This pandemic is showing another reason why asking your employees what is important to them really matters. Mental health concerns are at an all-time high and if employees are stressed and scared that they may lose their job, it will lead to burnout or other major issues. Start asking your employees questions and be transparent with them. When employees feel like they are part of the conversations, they become more motivated to do their best work and are better able to handle stress and cope with mental health conditions.
As a part of my series about “How Business Leaders Are Helping To Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Romy Antoine.
Romy is the President and CEO of One Stop Wellness, a digital workplace wellness company empowering employees to improve their well-being through daily lifestyle assessments, virtual classes, and biometric screening data. Romy is also the only millennial engagement expert who is a millennial! He is the author of the Ultimate Guide to Engaging Millennials. Romy was also the 2018 recipient of the National Wellness Institute’s inaugural Young Wellness Professional Award. His work has been covered by Men’s Health, Thrive Global, and he was named Top 100 Modern Man Influencer by Black Enterprise. Furthermore, Romy’s a fitness trainer and nutritionist who’s coached clients all over the world! He is a speaker and thought leader on how organizations can inspire well-being and create an inclusive culture that promotes emotional well-being. Also, Romy helps HR leaders to better engage younger generations to attract and retain top talent, while navigating through a connected and multigenerational workplace.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Growing up, I was extremely passionate about fitness because of the way it affected my physique and my mind. As I continued to pursue this passion, I became a certified personal trainer in college, and eventually launched my 1st company, RippedNFit, a fitness blog with online coaching. As many fitness coaches can relate, clients start to see you as their therapist which can become personally draining after spending hours each day empathizing with them. Also, during this time, my life was in shambles — I was dealing with depression from my mother’s passing from stage 4 cancer. After running my company for a couple of years I met a client who was struggling with work-life balance. Within a short amount of time from starting her job, which involved traveling across the country every week, she told me she gained a great deal of weight and was unhappy. I helped her to get back on track, which led to her asking if I could come do a workshop at her job because her co-workers would benefit from my guidance. I said of course! After doing that workshop, I discovered the corporate wellness industry. I started networking on LinkedIn, attending conferences, speaking at conferences, and eventually publishing a book on millennial engagement. At the same time, I was booking workshops at many companies and packaging a wide range of on-site services to engage their employees. This eventually resulted in me building a team and scaling my small workshops into a digital workplace wellness platform. I knew I could use my background in science and healthy coaching to help people improve their behaviors and mindset.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I was listening to the radio in the car in 2017 and heard that Fortune 500 companies were paying “millennial consultants” $20k per hour to help them with their employees. I immediately logged into LinkedIn and changed my headline to Millennial Consultant. In less than a week, I started getting contacted by organizations that wanted to book me to speak at their conferences. I did a lot of research, included my own experience, and read the work of other millennial experts to create a presentation. That led to many more presentations and ultimately my book: The Ultimate Guide to Engaging Millennials. I think what really set me apart from everyone else who was doing similar work is that I focused heavily on a topic that was considered taboo to mention in the workplace at the time — mental health.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
The feeling of burnout is something I never, ever want to experience again! Take some time to recharge, you’re not a machine — just like Usain Bolt wouldn’t run at full speed every time he stepped outside, you need to understand when it’s time to sprint and when it’s time to rest. Many of my colleagues are dealing with a lot of personal and work-related stress. I like to exercise, play the piano, or try a new hobby completely unrelated to my work. I totally recommend doing a leisure activity that involves the least amount of brainpower and can calm your sense. When your brain is only focused on work, you will get a lot done in the beginning, but eventually, your immune system takes a hit, and you start to feel run down and lose mental clarity. Watch a funny video, go for a walk, or even take a power nap. You need to be in tune with your body and dedicate a small amount of time each day towards self-care, even it means setting a reminder on your phone.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
To create a great culture, leaders need to look at their company’s mission statement. Does the mission statement emulate the values and culture of your company or is it just an abstract statement? I’ve taught workshops where I had managers create vision boards of their ideal work environment/culture. Then I would have them look up their mission statement and see if there is any synergy. If not, I would help them to re-write it to something that inspires the culture designed on their board. Once you know who you are or who you’d like to be as a company, it’s easier to let those values trickle down to the employees. Lastly, I would make sure employees feel safe and empowered to ask questions, receive feedback, have fun, and be involved in many communications so that they feel as though they are a true part of the team and will be more motivated and the positive culture will spread rapidly.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Doesn’t matter if the glass is half-empty or half-full. All that matters is that you are the one pouring the water.” Instead of comparing my situation to others and worrying about what I have or do not have, I believe that I am in control of how much water I pour into the glass. Regardless of the situation, I am in, I will control how I react to it and learn from it. When you can utterly understand the power of that statement, you’ll be better equipped to handle the toughest situations.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years, many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives you have taken to help improve or optimize your employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?
1-Ask Employees What’s Important to them
A recent Gallup poll concluded that poor communication is primary cause of burnout in employees. Many companies exhibit a clear disconnect between what they want and what they assume the employees want. Until there’s a clear understanding and both goals are aligned, there will be some animosity between employees and employers. Even with my own team, I had to connect with on a personal level. Instead of only giving them tasks and deadlines, I wanted to make sure they were in a role that would best utilize your skills and were aligned with their interests. This pandemic is showing another reason why asking your employees what is important to them really matters. Mental health concerns are at an all-time high and if employees are stressed and scared that they may lose their job, it will lead to burnout or other major issues. Start asking your employees questions and be transparent with them. When employees feel like they are part of the conversations, they become more motivated to do their best work and are better able to handle stress and cope with mental health conditions.
2-Make Wellness a Priority
Wellness is important not only for physical health, but also mental well-being. The misconception that focusing on areas outside of depression/anxiety will not optimize employee mental well-being is a notion of the past. There’s conclusive research showing the effects of exercise on the brain and how it acts as a natural anti-depressant. Personally, I have found more success by making sure I dedicate time to exercise because it allows me to focus on improving my health and strength. For years, many companies have offered some type of wellness benefit for their employees. The problem is that many of these programs were just implemented for them to check a box that they are doing something. Leadership needs to show some type of involvement to set the example for the staff. I spoke to a company who said they offered Zumba classes but only 9 of the 400 employees participated and less than 10% even know about it. I told them in order to make wellness a priority, there should be frequent reminders throughout the office whether that be posters in the break rooms or simple newsletters that highlight the program and how it not only will help them to stay in shape physically, but also mentally. Just 3 weeks after they put up posters, sending out email reminders, and launched campaigns about optimizing productivity and mental focus, they saw an immediate increase in awareness and program engagement.
3-De-stigmatize Mental Health Conditions
We must start normalizing the mental health conversation at work. Statistics from the American Disabilities Act shows in any given month, about 18% of the workers in the US report having a mental health condition. Next, we need to de-stigmatize mental health conditions in the workplace. When people don’t fear discrimination or embarrassment, they will ask for help. When they receive the assistance, performance and retention will improve. A way to de-stigmatize mental health issues are to openly discuss them and let the employees know that they’re not alone. I spoke to a company that wanted to support their employees’ mental health, so they had a workshop where leadership and selected employees volunteered to be vulnerable and share personal struggles and discuss what methods helped them. This take a lot of bravery, but it created a sense of community and sparked a bigger conversation around mental health.
4- Make Mental Health Days Normal
Let employees know that you are invested in their emotional wellbeing by offering “Mental Health Days” as part of the PTO (paid time off) package. It is totally normal for an employee to call in sick because of a physical illness, but what if they’re dealing with a mental condition — Do they still call it a sick day? Do they take disability leave? Maybe having the flexibility for an employee to take a mental health day when they’re feeling down, anxious, depressed or stress will also help to reduce presenteeism — when people come to work sick and unable to complete their jobs or remain productive. Even though one day will not fix every problem, it’ll allow that employee to take much needed time off to rest and clear their mind. They’ll come back with more motivation to do their best work and will be happy to work for an employer who addresses the need to support their mental wellness. In an ideal world, sick days for mental/emotional health conditions would be part of every company’s benefit package.
5- Offer Free Screening Tools
If you want the maximum utilization in mental health programs from the beginning, it’s great to offer a free screening tool. This will help to identify the people who are seeking help and aren’t afraid to let someone know. There are many reputable screening tools available online. Within my company, I was able to beta-test the mood tracking feature on our platform, but also give my team a free tool that can be used to improve their mental health conditions. The benefits of screening tools are the simplicity and confidentiality. In most scenarios when an employee is asked if they need help, they might say no. However, by providing simple daily reminders or check-ins containing a confidential tool that allows them to discuss their mood and receive insights and resources in real-time, you’re more likely to reach the employees who didn’t “raise their hand” for help in the beginning. Also, the screening tools providers managers with anonymous aggregate data to visualize the state of mental health conditions within their company and implement other programs to help.
What you are doing is wonderful, but sadly it is not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
The problem is that everyone wants a solution with all the bells and whistles and forgets about the essentials. I think most companies underutilize their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and don’t effectively communicate the benefits to their employees. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, SHRM, EAP utilization is below 10 percent. An EAP is usually a work-based benefit that is designed to provide support to employees who are dealing with personal issues that may be adversely affecting their performance and productivity at work. EAPs also provide free, confidential counseling and legal advice for a wide range of is issues such as drug and alcohol addition, financial education, martial/family problems, or even fighting a speeding ticket. I think starting with the company’s EAP program is a great way to raise awareness on initiatives to support the emotional health of employees. From here, I totally recommend companies invest in a wellness program that not only supports the physical wellness but also targets mental health, whether it offers guided mediations, virtual challenges, or even mood tracking. The more companies “normalize” speaking about mental health, especially during this global pandemic where fear and anxiety is at an all-time high, the more employees will feel comfortable to engage in the programs being offered.
From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?
Society makes it seem like people suffering with mental health issues are outcasts. The movie, The Joker, portrayed it perfectly in a single sentence, “The worst part about having a mental illness is that people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” We often tell people that they are being dramatic or overreacting, when in fact they are not well, eventually they try to suppress their pain which only worsens it. Every situation will be different especially depending on the type of relationship you may have with a person. The best we can do overall is to make it normal to have the conversation around mental health and not make the person dealing with the issues feel isolated. Usually depression or anxiety are not caused by a single event and may be our body’s respond to a chemical imbalance or stress. To offer support to our family and peers, we should be more empathetic and consider these tips when trying to help:
- Validate their feelings — You don’t have to agree, but listen without judgement
- Understand you can’t fix it — These are real problems that requires professional treatment
- Support them in getting treatment — Help them to find resources and offer words of encouragement like “I’m glad you’re getting help”
- Educate yourself on mental illness and warning signs
- Set boundaries — Try not to take on too much because if you’re not well, you can’t help them either
Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?
We have the wrong mindset about creating habits, there’s some false idea that you can create a habit by practicing a behavior for 21 days. Before focusing on external factors that may affect your mental wellness, think of the simple things you do each day and how they are influencing you. I’ve read countless books on behavioral psychology and worked with clients as a health coach to help them improve their habits for a healthier life. I’ve learned that behavior change can be extremely simple if we incorporate tiny daily goals that don’t disrupt our routine and its accessible — meaning you can do it quickly. For example, let’s say someone wants to improve their relationship with food and be more mindful about how they treat their body. They can set a goal using the formula “After I __, then I will _”. In this example the goal can be “After I finish my lunch, I will write down how what I ate, and how that meal made me feel afterwards”. This becomes a routine, and ultimately a habit because lunchtime is now a trigger event for you to journal. This tiny habit can turn into something greater. However, if the same person set a goal “At the end of my day, I’ll write in my food journal”. This individual may do it on some days, but at the end of the day with all that’s going on between work, family and other obligations, it might be hard to remember your feelings after each meal when the only thing on your mind is getting to bed.
Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?
I started practicing mindfulness and breathwork in 2018 and it totally change my life! I have less anxiety, my mind is alert, and my body feels calm. My favorite practice so far is Kundalini Yoga. This is not your typical yoga classes as it incorporates chanting, breathing exercises, self-love meditations, and some yoga poses. As someone who signed up for a 2-hour class with no yoga background, I was immediately hooked, and this immersive experience left me feeling lighter with a calm mind and happy heart. I truly recommend everyone to try at least 1 Kundalini class! Meditation can improve optimal mental clarity and it’s another practice that I do daily.
Many people think mediation is only sitting with your legs crossed and eyes closed for an hour, but there’s many ways to meditate throughout the day with limited time. Anything that allows you to be present within the moment, paying close attention to your surroundings and your thoughts is a form of meditation whether that be cleaning your house, shooting a basketball, coloring in a notebook, journaling, or even cooking. My advice for beginners to meditation and mindfulness is to pick an activity that you find calming and pay attention to all the details as you’re doing it. Once you identify your activity, simply focus on your breathing patterns. Start journaling how you felt at the start compared to the end, and I can guarantee after a week of this, you’ll feel a greater sense of well-being.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I recently finished reading Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty and it was incredible! I have been following him on social media for some time and love the ideologies he teaches and how his training as a monk is intertwined to everyday life. My favorite quote from the book is: “Higher values propel and elevate us toward happiness, fulfillment, and meaning. Lower values demote us toward anxiety, depression, and suffering.” My interpretation is that many of us are subconsciously accustomed to a routine that might be self-deprecating and result in us never realizing our life purpose. However, this book made me understand that the bigger our “why” is and the more we value self-care, we ultimately will walk on a journey towards true happiness, purpose, and self-love.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
With TikTok and other social media platforms, everyone is doing some sort of “challenge”. You can type in any phrase and there’s a challenge about it. I want to inspire a gratitude challenge where people would use social media to challenge each other to reach out to 3 friends or family members each day to express gratitude and appreciation. Creating a movement to spread love will help to reduce a lot of the anger and tension in society right now and remind us all to focus on the small things and making a few people smile each day.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!