Meet John Cronin: The Founder of John’s Crazy Socks

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John and his dad hugging

During Fall 2016, John Cronin began his senior year of high school and like most high school seniors, John began looking at his options for the career world. He was currently studying retail and customer service, but he also wanted to work in an atmosphere that was creative and enjoyable. Not liking any of the options that were currently available to him, John decided that the best way to find his ideal workplace was to create it himself.

That’s when John decided to team up with his father, Mark Cronin, who created small businesses online. After bouncing around creative business ideas that they could start, John decided that he wanted to start a sock company that specifically sold “crazy” socks.

“I wore crazy socks my entire life,” John said of his choice in business. “They are fun, colorful and creative. They let me be me.”

And thus, John’s Crazy Socks was born, an online sock company specializing in the exact brand of sock that John had come to love himself. The two got right to work in setting up their e-commerce platform, finding sock suppliers to support John’s dream and even shot some commercials that they posted to Facebook.

Despite technical difficulties on their first day, John’s business took off from day one. Orders began piling in from local members of his community who were made aware of the new business from the company’s Facebook videos. With such a positive response, John decided to step up his customer service game and make the first batch of deliveries extra special. He packaged each sock order in a red box accompanied with candy and a handwritten thank you note and made many of the first deliveries personally. As he arrived on the doorsteps of his customers with their orders, his customers began to post their purchases on social media, creating exposure and eventually attracting a larger demographic. In the first month of business, John’s Crazy Socks had shipped over 450 orders and earned over $13,000 in revenue.

But even with the excitement and success that came, the two businessowners decided that they wanted to do more than just sell socks, they wanted to help the organizations that were closest to them. So, from the beginning to now, 5% of all sales are donated to the special Olympics, one of John’s favorite organizations. From there, the duo decided that they wanted to expand their advocacy and create “awareness” themed socks. 10% of profits from these specially-themed socks support awareness efforts for Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, Alzheimer’s, breast cancer and more.

“Everything we do is designed to spread happiness,” their mission statement reads. “The more we can do for others, the more we can make people happy, the better off we are.”

Entering their fifth year of business, John’s Crazy Socks is thriving now more than ever. Their inventory has expanded to include home apparel, mugs, greeting cards, accessories, masks and customizable socks. Customers can even sign up for a sock subscription club that delivers a new pair of crazy socks to your doorstep every month.

Additionally, the business strives to follow its four business pillars: Inspiration and Hope, Giving Back, Socks You Can Love and Making it Personal. Through these four pillars, John and Mark have additionally began to take part in speaking engagements, facility tours and social events where the two men advocate for people with differing abilities, especially in the workforce.

“We learned three things,” Mark said of his business venture with his son, “People want to buy socks; people want to buy socks from John, and this young man and this old man can sell socks.”

To order your own pair of socks and to learn more about the business, visit johnscrazysocks.com.

The first IRONMAN with Down syndrome turns his winning moment into a growing movement for inclusion

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The first IRONMAN with Down syndrome races forward for inclusion

By Julia M. Chan, CNN

Chris Nikic’s journey to becoming an elite athlete began with a single step. What kept him going was a single recipe for success: get “1 percent better” every day.

“One percent — stick with that goal,” Chris says. “If you stick with that goal, (you) can succeed and be a successful person.”

Last fall, Chris showed the world the power of small but consistent improvement, setting a Guinness World Record as the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete an IRONMAN triathlon: a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride, ending with a 26.2-mile marathon. But crossing that finish line was only the beginning.

Now, the 22-year-old Special Olympics Champion Ambassador from the Orlando area is on a mission to promote inclusion and highlight human potential.

Early hurdles

From birth, Chris faced a number of cognitive, physical, and sensory challenges, according to his mother, Trish Nikic. He underwent open-heart surgery at five months old and years of therapy to help with things like eating, speech, and balance.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle he encountered, though, was how other people perceived him.

“People treated me different,” Chris recalls. “They were telling me that I can’t do that or can’t do this.”

When Chris was eight, he and his family found a supportive and welcoming community in Special Olympics Florida. Inspired by his athletic older sister, Chris eagerly took to sports like basketball, golf, and track.

Their true benefits went beyond exercise for the growing boy. Athletics “gave him an opportunity to be socially included with others,” Chris’ father, Nik Nikic says.

Leveling up

As Chris got older, he became more sedentary while recovering from a series of ear surgeries. After Special Olympics Florida launched its triathlon program in 2018, Chris’ parents encouraged him to try it to get in shape and have fun.

“The first time he ever did a sprint with Special Olympics, he came in dead last,” Trish says. “But you know what? Chris was happy.”

Chris soon outgrew his first triathlon coach. Dan Grieb, the captain of a local triathlon club, came on board to help take Chris to the next level. In a year and a half of training, Chris went from the couch to a sprint 14-mile triathlon.

Chris set his sights on a half IRONMAN race scheduled for May 2020. When Covid-19 forced organizers to scrap the official event, Chris and his team held their own race. CNN affiliate Spectrum News 13 followed Chris’ journey, ultimately ending with him qualifying to compete in the full IRONMAN competition in Panama City.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

Next Big Thing: ‘Eternals’ Star Lauren Ridloff on Becoming Marvel’s First Deaf Superhero

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“I’m hoping that more people are going to be able to dream bigger,” says Lauren Ridloff of playing the first deaf superhero in a Marvel film. COURTESY OF ERIK CARTER

BY ABBEY WHITE, The Hollywood Reporter.

Being a superhero wasn’t part of Lauren Ridloff’s plan. The Eternals star wanted to be a children’s book author before an American Sign Language tutoring gig for the director of Broadway’s Children of a Lesser God led to a starring role in the show’s revival.

Theater, she says, is a “much more natural and inviting medium for deaf actors,” and the production came fully staffed with a toolbox ready to support its deaf and hearing artists. But coming off that critically praised performance in 2018, Ridloff wasn’t sure she wanted to keep acting. TV and movies weren’t a place she had seen herself represented growing up, instilling the idea that it couldn’t be part of her dream.

Yet, after scoring The Walking Dead as her first TV role, Ridloff found herself in demand. Now, she’s set to star in the Chloé Zhao-directed Marvel movie that will take her and deaf representation to marvelous new heights when it releases on Nov. 5.

During her transition from stage to screen, Ridloff says she’s felt like she wanted to prove she’s easy to work with, something that has led to her not always advocating for what she needed as an actor. But being on this massive Marvel production full of A-listers who “know exactly what they want” helped change her outlook.

Ahead of The Eternals’ anticipated release, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Ridloff about her journey from stage to screen, how working on a blockbuster as an emerging actor changed her perception of self-advocacy on set, and why the Eternals cast wasn’t sure what to expect in the final cut.

Your journey to acting was a bit of being in the right place at the right time. Before that Broadway break-out, what were your acting ambitions and how have those changed?

My goal growing up was to write a book. That’s why I studied English and creative writing in college, and that is a big reason I started teaching. I wanted to write children’s books. I felt that the best way to understand how a child thinks in their mind is to be with them all day. So I started teaching because of that. I didn’t dream of acting. I didn’t want to pursue acting. I had some acting experience — your basic high school play, or I was a part of a performance group in college, a dance group. I just didn’t see enough people on the screen like myself. Every once in a while, like maybe Marlee Matlin, I saw on the big screen, and then years went by, and you would see somebody appear on one episode of a TV show or another episode there. Acting on Broadway came so completely as a surprise to me. It wasn’t part of my plan.

And, yes, absolutely, my goals have changed since I’ve gotten into acting. When I was on Broadway, my manager was interested in pursuing and looking for other projects, and I told him to then I didn’t know if I wanted to continue acting. Maybe this was just a one-time thing. I wasn’t even sure if it was my thing. But then, when I saw the theater audience full night after night, and I saw the lines forming at the back door, I realized that my classroom just got a lot bigger. I made a bigger impact here. It seems like I can act, and I enjoy the opportunity to fully immerse myself in a character, which is very connected to reading and writing. When you write, you need to drop into that character and how it represents itself on the page. So I felt like it was a very natural leap into acting because of that.

Click here to read the full article on The Hollywood Reporter.

Strength Training May Benefit Gross Motor Function in Children With Cerebral Palsy

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Strength Training May Benefit Gross Motor Function in Children With Cerebral Palsy

By Brandon May, Neurology Advisor

Strength training is associated with improvements in muscle strength, gait speed, balance, and gross motor function in children and adolescents with spastic cerebral palsy, according to study results published in Clinical Rehabilitation.

Prior research on the effects of physical training on improving functional mobility and gross motor skills has been mixed. For example, some studies have found that with muscle strengthening, muscle strength improves but not function. Other studies have reported improvement in motor activity and functions such as gait. The objective of the current study was to review the most recent data on the effect of strength training on function, activity, and participation in children and adolescents with cerebral palsy.

The meta-analysis included 27 randomized controlled trials which evaluated muscle strength training in children, adolescents, and young adults (age range, 3-22 years) with spastic cerebral palsy. In the pooled cohort of 873 patients, a total of 452 patients underwent strength training, while the remaining patients participated in a different physical therapy technique or were assigned to a control group with no physical therapy.

Researchers excluded 3 studies, yielding 24 studies in the meta-analysis. According to the researchers, there were significant standardized mean differences that were in favor of the strength training techniques vs other physical therapy techniques or control in terms of improvements in muscle strength at the knee flexors, muscle strength at the knee extensor, muscle strength at the plantar flexors, maximum resistance, balance, gait speed, Gross Motor Function Measure (global, D and E dimension), as well as spasticity.

A limitation of this meta-analysis, according to the researchers, was the high levels of moderate risk and high risk of bias among analyzed studies. Additionally, the studies in the meta-analysis did not assess the long-term effect of muscle strength training in this population. Given this limitation, the investigators noted that children with cerebral palsy should perform “high-intensity strength training regularly to maintain and ideally accumulate benefits over time.”

Click here to read the full article on Neurology Advisor.

Amy Purdy–Living Beyond Limits

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Amy Prdy collage of images including snowboarding and dancing witht he stars

By Brady Rhoades

If you were to read Amy Purdy’s medical history, you’d be introduced to a journey that, for many, could feel incredibly daunting.

If you were to check out her accomplishments as a snowboarding champion, a renowned motivational speaker, a dancer, an actress, a model, a podcaster, a New York Times bestselling author and a philanthropist, you’d be introduced to her toughness and will.

And if you watched her shredding the slopes on her way to medaling in the Paralympics or ball-rooming her way into America’s hearts on “Dancing with the Stars,” you’d start to see the big picture.

Purdy’s mantra? “Live beyond limits.”

“Live beyond limits became my mantra very organically. I personally never liked being told what I could or couldn’t do,” said Purdy, 41. “I always wanted to figure out what the possibilities were. Snowboarding, for example, felt impossible at first, and I could have just walked away but I got creative, made my own feet and figured out a way to not just do it again but to excel at it. I’m so grateful that I never gave up.”

The Fight of Her Life

Amy Purdy dancing with Derek Hough in front of live audience outside
Adaptive snowboarder, Paralympian, motivational speaker and actress Amy Purdy poses for a portrait while snowboarding. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Born in Las Vegas in 1979, Purdy was just 19 years old when she contracted bacterial meningitis. She was given a two percent chance to survive. She lost both of her legs below the knees, lost both of her kidneys and her spleen (she later received a kidney transplant from her father).

Purdy met the challenge head-on, weathering unthinkable surgeries and rehab, teaming with medical experts, designing her own prosthetic feet and legs (through trial and error, sometimes with chunks of wood) and never losing sight of her goals.

“There’s always going to be something preventing you from your goal, whether it’s a loss of legs or anything else, but you’ll never be happy if you surrender to circumstances,” she said.

Purdy’s immediate goal after her initial diagnosis was to snowboard again. After getting prosthetic legs, she achieved that. It turned out to be the start of big things.

Purdy eventually won a bronze medal in snowboarding at the 2014 Paralympics and a silver in 2018. She formed a non-profit organization — Adaptive Action Sports — along with her husband, Daniel Gale, who is also a competitive snowboarder, to get snowboarding included in the Paralympics. Adaptive Action Sports, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, targets those with physical disabilities who want to get involved in action sports (snowboarding, skateboarding, surfing). Their organization, founded in 2005, also trains athletes with physical disabilities to qualify for the U. S. Snowboard Team. Purdy believes part of her mission is helping others with health challenges.

Amy Purdy snowboarding
Adaptive snowboarder, Paralympian, motivational speaker and actress Amy Purdy snowboards at Arapahoe Basin. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
“It was an evolution from losing my legs, relearning to snowboard, helping others learn to snowboard and finally getting it into the Games.”

Purdy began snowboarding seven months after she received her prosthetic legs. About a year after her legs were amputated, she finished third in a snowboarding competition at Mammoth Mountain.

On Her Own Two Feet

In 2003, Purdy was recruited by the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) as a spokesperson. At the time, she didn’t live far from the CAF headquarters, as she and Daniel had moved back to San Diego to pursue surfing.

In San Diego, she continued her pre-amputee profession as a massage therapist. She also started working for Freedom Innovations, a prosthetic feet manufacturer, as its Amputee Advocate.

On top of all that, Purdy has numerous television and film credits. In 2012, Purdy and her now husband Daniel Gale participated on the 21st season of The Amazing Race.

After nearly winning the first leg of the race, they were the second team eliminated and finished in 10th place out of 11 teams.

In 2014, Purdy was a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.” Paired with five-time champion Derek Hough, Purdy was the first double amputee contestant to ever appear on the show. Hough was, at the time, fresh from winning his fifth Mirrorball trophy and did not plan on coming back to the show.

Amy Purdy signs copies of On My Own Two Feet at Bookends Bookstore
Amy Purdy signs copies of On My Own Two Feet at Bookends Bookstore. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
However, he changed his mind when Purdy joined the show as a contestant. Purdy wowed judges from the get-go, and kept improving. She never received a score lower than 8. She received her first perfect score (40 out of 40) for her eighth dance, the Argentine tango, after having an intense back injury the week prior. She eventually made it the finale, where she finished as a runner-up to Olympic gold medalist Meryl Davis.

In 2015, Purdy was featured in a Super Bowl advertisement for the Toyota Camry. The ad showed Purdy snowboarding, dancing and adjusting her prosthetic legs to a voiceover of Muhammad Ali’s “How Great I Am” speech.

Purdy has penned a memoir titled, On My Own Two Feet: From Losing My Legs to Learning the Dance of Life (HarperCollins), created a podcast (“Bouncing Forward”) and carved out a lucrative and inspirational career as a motivational speaker.

Among her accolades, along with two Paralympic medals, are being named one of ESPNW’s Impact 25 and one of Oprah’s SuperSoul 100 visionaries and influential leaders.

Purdy says that healing is never a linear process; it’s full of ups, downs, twists, turns, setbacks, victories.

And it’s lifelong.

Moving Forward

After experiencing medical setbacks — including an injury to her popliteal artery — in 2019, Purdy has undergone 10 more surgeries, including amputation revisions on her left leg.

“Phase one of my journey was all the surgeries and trying to find stability with the injury and phase two is getting legs that I can live comfortably in,” she said of her latest plight. “Once they are comfortable, then I’ll be able to snowboard again.”

Amy Purdy poses with her husband
Daniel Gale (L) and his wife, paralympic athlete Amy Purdy, attend the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Meantime, she continues to move forward on myriad other projects. She continues, in other words, to live beyond limits.

“I’m currently excited to be planning the second season of my podcast “Bouncing Forward,” and I’m always looking for new ways to help others live their possibilities,” she said.

“I have a handful of projects I’m working on in TV that I can’t talk about yet and some that are online. With COVID, I went from doing many live speeches to doing virtual speeches, which has been fantastic, although I want to go to even a deeper and more immersive experience with my community.

I’ve been so grateful to connect with so many amazing people in real life and on social media that I’m really inspired to create ways to connect even deeper.

That’s what life is about: living, learning and growing, and helping others do the same.”

Click here to read the article in the digital magazine.

It’s Disability Employment Awareness Month – learn best practices for respectful interaction

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October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and this year’s theme, selected by the U.S. Department of Labor, is “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.”

By Donald Thompson, WRAL Tech Wire

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and this year’s theme, selected by the U.S. Department of Labor, is “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. By creating diverse, equitable and inclusive work cultures, we open the door for more people to do great work and move the country forward.

At this moment in our economic recovery, all industries are in need of great employees, yet people with disabilities are still twice as likely to be unemployed and also more likely to be underemployed compared to those without a disability. 26% of all American adults — or 61 million people — have a disability, but as of August 2021, only 35.6% of people with disabilities who are of prime working age (ages 16 through 64) are actively employed, compared to 76.8% of people without disabilities in the same age range.

In other words, there is a tremendous, untapped talent market of capable professionals who are ready to fill your open roles, once you commit to disability inclusion. It’s also important to point out that inclusion benefits the whole workforce, not only people with disabilities, since research shows that a robust disability inclusion program makes it easier for all employees to perform to their highest potential. And, companies that commit to disability inclusion have, on average, 28% higher revenue, double the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins than their peers.

How can you get started toward a more disability-inclusive culture? First, learn best practices for respectfully communicating and interacting with people who have disabilities. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to find the best ways to lead every one of your employees, but it’s not uncommon for people to feel uncomfortable and unsure as they begin to practice disability etiquette.

The overarching point to keep in mind is that etiquette is less about doing the right thing, because that can vary from person to person, and more about making individuals feel comfortable and respected. Two great resources I’ve consulted on my own journey to become a more inclusive leader are understood.org and the DC Office of Disability Rights. Below, I’ll share a few of their guidelines for disability etiquette and ways you can put them into practice this month.

Create a safe space for conversations

Employees are not required to disclose a disability and may fear that, when they do, they will be seen as unreliable or receiving special treatment. While you shouldn’t inquire about a disability if the person hasn’t openly shared it with you, you can create a space where employees feel supported and able to ask for what they need to be most productive. If you ask employees to self-identify their disabilities, conditions, invisible illnesses, learning differences, and more, make sure you also explain why their sharing is important — because you are committed to providing what they need for success.

Build a culture of trust and transparency by speaking and acting with empathy and by personalizing your leadership style to each person’s strengths and needs. Some employees may thrive with a regimented daily plan of tasks and priorities while others may thrive with flexible work schedules and self-set deadlines. Encourage each person to reflect on their own working style and name the things they need to be excellent.

Don’t make assumptions

People’s needs and preferences for treatment may differ, even among those with identical conditions. It may be tempting to assume you know what someone with a disability can or cannot do, but only they know that for certain. As a guiding principle, remember this phrase from the movement for disability rights: Nothing About Us Without Us.

Always start by asking the person for their input on what will help them be most productive. Sometimes, a simple adaptation to their workspace or work schedule can make a big difference in a person’s productivity as well as increase their feelings of belonging and trust.

Ask before you help

Should you offer to help an employee with a disability? If you’re not sure, ask them. As Rebekah Taussig writes in Time magazine, well-intentioned people can often overstep personal boundaries by offering assistance before asking if their help is necessary or even wanted. Respect each person’s bodily autonomy and privacy, and accept that they will ask for what they need. Even if you think you are trying to help, you should never touch a person or their assistive devices without their expressed permission.

Before you rush to assist someone with a disability, Taussig suggests you pay attention to the other person’s body language: “What signals are they giving you? What expression do you see on their face? Even if this isn’t intuitive for you, pay attention to their eyes — are they avoiding your gaze or looking toward you like they want to engage? If you really can’t tell, you can ask, but if someone says, “No thank you,” listen.”

Be gracious with yourself and others

As a forward-thinking leader who is trying to create an inclusive work culture, it’s common to feel like you may be judged for any slight misstep. You’re going to make mistakes, but don’t stop trying. Be open to learning, admit what you don’t know, and keep moving forward. By doing so, you will create a culture of trust for your employees and set the stage for real change.

When someone asks for an accommodation to perform their job, it shows they feel comfortable bringing their whole self to work. And, you benefit from their increased productivity, collaboration, problem solving, and decision-making skills. By working together to remove barriers, you will enrich and improve the workplace for everyone.

If you aren’t already investing in disability inclusion as a strategic imperative, this month offers a great chance to start your engines and learn the business benefits of hiring more people who have disabilities. Reach out to my team at The Diversity Movement or our partners at Ablr, who can help you get started toward a more accessible, inclusive workplace.

Click here to read the full article on WRAL Tech Wire.

Lululemon pledges $75 million to wellbeing programs

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Lululemon Athletica inc. has committed $75 million to supporting physical, mental, and social wellbeing programs by 2025

By Anne Stych, Biz Journals

Lululemon Athletica inc. has committed $75 million to supporting physical, mental, and social wellbeing programs by 2025, starting with a $5 million investment in three nonprofits, and through the launch of a Centre for Social Impact.

Lululemon said that through the Centre, it will invest in removing barriers through philanthropy, research, and advocacy, amplifying its existing social impact programs, with a goal to positively impact more than 10 million people.

The three organizations that will receive initial grants are:

  • The Girls Opportunity Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation that empowers adolescent girls around the world through education.
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the United States’ largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Lululemon will help lead the establishment of a 9-8-8 crisis number for mental health and suicide prevention services.
  • The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.

“At Lululemon, we believe everyone has the right to be well and we know the path to wellbeing is possible when tools, support, and resources are accessible to all,” said Esther Speck, Lululemon vice president of global sustainability and social impact.

Lululemon said that since 2016, its Here to Be program has supported more than 750 non-profit organizations with grants amounting to $25 million, and that its Peace on Purpose program has provided thousands of UN workers with mindfulness and self-care tools for their physical and mental health since the collaboration’s launch in 2019.

Click here to read the full article on Biz Journals.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2021

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man in wheelchair with woman sitting next to him looking at laptop

The theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) 2021, “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion,” reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

NDEAM is held each October to commemorate the many and varied contributions of people with disabilities to America’s workplaces and economy. Browse our website for ideas and resources for employers, community organizations, state and local governments, advocacy groups and schools to participate in celebrating NDEAM through events and activities centered around the theme of “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.”

The 2021 NDEAM poster is available now!

Plan NDEAM Observances

What can YOU do to celebrate NDEAM? There are lots of ways! Explore the ideas below designed for:

NDEAM every day

How about a plan for Every. Single. Day. of National Disability Employment Month? Start here with day one and plan for 31 days of NDEAM.

Source: dol.gov

It’s a New Era for Mental Health at Work

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illustration to describe mental health. A person in a suit with water color design covering their face

By Kelly Greenwood and Julia Anas, Harvard Business Review

When we published our research on workplace mental health in October 2019, we never could have predicted how much our lives would soon be upended by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Then the murders of George Floyd and other Black Americans by the police; the rise in violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs); wildfires; political unrest; and other major stressors unfolded in quick succession, compounding the damage to our collective mental health.

One silver lining amid all the disruption and trauma is the normalization of mental health challenges at work. In 2019, employers were just starting to grasp the prevalence of these challenges, the need to address stigma, and the emerging link to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). In 2020, mental health support went from a nice-to-have to a true business imperative. Fast forward to 2021, and the stakes have been raised even higher thanks to a greater awareness of the workplace factors that can contribute to poor mental health, as well as heightened urgency around its intersections with DEI.

Although employers have responded with initiatives like mental health days or weeks, four-day workweeks, and enhanced counseling benefits or apps, they’re not enough. Employees need and expect sustainable and mentally healthy workplaces, which requires taking on the real work of culture change. It’s not enough to simply offer the latest apps or employ euphemisms like “well-being” or “mental fitness.” Employers must connect what they say to what they actually do.

Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report in partnership with Qualtrics and ServiceNow offers a rare comparison of the state of mental health, stigma, and work culture in U.S. workplaces before and during the pandemic. This follow-up study to our 2019 Mental Health at Work Report uses the same metrics and includes additional questions and segmentations on the effects of the pandemic, racial trauma, and the return to office; it also fleshes out our less comprehensive study from April 2020. As in 2019, we collected responses from 1,500 U.S. adults in full-time jobs, with statistically significant representation across racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, membership in the LGBTQ+ community, generational divides, primary caregiver statuses, levels of seniority, and other factors. Here’s a summary of what we learned and our recommendations for what employers need to do to support their employees’ mental health.

The Employee Mental Health Experience

When we examined the data on how employees experience mental health challenges, we found that prevalence increased from 2019 to 2021 and that younger and historically underrepresented workers still struggle the most.

Increased attrition. More employees are leaving their jobs for mental health reasons, including those caused by workplace factors like overwhelming and unsustainable work. While the 2019 rates of attrition were already surprisingly high, they’ve gone up even more since then. Sixty-eight percent of Millennials (50% in 2019) and 81% of Gen Zers (75% in 2019) have left roles for mental health reasons, both voluntarily and involuntarily, compared with 50% of respondents overall (34% in 2019). Ninety-one percent of respondents believed that a company’s culture should support mental health, up from 86% in 2019.High prevalence. Mental health challenges are now the norm among employees across all organizational levels. Seventy-six percent of respondents reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, up from 59% in 2019. While that’s not surprising due to the many macro stressors, it supports the notion that mental health challenges affect nearly all of us on a regular basis.
Our 2019 study showed the same prevalence of mental health symptoms across all levels of seniority, debunking the myth that successful leaders are immune. Perhaps as a result of having to lead through this unprecedented era, our 2021 study showed that C-level and executive respondents were now actually more likely than others to report at least one mental health symptom. Let’s finally put the stigma to rest and admit that mental health challenges affect us all.

Widespread disclosure. More employees are talking about mental health at work than in 2019. Nearly two-thirds of respondents talked about their mental health to someone at work in the past year. This is an important step in the right direction, especially in terms of reducing stigma, which affects willingness to seek treatment. That said, only 49% of respondents described their experience of talking about mental health at work as positive or reported that they received a positive or supportive response, which is comparable to 2019 rates.DEI implications. Demographics continue to play a strong role in workplace mental health, with younger workers and historically underrepresented groups still struggling the most. Millennials and Gen Zers, as well as LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx respondents were all significantly more likely to experience mental health symptoms. Like Millennials and Gen Zers, caregiver respondents and members of historically underrepresented groups — including LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx respondents — all were more likely to leave roles for their mental health and to believe that a company’s culture should support mental health. In fact, 54% of all respondents said that mental health is a DEI issue, an increase from 41% in 2019.

The Company’s Role in Employee Mental Health

Employees don’t experience mental health challenges in isolation. Employers play a role, too — both good and bad.

Certain workplace factors negatively affected mental health. The way we’re working isn’t sustainable, and it’s hurting our mental health. Until recently, the conversation has primarily centered on preexisting mental health conditions and the related stigma. Increasingly, the focus is on work’s effect on everyone’s mental health.

An overwhelming 84% of respondents reported at least one workplace factor that negatively impacted their mental health. Younger workers and members of underrepresented groups were affected even more severely. When looking across all respondents, the most common factor was emotionally draining (e.g., stressful, overwhelming, boring, or monotonous) work, which also worsened since the pandemic. This was closely followed by work-life balance.

The other workplace factors that most notably worsened since the pandemic were poor communication practices and a low sense of connection to or support from one’s colleagues or manager, perhaps unsurprising in a predominantly remote workforce. The workaholism that characterizes much of U.S. culture has only been exacerbated by the challenges of the pandemic, leading to increased employee burnout.

Companies increased investment in employee mental health — sort of. Companies are finally investing more in mental health support out of necessity, but they still haven’t achieved true culture change. Our respondents noted that the availability of many resources provided by employers grew since the pandemic, including extra paid time off, company-wide mental health days, and mental health training.

In addition, employees used accommodations to a much greater extent — especially those that provided day-to-day support. These included extended or more frequent breaks from work and time during the workday for therapy appointments. Utilization rates for other accommodations included time off and leaves of absence, which saw no growth from 2019. This highlights a contrast in what employees used versus what employers provided, which were often more temporary, Band-Aid solutions. In fact, the “resource” most desired by respondents (31%) was a more open culture around mental health.

Companies took steps toward culture change. While there is still a great deal to be done, some companies have made progress on the culture front, likely fueled by the pandemic. Fifty-four percent of respondents believed that mental health was prioritized at their company compared to other priorities, up from 41% in 2019. In addition, 47% of respondents believed that their company leaders were advocates for mental health at work (compared to 37% in 2019), and 47% believed that their manager was equipped to support them if they had a mental health condition or symptom (compared to 39% in 2019). These are both potentially results of increased training and discussion.

However, the added awareness surprisingly didn’t translate across all dimensions. There was a 5% decline in respondents who felt comfortable supporting a coworker with their mental health and a comparable percentage in who knew the proper procedure to get support for mental health at work.

Employers benefit from supporting mental health at work. Employers that have supported their employees with the pandemic, racial injustices, return-to-office planning, and/or mental health overall have better mental health and engagement outcomes. For example, workers who felt supported with their mental health overall were 26% less likely to report at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year. Respondents who felt supported by their employer also tended to be less likely to experience mental health symptoms, less likely to underperform and miss work, and more likely to feel comfortable talking about their mental health at work. In addition, they had higher job satisfaction and intentions to stay at their company. Lastly, they had more positive views of their company and its leaders, including trusting their company and being proud to work there. This reinforces the tie between workplace culture and its ability to support mental health at work when done intentionally.

What Employers Need to Provide

Employers must move from seeing mental health as an individual challenge to a collective priority. Given all the workplace factors at play, companies can no longer compartmentalize mental health as an individual’s responsibility to address alone through self-care, mental health days, or employee benefits. Here’s what they need to provide to make real progress.

Culture change. Culture change requires both a top-down and bottom-up approach to succeed. Workplace mental health is no different — our recommendations from 2019 still hold. Mind Share Partners’ Ecosystem of a Mentally Healthy Workplace Framework illustrates that everyone has a role to play, starting with leaders and managers.

Leaders must treat mental health as an organizational priority with accountability mechanisms such as regular pulse surveys and clear ownership. It should not just be relegated to HR. Leaders should serve as allies by sharing their own personal experiences to foster an environment of transparency and openness. Due to fear and shame, even companies with the best mental health benefits won’t see an uptick in usage unless a stigma-free culture exists.

Organizations have to train leaders, managers, and all employees on how to navigate mental health at work, have difficult conversations, and create supportive workplaces. Managers are often the first line in noticing changes and supporting their direct reports. Building an environment of psychological safety is key. Mental health policies, practices, culturally competent benefits, and other resources must be put in place and (over)communicated.

Investing in DEI to support employee mental health and address its intersectionality is also crucial. Black and AAPI employees have been hit especially hard by the trauma of systemic racism and violence. Workers who are caregivers — often mothers — have faced school closures and the associated burnout. Our study found that allowing employees to discuss challenging social and political topics at work is also part of a mentally healthy culture. At the grassroots level, employees should be empowered to form mental health employee resource groups (ERGs) and other affinity groups, become mental health champions, and start peer listening initiatives.

Click here to read the full article on the Harvard Business Review.

Senate will grill tech execs after report that Instagram can harm teens’ mental health

LinkedIn
Senate will grill tech execs after report that Instagram can harm teens’ mental health

By Lauren Feiner, CNBC

A Senate panel plans to bring tech executives back to Capitol Hill following a revealing report from The Wall Street Journal about the impact of Facebook’s Instagram platform on teens’ mental health.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, announced the hearing in an interview on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” Blackburn said the hearing would take place in a couple weeks and would include representatives from Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Snap and Google-owned YouTube.

A spokesperson for Blackburn said a hearing date and the specific attendees from the companies have not yet been confirmed.

The Journal’s report, which the outlet said was based on internal documents from Facebook, revealed that the company had been aware of significant negative impacts of its photo-sharing Instagram app on teenage girls. At a March hearing, CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in response to a question about children and mental health, that research he’s seen shows that “using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits.”

While the research cited in the Journal’s report did not show entirely negative effects, it seemed to cut against Facebook’s narrative about mental health. That angered several lawmakers across parties and chambers of Congress, some of whom called for Facebook to abandon plans to create a child-focused Instagram product.

“What we know is a lot of this anecdotal information that we had from parents, teachers, pediatricians about the harms of social media to children, that Facebook was aware of this,” Blackburn said. “They chose not to make this public.”

Blackburn said her staff met Friday with a whistleblower who has worked for Facebook, and who had access to documents on which the Journal reported.

Although both the House and the Senate have hauled tech CEOs to Congress several times over the past couple years, Blackburn said she expects this hearing to stand out because of its bipartisan nature. She said she is working with the subcommittee’s chair, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on the effort and the two will look at rules around how social media is able to market to children, as well as statutes meant to protect them online, like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) Rule.

Representatives for Blumenthal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We are determined to do something in a bipartisan way that is going to protect our children in the virtual space, that will allow them to be able to use the internet, do Zoom school if they need to, do research, but to be protected and to have their privacy protected when they are online,” Blackburn said.

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

How companies can make their remote working inclusive for the deaf and blind

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How companies can make their remote working inclusive for the deaf and blind

By Jonathan Keane, CNBC

As remote working takes a greater hold amid the coronavirus pandemic, a wealth of opportunities can open up for people that may not have existed before.

For example, less of a focus on the office can draw more people with disabilities into the workforce.

But for companies, there are still a great deal of considerations to take into account when creating an inclusive remote environment for blind and deaf people.

Martin O’Kane of the Royal National Institute of Blind People in the U.K. said in the case of people with sight loss, they may often rely on public transport to get to an office. Remote working may now present a chance for employers, but it will put their commitments to inclusivity to the test.

During the pandemic, video calls became the lifeblood for many companies to keep operations flowing whether in team meetings or for recruitment of new talent.

Organizations like RNIB and the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Center at University College London have issued guidance to employers on best practices for remote working with people that are visually impaired or hard of hearing.

But these guidelines are ever-evolving with the rapidly changing future of work.

“If you’ve sight loss, you’re probably using types of technology that will allow you to read information so that could be magnification or it could be speech reading software,” O’Kane said.

“The key thing for an employer is that you make sure that whatever system you’re using is compatible with that software.”

A spokesperson for DCAL said the organization is in the process of “working out how we will deal with this blended way of working”.

“It is vital that the views of deaf people and their lived experiences are taken into account so that any improvements in tech are actually what deaf people want and need. Not what hearing [people] think they want and need.”

Tech tools
Technology tools, especially for communication and video conferencing, present ways for employers to keep their staff engaged but it’s not always a straightforward option.

Gilles Bertaux, the CEO of Livestorm, a French video conferencing and webinar platform, said it is currently making tweaks to its platform to better serve the visually impaired.

“In our online room meeting, we’re trying to meet the standards for blind people based on the ARIA specifications,” Bertaux said, referring to a set of standards for web accessibility from the World Wide Web Consortium.

“It’s mainly targeted at people who are visually impaired or blind. In practical terms, it allows anyone to navigate the Livestorm room with their keyboard. We’re going to work hard on it next year to improve it again.”

He added that its design team is also working on filters to boost the color contrast on calls that will make people and objects more discernible.

For staff that are deaf or hard of hearing, real-time captioning and subtitles on video calls is still a nascent but advancing technology with major platforms like Zoom and Google Meet implementing live audio captioning.

Simon Lau, vice president of product at Otter.ai, a transcription software company, told CNBC that live captions can help reduce so-called “Zoom fatigue” for people that rely on lip-reading while on calls.

Meanwhile, Josh Miller, CEO of video transcription firm 3Play Media, said that while technology in this field is improving, it can be “still pretty clunky,” but companies should not be afraid to test the tech out with their employees.

“I think there’s a hesitation to engage in these types of services because of the complexity and not necessarily because of the cost. It’s that unknown of how does this actually get implemented. One of the things that we’re really excited about is simplifying it,” Miller said.

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

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Upcoming Events

  1. CSUN Center on Disabilities 2022 Conference
    March 13, 2022 - March 18, 2022

Upcoming Events

  1. CSUN Center on Disabilities 2022 Conference
    March 13, 2022 - March 18, 2022