice what you’re feeling in that moment. The first step to de-escalating your own reaction is to acknowledge and label your emotion (for example, “I’m feeling anxious right now”). Then, think through some ways to feel calm or more positive in that moment. Options could include taking a walk for a change of scenery, a pleasant distraction such as reading something funny or inspirational, or a relaxation technique such as deep breathing. Whatever strategy you choose, the goal should be to shift your attention away from your stressors toward something more enjoyable to give yourself a momentary break.

3. Take an “empathy first” approach. Everyone views situations through their own unique lenses. Our perspectives are colored by our prior experiences, personality characteristics, cultural points of view, and even our mood. Disagreement, disappointment, or frustration with colleagues often occurs when we don’t try to see the situation through someone else’s eyes. When discussing difficult topics, or during tense moments, step back and try to empathize so you don’t take it personally when others are upset. You can practice empathy with your employees through the following steps:
• Focus on what you know about this person and the challenges they face. Think about their
circumstances and what resources they have to handle them. Consider that this person is likely trying to do their best.
• Ask open-ended questions to show that you’re curious and willing to learn more.
• Reflect back what they’ve shared by summarizing what you heard and asking if it’s accurate. This shows that you’re invested in understanding their point of view.
• If you get frustrated with the person, consider some alternative explanations for why they’re behaving in a way that bothers you. This can prevent you from taking the situation personally when it likely has more to do with factors unrelated to you.

4. Respond intentionally. When responding to someone during challenging moments, think beyond what will make you feel good in the moment and instead, think long-term. Remember, being right isn’t everything. Whenever possible, respond to an employee in a way that promotes preserving the relationship and encouraging their best work. This can include reminding the employee of your shared goals, letting them know what you can do to support them toward those goals, and clarifying their role in next steps after the conversation. You can increase your employee’s sense of professional effectiveness by reiterating their skills and strengths that will help them in those next steps. In especially tense situations, the best course may be pausing the conversation if it’s unproductive and revisiting it in the near future. Regardless of how upset you are, always avoid blaming, name-calling, or dismissiveness, which will undermine your authority and foster mistrust and resentment.

“People have a lot more on their minds related to their own safety and their family’s safety, so we’re just trying to encourage people to take the space they need when they’re feeling
impacted. Our goal isn’t just to send people home at the end of the day, it’s to send people home healthy.”
— Sheila Krueger, Head of Global Benefits, Zoom Video

Offer a decision-making framework in the face of uncertainty
Even if many of your employees continue working remotely for some time, many of their communities are reopening. As local and state officials issue updates to previous guidelines, it will take everyone time to interpret and apply the new rules to each person’s vaccination status, balancing personal risk tolerance, the need for human connection, and addressing their basic needs. A framework for making these decisions can help people ease their anxiety, cope with uncertainty, and manage their discomfort.

Help simplify tough decisions
These days, everyday routines now bear significant health implications, which can lead to decision fatigue– fast. Something as simple as ordering takeout from a restaurant now involves abstract tradeoffs of risk and reward. When faced with difficult decisions, our minds may become preoccupied with making the “right” choice. It’s helpful to simply recognize that there is no perfect way to make these decisions, and there will be risk involved regardless.
Given the pace of life and varied responsibilities we all balance, there’s not time to scrutinize every choice. Investing the time to proactively develop a personalized framework for making these decisions–and sharing it with loved ones–could help avoid a lot of stress and potential conflicts with others who may have a different perspective. Rather than treating each decision in isolation, you can rely on your framework for guidance, while being willing to update your thinking if the situation changes..

Let your values be a compass
Everyone’s overall risk tolerance varies. Each person will weigh tradeoffs differently according to their values and particular circumstances. For example, some will return to church as soon as possible because spirituality or community is deeply meaningful to them, whereas others who are passionate about nutrition or supporting local agriculture may venture out to get organic produce from the farmer’s market. Rooting our decisions in values, or the things that give our lives a sense of meaning or purpose, helps us prioritize what we care about most and cope with the discomfort we may encounter along the way.

Hold space for contradictory truths
Our minds prefer things to be black and white to make decisions easier and reduce cognitive dissonance. COVID-19 is a serious illness, and even with more vaccinations administered each day, the best way to avoid contracting it is to stay home and avoid physical contact with others. Yet, staying home indefinitely– particularly after a year of isolation–carries psychological, social, and economic consequences. Both these statements are true, and we don’t have to pick one or the other. Holding these truths together can help us make more thoughtful decisions and recognize that our discomfort in making them is a natural response to this difficult situation.

Remember that your decisions affect others too
This pandemic has shown how dependent we all are on one another. Our health depends on the choices of many individuals. It’s easy to focus on how our choices will impact us individually, such as weighing the probability of contracting the virus. Even for those who are fully vaccinated, it’s still essential to take measures to protect yourself and others, as experts are still learning how vaccines impact the spread of COVID-19. If you are in a position of influence—for example, as a parent, community leader, or manager—consider how others may look at your behavior as a model. It’s still imperative to recognize our interdependence as we collectively adapt to new and unfamiliar transitions in a pandemic.

“This past year was hard on people who were thrown into unusual work circumstances–taking meetings from quiet closets and having kids popping up on screen has become the new normal. We retooled our wellness benefit early on to allow people to expense things that would help support them at home. We’ve also been focused on talking more about mental health to reduce stigma and making sure people know what benefits exist that will help support them.”
— Kim Ramos, Director of Benefits, The Mosaic Company

Moving forward together
A year into this unprecedented global health crisis, we are all still doing our best to adapt during these extraordinary times. The mental health implications of the pandemic are real and can impact employees’ chances of making a successful return to work. However, by recognizing the unique challenges your employees face and taking action to address them, you can provide the support they need to thrive as they readjust to a new normal at work.

When your teams need more support
Make sure to work with and promote your EAP to connect employees to available mental health care services. If your company offers Lyra as a benefit, employees can register for care and find a provider that’s right for their needs today.

Find the whole guide here: LYRA-Return-to-Work-Guide-2021

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Be kind to yourself.

Have you ever thought that it is you that gets in your way and holds you back? Take a moment to remember when we discussed about your inner critic and how to change your relationship with him/her (read the article here). This little voice that sets obstacles and demotivates you. Now it is time to realize this is how you end up treating yourself in the least kind way.

Let’s take a common example- you are overwhelmed by the workload. What do you usually do? Perhaps you start working harder and harder, you push yourself to the limits of burnout. But, even then, you don’t stop. You almost forget to breathe, you bring yourself in a status of extreme anxiety.  Now, think that your best friend faces the exact same situation as you do. What would you be your advice? What are the chances to tell her/him to stop, take a deep breath and take it easy?

So, the obvious question here is why we choose not to be kind to ourselves. Why don’t listen to our body, when it says “stop, I am exhausted” and we keep pushing. The answer is personal and it worths some of our time. But, there is an underlying situation: we have lost contact with ourselves. We are too connected to everyone and everything that we don’t have time to connect with ourselves. We face the Fear of Missing Out for anything happening out there, and we finally miss what is going on in here. The urban life, the tones of information, the noisy life we are living in are to blame for this disconnection. Let’s revert it.

Try to commit to a daily routine, a very simple one: every morning as soon as you wake up, before you grab your phone to check your emails and social accounts, take a deep breath. Exhale and take one more. Give yourself a moment to enjoy this calmness and start your day more focused. This simple exercise falls into the basic motivation theory- that we tend to repeat what makes us feel good.

Also, find some time for yourself: if you can’t have an hour, just take some minutes- actually we have solid data that a microbreak can boost your mind more than you can imagine. Put your VR headset one (eg Oculus ), choose among Meditation area, Breathing exercises or Wisdom space and allow yourself to be found in the magestic nature of Ireland. Be kind to yourself, enjoy the moment and the feelings and try to go there where everything is calm and serene. Take some distance from your thoughts and allow your mind to unwind. In few minutes you will be back to reality but with a refreshed focus and a clearer mind, ready to set priorities and be kind to yourself.


Photo by Dee @ Copper and Wild on Unsplash

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Solas VR teams up with PixoVR- this is how we announced it

Extended Reality (XR) Solutions Provider and Content Partners Look to Meet Exploding Global Demand for XR 


ROYAL OAK, Mich. — Enterprise extended reality (XR) solutions provider, PIXO, which launched its groundbreaking XR content distribution and analytics platform, PIXO Apex, in late summer 2020 has announced a major expansion of its content library. Among the array of new offerings are XR modules that go beyond the virtual reality (VR) training category the company has helped define since 2016. This week, PIXO will add new mindfulness and wellness experiences developed by its Dublin, Ireland-based content partners at Solas VR — The Meditation Space, The Breathing Space, and The Wisdom Space, each ‘space’ containing a range of experiences to help users reconnect, refresh, and recenter themselves. 

Also available now in the PIXO Content Collection are new VR training titles relevant to multiple industries, including Lockout/Tagout, Ladder Safety, Fire Prevention (Construction Site), Hazard Recognition (Construction Site), Housekeeping (Construction Site), COVID-19 PPE Usage & Handwashing, Pole Top Rescue, First Aid, CPR/AED (Adult & Infant), Fire Extinguisher Training, and Low Voltage Rescue. CEO Sean Hurwitz says new content is critical to PIXO’s success.

“The demand for new and relevant enterprise XR content is profound,” Hurwitz said of the industry’s rapid growth, which PIXO is experiencing firsthand. According to a recent study by PwC, the XR industry is expected to contribute an eye-opening $1.5 trillion to global GDP by 2030. But that growth in demand creates supply side issues, Hurwitz added. “Our customers are in constant need of new modules, for training and otherwise. As a business, we have to meet that demand or we’ll leave clients wanting. That’s why having partners like Solas VR is critical.”

To satisfy the exploding demand for XR content, Hurwitz said, PIXO has leveraged a different kind of business model. Enabled by his company’s content-agnostic platform, which can distribute virtual, augmented, or mixed reality content from virtually any source, PIXO seeks collaboration rather than competition with other XR content creators. While PIXO still develops premium XR content itself, the company has increasingly utilized a growing network of third party XR developers — PIXO Content Partners — to curate relevant, high quality XR titles which contributors can monetize on the PIXO Apex platform through revenue-sharing agreements.

“The logistical challenges of COVID dumped jet fuel onto a fire. Remote work, training, and collaboration isn’t a ‘want’ anymore, but a ‘need’ for enterprises, so offering engaging new content is essential,” Hurwitz said. “Companies that were competitors two years ago are our partners today. By offering their content on our platform, they gain access to new audiences and revenue streams while we give our clients what they need. It’s a win-win.”

For its part, Solas VR is also looking for a ‘win-win’ by offering the PIXO audience a different kind of XR experience: immersive 360-degree nature videos. The range of offerings are ideal for what the company calls “micro-breaks”, which provide everyone from new hires to C-suite executives a welcome respite from the daily grind. These micro-breaks allow users to reset and refocus at any time during the day, improving performance in the short term and building resilience and mental health in the long term. They also provide practical breathing techniques and a range of guided meditations to help employers and employees navigate an increasingly complex world.

“Our focus is mindfulness and wellness; putting users in a better state of mind,” said Solas VR CEO Stephen Pitcher. “This partnership isn’t just about training, but helping to create healthier employees and companies overall. XR allows people to feel more connected — not just with this technology, but with nature and themselves.”

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Team Mindfulness: Together we go further

Mindfulness is the most recent checkpoint any company and every team leader/manager should focus on how to run a healthy business. As already discussed, a few mindful minutes reduce stress, improve focus and productivity, increase resilience and overall job satisfaction.

Yet, recent findings stretch the importance of team mindfulness, and how it exponentially multiplies the outcomes. As an old saying says “alone you’ll go faster but together we’ll go further’’ and that is the whole meaning of team mindfulness. It is not enough for a single employee to try and be mindful while coping with stress, workload and tight deadlines. If more than one individual –ideally everyone- become more self-aware, less judgmental, and more of a team player, then the team is actually working as a team and thrives more. If more than one is concerned about the wellbeing of the others, and if the tasks and goals they share are being addressed by everyone in the room, that will change the whole dynamic of the organization.

We take as a given that work satisfaction results to better performance and an overall empathetic attitude towards the company. The pandemic outburst came to underline the importance of engaged employees and the value of job security. From this perspective, it is now the company’s turn to prove itself as a caring and empathetic employer.

The benefits of team mindfulness

Three are they key aspects of individual mindfulness that apply to team mindfulness too: allowing, inquiry and meta-awareness.

Allowing  can be otherwise called “accepting whatever comes without saying if only”. When a difficult situation, a problem, a mistake arises everyone’s first thought is “why God is this happening to us? Who is to blame?” This mindset, though, will not take us anywhere. The new framework of team mindfulness, yet, allows everyone in the team to just accept whatever happened, proceed with what they have, don’t try to blame one another, but instead work together for an immediate solution.

If every time something bad happens the whole team work to surpass it together, then every individual will feel safer and trusted in the working environment and probably will be more open to speak his/her fears, feelings and thoughts. So yes, team mindfulness facilitates better communication and problem solving.

Inquiry is about stopping for a moment and just grasp the atmosphere in the room. Are your colleagues seem bored or indifferent? Do they get in a call but don’t even spell a word? In other words, have you noticed how often we are not really present in the moment? The obvious role of mindfulness here is to teach everyone how to stay focused and live the moment with all senses. Even in a dull call, there is always something new we can learn or feel, or something interesting to notice. Yet, an extra “bonus” especially for meetings is to introduce a ritual that nurtures the sense of community and team: ask your team members to put on their headsets, select the same landscape and sounds and meditate together for few minutes.

Meta awareness is thinking outside of the box. Outside of yourself and outside of the company –as if you were a customer and not an employee. It is so common to forget how customers feel about our services and this where the gap between perception and reality lies. This is a soft skill that can be learnt, but it is based to an open, not biased mind- exactly the state mindfulness brings us. As allowing gets established through team mindfulness, meta-awareness can become the source of competitive advantage for a team or even the whole company.

As managers, authors and researchers shift their focus to team mindfulness, we are happy that our VR app is the exact answer to this new inquiry. Our latest collaborations with training platforms and the constantly updated content of the app address -in an ideal way- the new subject of team mindfulness.

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Businesses after the pandemic: how priorities change

There has been a lot of discussion about the after Covid-19 era and how businesses will need to adopt and adapt as society and value systems change. This pandemic is expected to define a whole generation, the way 9/11 did, as a deep shock in terms of what we thought it was given.
The corporate world has been challenged, also. Remote working, grieving employees, stakeholders, at large, that didn’t care about consumption while their world was falling apart.

Now that the storm calms down, managers and CEOs are called to revisit their priorities and practices. As Hubert Joly, former CEO of Best Buy recently put it: “The profound multifaceted crisis we are facing has made it even more obvious that business and society cannot thrive if employees, customers, and communities are not healthy.” But, as we were forced to learn during the previous year, health is not only about fever and cough; stress levels and burnout incidents skyrocketed and a massive explosion of depression diagnoses is expected in the near future. Humans reached their psychological and emotional limits as they experienced, many of them in first hand, the harsh reality.

These voices preaching about the value (or even necessity) of mindfulness as a habit are finally heard. Each one of us needs to find some inner peace that will become the fuel and the refugee in this effort to cope with the new reality. Taking some time off- even some minutes off- letting the noise go and focusing on our mere existence through breathing can restore our faith to life and make every day easier. At work, corporate wellness practices emerge as higher priorities, as security empathy and understanding are becoming key leadership practices.

What we read, what we learn and what we believe converge at this: we (as members of a society) have given far too much attention to what happens outside. Now it’s time to take care of our minds and souls and find new (or very old) ways to cure our wounds. After all, there is always a calm, safe place in our minds. Perhaps now it’s the time to visit it.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash