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Are Therapists to Blame for Ineffective Workplace Wellness Programs?

Curt and Katie chat about a recent New York Times article that claims that individual mental health interventions are not effective in the workplace. We explore that and other studies on workplace wellness programs, looking at what is ineffective, what actually works, and what roles therapists can play in improving outcomes for employees (and employers). We also take a quick look at the ethical or moral questions therapists face when being paid to do these programs.


Click here to scroll to the podcast transcript.

In this podcast episode we talk about a recent study on workplace wellness programs

In a recent New York Times article, they talked about a study that shows little efficacy of workplace wellness programs in the UK. We decided to dig deeper into the research and see what therapists need to know when signing on to provide these programs.

What does the research say about workplace wellness or individual-level mental health interventions on outcomes for employees and employers?

  • People in these programs are not better off than people who are not
  • Some desired outcomes (health markers, absenteeism, job performance) are not significantly better
  • Some positive clinical and employment outcomes from actual mental health programs
  • Individual solutions don’t solve systemic problems

What are the dynamics at play in employee well-being?

  • Things that do work: more compensation, more say in how their work looks
  • The difference between convenience and work-place wellness
  • Typically, organizations are not assessing efficacy of their own wellness programs

What is the therapist role in workplace wellness?

“[Workplace wellness is] not effective and… online courses… completion rates are pretty bad… And yet, we can probably make good money at both of those things. And it can help our own level of income and diversity of tasks and that kind of stuff. But what really is our responsibility here [as therapists] to make sure that what we’re doing is actually helping at least somebody?”  – Katie Vernoy, LMFT

  • We know that many of these programs are ineffective – should we still continue to do them?
  • How should consumers of these products and programs inquire about efficacy or even completion?
  • Should therapists be concerned about whether people complete their course or find benefit from it?
  • Understanding what resources are available (and being encouraged to use them) may help folks to better benefit from them (as extrapolated from Curt’s undergraduate research)

What can clinicians do to support actual workplace wellness?

“Especially if you are an employee of one of these places, as a therapist, continuing to do stuff that is not based in science, and may actually be against the science that’s out there, is that ethically and morally correct?” – Curt Widhalm, LMFT

  • Don’t co-sign on the idea that the onus is on the individual to fix the system
  • Provide actual mental health interventions for mental health needs
  • Facilitate conversations about systemic problems and solutions
  • Support positive interventions for individuals that are doable and effective
  • Exploring the ethics of providing these programs

Resources for Modern Therapists mentioned in this Podcast Episode:

We’ve pulled together resources mentioned in this episode and put together some handy-dandy links. Please note that some of the links below may be affiliate links, so if you purchase after clicking below, we may get a little bit of cash in our pockets. We thank you in advance!

Original study:

Employee well-being outcomes from individual-level mental health interventions: Cross-sectional evidence from the United Kingdom

NYT article: Workplace Wellness Programs Have Little Benefit, Study Finds

Effect of a Workplace Wellness Program on Employee Health and Economic Outcomes

Organisational- and group-level workplace interventions and their effect on multiple domains of worker well-being: A systematic review

Sign of the times: Workplace mindfulness as an empty signifier

Clinical and Financial Outcomes Associated With a Workplace Mental Health Program Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Job Demands–Resources Theory: Ten Years Later


Relevant Episodes of MTSG Podcast:

The Burnout System

The Sky is Falling: How Therapists Can Protect Our Industry, Patient-Centered Care, and Our Businesses, An Interview with Dr. Ajita Robinson

At Least 3 Reasons Continuing Education Sucks

Structuring Self-Care / REPLAY – Structuring Self-Care

Therapy as a Political Act: An Interview with Dr. Travis Heath

Who we are:

Picture of Curt Widhalm, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcast; a nice young man with a glorious beard.Curt Widhalm, LMFT

Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at:

Picture of Katie Vernoy, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcastKatie Vernoy, LMFT

Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also a former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at:

A Quick Note:

Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.

Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.

Stay in Touch with Curt, Katie, and the whole Therapy Reimagined #TherapyMovement:


Buy Me A Coffee

Podcast Homepage

Therapy Reimagined Homepage





Consultation services with Curt Widhalm or Katie Vernoy:

The Fifty-Minute Hour

Connect with the Modern Therapist Community:

Our Facebook Group – The Modern Therapists Group

Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide Creative Credits:

Voice Over by DW McCann

Music by Crystal Grooms Mangano

Transcript for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide podcast (Autogenerated):

Transcripts do not include advertisements just a reference to the advertising break (as such timing does not account for advertisements).

… 0:00
(Opening Advertisement)

Announcer 0:00
You’re listening to the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide where therapists live, breathe, and practice as human beings. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, here are your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy.

Curt Widhalm 0:15
Welcome back modern therapists, this is the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy. And this is the podcast for therapists about the things that we do in our practices, the things going on in our field, and talking about things that might have mental health flavors to them that exist out in the real world.

Katie Vernoy 0:35
Mental health flavors. What are mental health flavors?

Curt Widhalm 0:38
Well, I’m glad that you ask because we are diving in today, this is starting from an article that was in the New York Times. And this was sent to me by listener Katie V. And…

Katie Vernoy 0:54
I guess they do listen.

Curt Widhalm 0:55
This is titled Workplace Wellness Programs Have Little Benefit, Study Finds. And this is based on a journal article from Oxford researcher William Fleming, who says this $8 billion a year organizational kind of implementation, might not actually be paying the dividends that corporations want it to be. And so we’re diving into the findings of this research, the criticisms about it, offering our own criticisms, and then our own criticisms about the criticisms, but also…

Katie Vernoy 1:35
Then ideas and stuff that we think would be helpful.

Curt Widhalm 1:37
…trying to armchair this to be like, here’s what we know, that might actually work. So, we’re also talking about kind of the moral idea that what is therapist’s role in engaging in stuff like this, when we know that it might potentially not work? But first, Katie, what was it about this that made you so interested in it in the first place?

Katie Vernoy 2:05
Well, I think the first thing is that it had a mental health flavor, as you described. And I thought it was really interesting, because more and more I’m seeing our colleagues who support folks to do things outside of one to one therapy, are really talking about, get some contracts with organizations, help them with your mental health programs, you know, teach employees to do good things. And then this article comes out and says, doesn’t really work. And so I wanted to dig deeper, because I think that there has been research, you know, other other research articles that suggest that it does work. And so I wanted to look into what is this exactly? What is this, what is this study saying? What is being over said by popular media? Because I think oftentimes, and I think we’re planning to do a podcast episode on this, but the way the press reports on research and or what they choose to report on, shapes the discourse about it in in society versus what actually is being done in the research. So, I just wanted to to kind of look at this critically and see what does it mean for therapists, if that makes sense. And so the article and we’ll link to all of these things in the show notes, and probably there’ll be articles that I don’t mention by name that I’ll also put in the show notes, because I went kind of down a rabbit hole. But it goes to something that we’ve said a lot: individual interventions don’t solve systemic problems.

Curt Widhalm 3:34

Katie Vernoy 3:35
And so that felt aligned. I was like, sure that makes sense. You know, telling somebody that they are responsible for everything, when you have a workplace setting that is truly atrocious is not fair. So, this study was of a whole bunch of data that came from Britain’s healthiest workplace BHW. So, it’s like an actual thing. People get awards, they get certifications, whatever. And it is, they do tons and tons of surveys to folks in the workplace. Workplaces opt in. And so there’s a little bit of a selection bias. Their folks who are already doing these programs are more likely to opt in because this is what is been kind of mandated in, for Britain’s workforce. And the data they took was cross sectional meaning they took a snapshot of time and said, How are people? How are these employees doing? If they are either in workplace wellness programs or not in workplace wellness programs? And there was also a question about awareness of whether or not there were workplace programs. So, it was a little bit more complex than that, but a lot of the data seems to come from this question: Is someone better off if they’re in a workplace wellness program? And so to me the way the New York Times article read, it was mental health interventions are not effective in workplace. And that is not what this study is. This study is literally about, you know, kind of the the apps, like mindfulness classes, this isn’t counseling, this isn’t kind of EAP programs. This is the stuff that’s not even for subclinical depression and anxiety, this is for how do you optimize performance? And so what was found was, people in these programs were not any better off than people not in the programs. But there’s a huge selection bias because if you, for example, are in a time management class, so to speak, why would you do that if you’re already good at time management. So, if somebody in a time management classes is as good as someone not in a time management class, it suggests that maybe the the program is just getting folks up to baseline, it’s not necessarily bringing people further and further up into this optimal performance place. So, the reason that this study is supposedly better than others is it’s actual real data. It’s not some app testing a perfect application, on, you know, like this kind of siloed little group of folks. But it also is just one moment in time. And so to me, I felt like there was there was a lot to look at here. But it really is, is saying, this isn’t the panacea. Oftentimes, it’s not sufficient. There were even negative effects, people were less well off if they were doing stress management and resilience programs, versus if they weren’t. And so that’s either that they, they were harmful, didn’t work, or they weren’t sufficient to get folks who needed those programs up to baseline. It’s something where this has been the checkbox for a lot of organizations. It’s like, let’s put a, let’s give people an app, let’s give them a little class, a little meditation class, or whatever it is. And we’ll say that we’re helping our workforce, but we’re actually putting the solution to our crappy workplace on individuals. And so that’s I think there’s there’s a lot to say there. I’ll let you jump in here. Because I, I think we’ve we’ve talked about some of this before recording, and we have some, I think, some other research that I think, potentially shed some light on some of this as well.

Curt Widhalm 7:14
So this is also reaffirming a 2019 study that was published in JAMA, and the authors on this were Zirui Song and Katherine Baicker. They were both at Harvard at the time, and working in public policy kinds of things that I think is maybe a little bit more of a longitudinal and in a different way more robust, sort of look at this time, American populations and kind of workplace sort of stuff. And they looked at a number of different factors that go into companies wanting to spend a lot of money on these kinds of things. And in this study, they found that there was only a couple of things that really ended up tracking employees any better on this kind of stuff. This study showed that there was an 8.3 percentage point higher rate of employees who reported engaging in regular exercise, and a 13.6 percentage point higher rate of employees who reported actively managing their weight compared to those working at sites where the program was not offered. Now, it’s also important to look at what these studies also are tracking where it shows not any sort of benefits at all. And, you know, really, if I’m running a big corporation, or even, you know, the practice that I run that has a handful of clinicians working for me, I want to do the things that help the company the most, I can see why companies would want to invest in these kinds of things. And maybe from just kind of a corporate management point, I could see why they want to do this stuff. But I would also want to see what actually works and what are we investing in that doesn’t work. Now, this Song and Baicker, they had another 27 different areas that they measured in this study. And they didn’t found any significant changes that happened in things like employees overall health, their sleep quality, their food choices, 10 other clinical markers of health, no measures that changed anything as far as spending, utilization of doctor’s visits, medical tests, procedures, prescription drugs, and especially as an employer things that are interesting, like, no effects on employee absenteeism, no effects on job tenure, and no effects on job performance. This is not even necessarily the first study that shows there’s a lot of money being spent at stuff that doesn’t have a whole lot of proof that it’s actually working. And maybe it’s just corporations being like we take care of health sort of things, Terms and Conditions apply.

Katie Vernoy 10:03
That was kind of the conclusion I think that was drawn in the Fleming article, which is the one that the New York Times cited, which was, these things may be helpful, but not for everyone, not for kind of the everyday folks, maybe there might be a few health outcomes. But but if we’re looking at just optimizing work performance, or those types of things, for folks who are just a little bit stressed out, they don’t really do much. But another JAMA article Bondar, Morrow, Gueorguieva, and it’s a 2022 article suggests that there are clinical and financial outcomes, positive outcomes associated with actual mental health programs. And those, what they found was PHQ 9 scores got better. And there was actually salary savings of around $3,500 per year, or at six months, that was a positive ROI. And this was this was with a clinical populatio obviously there was depression and anxiety that was being measured versus kind of engagement versus burnout. And so I think there may be a place for mental health providers to help folks with mental health concerns in the workplace. But having an overall everyone should have a stress management program may not be as effective as actually treating mental health concerns.

… 11:29
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Curt Widhalm 11:32
And I think that that’s really kind of the crux of this. Is if corporations are interested in this kind of stuff, then this is maybe kind of the least amount of effort that they put into things in order to be able to say, yes, we address mental health by partnering up with an app that you can totally opt into. Rather than providing more specific interventions that might be more tailored to individuals actual needs.

Katie Vernoy 12:04

Curt Widhalm 12:04
Because I think that there’s plenty of research out there that suggests that the things that actually do improve employee’s quality of life tends to largely boil down to more money, and more flexibility and more say in their schedule, and the tasks that they do and how they can do them. And a lot of these other beneficial kinds of things are nice, but don’t necessarily have kind of the scientific foundings to be able to back up that, you know, I’m thinking of all the tech campuses up in Silicon Valley that have like the nap pods, and the ping pong tables that don’t get used, aren’t necessarily the selling points of getting people employed. It’s largely the salaries and the career trajectory to be able to have more and more of a say over what they’re doing and the overall contribution towards greater accomplishment and projects.

Katie Vernoy 13:01
Well, and I think that’s a really good example. My understanding of those things, and nap pods and the catered lunches and dinners and all those things are put in place so people don’t have to leave work to do kind of basic life tasks. And so they just are really striving for more work, and more productivity versus employee well being. And I think that’s the biggest piece that I think disturbs a lot of us when we’re thinking about workplace wellness programs is: are we just patching people up, so they can be a better worker, but we’re actually jacking them up in their life.

Curt Widhalm 13:39
I struggle in saying this as maybe the resident cynic. But that, that’s maybe even a little bit too much of a cynical view on this, in that…

Katie Vernoy 13:53

Curt Widhalm 13:54
Okay, what is your job if you work for mega corporation that you work for? You know, I think for a lot of us, we either work in private practice, where we may be the boss, we work in agencies that maybe have a few dozen employees, and some of you out there maybe work for larger community mental health organizations that have several 100. Some of these studies are really looking at corporations that have 1000s of employees that are convenient sampling kinds of things. And I think that part of this looks at, okay, if you’re working in a very small organization, you’re probably very closely tied to the organizational mission. And there is some of that just kind of, I am here for the care of the work that I do kinds of things. And the more that you get into kind of the cog in the machine, large organization kinds of things, the less likely that you probably are there for the mission of the organization and more there to have it be a part of your life that we call a job, and the part of your life that you make the money to go and do the other things. To do your job the best that you can, might involve perks, like being able to have an onsite dentist that makes it to where you don’t have to go and go through security going in and out of a large campus kind of thing. That those kinds of quality of life things might actually make you more likely to be able to kind of stick around because of those convenience kinds of things. It’s not necessarily something where they’re dragging you the den to the dentist to be able to get your dental work kind of done. And I’ve found as my life has gotten busier that I do try to pick kind of convenience things. Now my practice isn’t big enough that we can have a resident on site dentist for our staff. But I’ve found one in my building, who’s pretty good. And I like them. And it’s very convenient to be able to just kind of fit in my dental appointments in between sessions without needing to navigate a parking garage and Los Angeles traffic to get there.

Katie Vernoy 16:05

Curt Widhalm 16:06
So, my point though, here is that, okay, if the if people are looking for these kinds of apps, and these kinds of things in their workplace to be the end all be all of making everything about their life better. I think that’s maybe the wrong goal, even from kind of a worker perspective kinds of thing. The things are offered here, it’s like, Okay, here’s a mindfulness class, here’s a, you know, yoga class that’s able to be offered at a discount or for free, that allows for you to be able to fit this in amongst other things. Here’s onsite childcare, for a lot of people. Those things might be important factors that help people to be able to kind of filter into some of these things. And as a corporation, or as a business, it might be worthwhile in investing in them. But here, here’s my advice to those corporations, is you then need to follow up with your employees as far as why are you using these things? Or why aren’t you? And is our continued investment in them something that impacts your enjoyment of your work here?

Katie Vernoy 17:20
Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s the problem that a lot of businesses come into is that they find a, quote unquote, solution, and then do not do the evaluation and assessment over time. And so I do appreciate studies like this that are going back and assessing: does this actually have the outcome that you’re seeking? And if it’s folks having something, you know, it’s kind of a cool thing to have, but it’s not really making a difference in the bottom line, is it worth investing in? And that’s really a question that each, you know, decision maker has to make based on their own team and their own evaluation of those things. But I feel like, and maybe, you know, maybe, maybe we’re ready to pivot here. But I feel like there’s a concern here that I’m, that I’m raising around the therapists role in this. Because like you, you had mentioned at the beginning, as therapists, we have to decide, are we okay, doing things that aren’t necessarily effective. And maybe I’m the cynic in this episode, but I think there’s a lot of us that are actually okay with doing things that are not effective. And I’m not talking about as a therapist, although I think some folks are fine sitting week after week, just chit chatting with their clients. So I guess that’s not effective. But I think there’s that element of whenever we’re looking at kind of our alternative revenue stream, there is a nod to this is a way to have a bigger impact. This is a way to reach more people, to kind of codify your information into a course, you know, like a an online course or into some sort of training that you put on. But if we’re looking at these things are not effective and we know that you know, and maybe this is more anecdotal. But online courses don’t get completed, like the completion rates are pretty bad. And then now we’re hearing that like mindfulness courses, and coping strategy courses, and all that stuff in large corporate environments are not effective. And yet, we can probably make good money at both of those things. And it can help our own level of income and diversity of tasks and that kind of stuff. But what really is our responsibility here to make sure that what we’re doing is actually helping at least somebody.

Curt Widhalm 19:43
And I think that this is kind of the drift that ends up happening for convenience for biases that it’s hard to maintain being up on all of the science and making shifts and adjustments to things. And if we can, you know, kind of hold that in the balance with well, whatever the free market says; people want to buy the course it’s up to them to finish it.

Katie Vernoy 20:05

Curt Widhalm 20:06
And, you know, this is where one of the questions that I would encourage people to ask coaches: if I’m going to sign up for your course, what is the completion rate of your course? What is the perseverance rate of people who purchase multiple courses from you? That kind of shows like our people making adjustments for kind of completion and kind of the individual needs of this kind of stuff. And I think it’s kind of, you know, trying to balance what is, you know, good for everybody. I can have a great course that I think would benefit everybody. But if nobody does it, is it actually any good? And this course may only be really, really good for seven or eight people. But if that’s being able to kind of focus in on, here’s the audience for this.

Katie Vernoy 20:57

Curt Widhalm 20:57
And we see this, you know, in kind of our continuing education sorts of things. This is geared towards, you know, beginner level people that helps you know, some of the more advanced level people in a topic be able to be like, Okay, that’s not the course for me. I very rarely see courses advertised as this is for advanced learners only. We expect you to have a certain level of understanding of this topic before coming in. And there’s all sorts of criticisms to have about continuing education and why that stuff isn’t there.

Katie Vernoy 21:25
We have a whole episode which I will link to that in the show notes.

Curt Widhalm 21:27
But one study that we have not talked about is an unpublished study from 2005 by C. Widhalm. This was my undergraduate thesis.

Katie Vernoy 21:39
Okay. Okay, let’s hear it.

Curt Widhalm 21:41
What I had done for my undergraduate thesis back at Montana State University was, I was able to do a longitudinal data of looking at the number of students that were retained by being identified as at risk students for dropping out and whether or not they received a 10 minute intervention from the Office of Student Services within their first semester. And there was this ridiculous response difference between people who graduated and people who didn’t within six years. And people who had this 10 minute intervention in their first semester, were something like 80% more likely to graduate within six years than people who were identified at risk, and didn’t get this intervention. And this was over the course of like, something like 35,000 students. So, numbers are pretty robust as far as being able to look at who needed this intervention, who got it versus who didn’t, and whether or not they graduated. And I compared to this to not very favorably my own psychology department. As compared to kind of their cattle call, like, if you need interventions come to us, we’ll talk to you. And I looked at kind of university wide versus department wide. And I think it wasn’t until like three or four years later that the university actually started using some of the data that was found through this and the Department of Student Services, to be able to start making system wide changes based on Oh, we actually have to look at individuals who need this stuff, not just, Hey, here’s things that are available and letting you opt into things.

Katie Vernoy 23:29
Yeah. So what was the intervention? I’m so curious.

Curt Widhalm 23:32
The intervention was, hey, you seemingly are at risk for struggling in certain classes or struggling with certain things in your life. We want to let you know, here are specific places on campus that we can introduce you to, to be able to get help for this. That was it. That was the intervention.

Katie Vernoy 23:52
Okay. And so the people who got it had opted into that conversation, and the people who didn’t were ones that had not opted in, is that what you’re saying?

Curt Widhalm 24:00
This was during freshman orientation, every student had to take a questionnaire. It was like 100 or so questions. And it was about different lifestyle kinds of things. And so like, students who were, you know, identified by low grades in high school or stuff like this, or had identified that they had used a disproportionate amount of substances kinds of things. Like this was early intervention, kind of like…

Katie Vernoy 24:28

Curt Widhalm 24:28
…hey, here’s a warm introduction to this department on campus. There was no we didn’t follow up on whether or not they actually utilize those services. All we did was who stayed in the University and graduated, and who dropped out.

Katie Vernoy 24:44

Curt Widhalm 24:44
And so it’s these kinds of things that actually make worthwhile kind of cultural systemic sorts of changes, rather than just letting people opt in. Because we’re going to talk now a little bit about kind of the stuff that you and I have done as professionals. Like I’ve done a number of presentations at some schools around the Los Angeles area, talking about mental health with kids, talking about how how to parent teenagers better and this kind of stuff. And I would venture to guess probably, I don’t know, three quarters of the schools that I’ve done this to say, the parents who are coming to these presentations are not the ones who need to come to these presentations.

Katie Vernoy 25:23

… 25:26
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Katie Vernoy 25:26
Well, and that’s the thing I said I was thinking about with your study is the folks who opted in initially were more likely to follow through and and complete things anyway. But the real question is, if you identify the folks and you kind of prod them into these things, does that actually help? Because if somebody’s already not going to take initiative, and they’re the beginning of their schooling, is it likely that they’ll complete the whole schooling. And so to me, and we don’t need to go into that, because it’s I know, it’s off topic. But I think that’s, that’s the crux of the problem I have with the New York Times piece, because it looks at one study that is very cross sectional, and doesn’t go into the nuance of all these things. And so I feel like, there needs to be more research on what actually works. Because like you said, the folks who are opting into these touchy feely things, or how do I be better things might be, by choice doing them because they feel good and want to learn more, and they’re always improving. And so they’re going to not necessarily get a lot of benefit, because it’s reminders and different things, you know, all the things people say, Oh, that was a great reminder. It’s like, oh, that reinforced what I’m already doing. Righ? And so that doesn’t necessarily change any things. But then there’s also this other side that you’re bringing up with your your study, which is folks who are really struggling, who may be just getting up to baseline, right? Like we’re, we’re patching them up so they can perform adequately, and they’re not really getting to a place of positive mental health. And so to me, I really want to have, you know, like, I don’t know that people will do this, maybe maybe there’s some organization that’s gonna be like, This is exactly what we need to do. So, we’re going to have a huge study on our 50,000 employees and track everybody and everybody that’s, you know, willing to have their data shared, and all of that stuff, we’re gonna go through and have them have targeted interventions that are unique to them, and see if that helps them and helps the bottom line overall. I would love that study. But it doesn’t sound like that study is has happened, nor is it likely to.

Curt Widhalm 27:32
And I think a lot of it ends up looking kind of at corporations don’t necessarily want to look at themselves in a way that has to actually have to do stuff. And I’ll give you another maybe more day to day example of something like this. And I know that this is something that you and I both do, but Duolingo. And the reason that I’m bringing this up is in, for those of you who aren’t familiar, Duolingo has kind of a competition sort of thing. You’re grouped with somewhere between 15 and 30 people depending on the level that you are, and there’s promotion and relegation. If you score high enough, you get promoted to a more challenging sort of thing. But I have found that early on in the weeks if everybody else in my little tournament sort of thing seems to just go off the rails and is like 1000s of points ahead of me, I tend not to engage much that week with the app, because I do just enough to keep my streak going. But if I was actually a corporation looking at people like me is if it gets too competitive, people actually are learning even less of their chosen language, then if they were to have other motivations in place. They there’s probably a great place to be able to work out like okay, some weeks I’m going to be super competitive. But some weeks it’s going to be something that turns me off of even learning in the first place because it just feels too overwhelming.

Katie Vernoy 27:41

Curt Widhalm 27:47
That’s the kind of stuff that we want to be able to see in some of these wellness programs is: what is it that makes people tick consistently to be able to perform? According to Duolingo some weeks I am fantastic. Other weeks no muy bien. And that’s all I get is three words and then I kind of stumble along to the next week. It relies all on internal solo motivation on this.

Katie Vernoy 29:34
Well, I mean we could really go down a rabbit hole here but I think for me I find…

Curt Widhalm 29:39
If we’re not already down the rabbit hole.

Katie Vernoy 29:41
So far down the rabbit hole. We’ll continue down the rabbit hole. But I think for me with Duolingo there are the times when people are like super high up. But I more am looking at other types of rewards instead of am I going to be promoted or relegated because I actually don’t care. I’ve been up to the top level, I didn’t win the top level, I didn’t care enough. And so that actually is not motivating to me at all. It’s like, am I gonna get my quest done? You know, my friends quests, or the other quests. And how much I do at this point is right now is based on my quest. Can I actually accomplish my quest within like 15 minutes? Or is it going to take me a lot more time? And also what’s going on in my life? Like, am I super exhausted? Is there something happening with my family that’s super stressful? Do I have other, you know, responsibilities. And so the fact that each of us we’re motivated differently. And there’s many different factors that are impacting us that are beyond the app, I think is the epitome of the problems with a lot of these studies: is that they don’t necessarily, and I don’t think they should, for privacy, have all of this information on each individual and what’s actually impacting them in the workplace. Now, and that’s not even to say that the real problem is often that the folks that have these programs, and I’m looking at big tech companies, a lot of stuff, are asking more from their employees than is reasonable. And so one of the criticisms that was cited both in the Fleming article and the New York Times piece is that if someone is not able to do better, based on all of their self care practices, and all of the things that they’ve learned, and all these wellness things, that they blame themselves, and they feel worse about themselves than if they hadn’t done those programs at all. And so, so we come back to the question, and I think, because of our rabbit hole, we may not be able to go into this completely, because we’re a little bit long on time here. But I think, what is it that we can actually do that we can feel good about in this space? What actually is going to be helpful? And I hear, I, what I see is actual mental health interventions, being able to support folks who have actual mental health needs, and maybe other things. What do you think?

Curt Widhalm 32:05
I mean, I think it’s being able to, and this is somewhere between HR wellness people and managerial people is what actually helps you as an employee.

Katie Vernoy 32:17
And I call that almost being… subversive? I mean, we’ve talked about this before, but oftentimes, if people invite me in, I do try to do stuff with the individuals, but it’s always group stuff. It’s always, you know, whether it’s team building or whatever, but then it goes to what are the systemic problems that are making your job suck?

Curt Widhalm 32:37
Right. And, you know, from outside, you know, presenter perspectives, like you and I, who have no problem coming in and speaking to these truths, and not getting invited back to do further presentations…

Katie Vernoy 32:52
Oh, so many times. That’s really bad for my bottom line, but maybe I’m reaching people, I don’t know.

Curt Widhalm 32:59
But this is what actually works. I know, as an employer, one of the most expensive things that hits my business is employee turnover.

Katie Vernoy 33:11
Oh, for sure.

Curt Widhalm 33:12
And that’s why I put a lot of the things in place, whether they’re direct, you know, hey, I’m asking you what can make your job better, overt kind of actions that are very obvious and very employee driven. Some of them are more covert actions that I take that might seem like, you know, kind of business kind of rules that do have, you know, employee satisfaction kinds of things from employees who were here before. Tthings like if you’re working in the office, your notes have to be done before you leave kinds of things. This is not a punishment kind of thing. This is a so you don’t go home and then have more work to do. That kind of stuff has led to a lot higher employee satisfaction in my practice.

Katie Vernoy 33:56

Curt Widhalm 33:57
So, some of the stuff is very, very employee driven. But I want to maybe pivot here to kind of the big question that we started at the beginning is: when you are kind of torn between the Katie’s and the Curt’s, of going and speaking the truth and if, especially if you are an employee of one of these places, as a therapist, continuing to do stuff that is not based in science, and may actually be against the science that’s out there, is that ethically and morally correct?

Katie Vernoy 34:30
When we’re defining the problem as employee burnout, employee turnover, like you mentioned, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a lot more clients come in, based on taking a leave, a medical leave due to stress or emotional concerns. This is a big problem. And so if we can help at all, that would be great. But if what we’re doing is just giving the corporations permission to check it off and say, Well, we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s our employees that aren’t, aren’t. They don’t want to work or they don’t want, you know, whatever the negative…

Curt Widhalm 35:08
People don’t want to work these days.

Katie Vernoy 35:10
Yeah, the negative slur of the day, or they’re just, you know, they’re snowflakes, or they don’t they don’t know how to tough it out, or whatever it is. Like if we’re host signing on that in part because we’re, we’re supporting individual interventions: My answer is, I don’t know that it is ethical. I think that there’s a way to balance that. I think about you know, and I, I’ll link to some of the episodes in the shownotes, but I think about when we talk about social activism, and, and even how we’ve talked about our profession, where it is like, give people the resources to try to navigate the now and then also have an awareness of the systemic issues and and how to try to shift those things in the long term. I think there, there could be value, even if it’s just letting folks get back to baseline, and having sufficient coping strategies and mental health supports. But I think the way that they’re done in corporate wellness, oftentimes is, you know, AI, or electronic based, oftentimes are pretty, you know, kind of homogenized, you know, individual like, this is your little, you know, yoga class. And not necessarily things that actually make workplaces better in the long run.

Curt Widhalm 36:26
One person that I’ve been working on putting this into practice with in their kind of workplace environment and some of the struggles that they’re having in their work, it kind of boiled down to, they’re a victim of, well, you know, you’ve been remote sales through COVID. Now, we’re moving towards needing to be on site, you know, four and five days a week kind of stuff. And I was like, they trust you with how many millions of dollars annually in your budget, but they don’t trust you to do that from home? Like you’ve been productive for years doing this, and kind of working on some of this, like, don’t take responsibility for all of this systemic sort of stuff. And they were like, that’s a really good point. And even though they say that they’re open to this kind of feedback, even being able to bring up systemic kinds of things just does not work in my place of employment. And so this is kind of that, like, is it worth it for a career change kind of thing, or a job change kind of thing, which would be a lot more expensive than if this place just let me do my job from home, like I have been very successfully for a while. So, if I was one of the mental wellness kinds of people on site at this corporation, these are the kinds of things that are probably very, you know, kind of competitive, as or in competition within myself in this kind of job, because on one hand, I have to answer to corporate. And on the other hand, I’m tasked with a job that is answers that go in the opposite direction of what corporate wants. And this is the kind of moral decision making that we’re challenging people in those positions to really be able to face. That if dealing with systemic sort of stuff, is really a core crux of, you know, the problem of the corporate culture, you actually have the opportunity to put your training in place and do it. It might cost some people some jobs to do it. But ultimately, isn’t that the ethical standard that we’re asking people to do?

Katie Vernoy 38:40
Sure. And if you’d like to just take the money, go for it. We’re not telling you not to make your money.

Curt Widhalm 38:49
We would love to hear your thoughts on this kind of stuff. You can share that with us on our social media, join our Facebook group the Modern Therapists Group. You can also become friends with Katie and I on Duolingo, where we want to weekly challenges with you. But we would love to hear your ideas on that kind of stuff. You can find our show notes over at At and until next time, I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy.

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