People, Place, Purpose: An Employer’s Role in Employee Mental Health

BY Keren Dinkin | January 24, 2024

For Nivati Founder and CEO Amelia Wilcox, the issue of mental health hits close to home. When she discovered that her sixteen-year-old was struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, she became acquainted with the difficult realities of mental health. 

“She had to undergo a whole year of intensive treatment outside of our home,” Wilcox said. “This was one of the hardest and most gut wrenching experiences that I have ever had, and it actually triggered some of my own issues with anxiety.” 

According to the American Psychological Association, 81% of workers consider mental health support an essential factor when looking for a new job. Even college students are looking for colleges with strong mental health support programs. 

Wilcox approaches the subject of employee mental health with a level of passion and empathy that can only come from someone who knows just how important it is. She spoke about the important topic in a recent thought leadership spotlight at From Day One’s January virtual conference.

A Brief Timeline of Corporate Mental Health

Wilcox started with a simplified timeline of corporate mental health: How it started and how we got to where we are today.  

It all began in the 1930s with employee assistance programs (EAPs), which were a response to workplace alcoholism. Over time, EAPs became the industry standard for HR to have in place for employees, and they've seen little innovation or change in the last 90 years.

Then, during the 2000s, EAPs were considered to be part of mental health support at work. That essentially checked the box for HR, and it was good enough for most companies. In the 2010s, in many offices, mental health benefits took the form of distractions like ping pong tables and video games. Things like onsite massage and nap rooms provided distractions from work to give the brain a break to refresh, and it worked for a while.

Then came 2020, when the world was on fire. We learned that mental health is real; it affects everyone, and it needs some serious attention. But people still weren’t quite sure what to do about it.  In 2021 and 2022 trends like the great resignation and quiet quitting became prevalent to a workforce that felt failed by their companies. Employees became less connected, less engaged, less appreciated, and ultimately overworked.

“I know it’s controversial to talk about it, but what I think is really cool about this phase is that workers really started to revolt against the hustle culture and set their own boundaries,” Wilcox said.

The Present and Future

Then came 2023, during which eggs reached upwards of $6 a dozen in different parts across the U.S.. Inflation peaked at over 8%, and employees started adding financial stress to the growing list of mental health challenges they were experiencing. During this time, some forward-thinking companies started to get ahead of quiet quitting by proactively addressing boundaries and culture in the workplace. 

For the past 90 years, mental health support at work has stayed roughly the same. Before 2020, the focus was mainly on pre-existing and diagnosable conditions. But over the last four years, we’ve seen that focus start to evolve very rapidly. It includes all of us; it’s not just people who have diagnosed mental illnesses—it’s everyone. 

The Road to Recovery

So, how do we shift work from being a source of burnout and mental health challenges to becoming a source of mental health support? Dr. Thomas Insel, who wrote Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health, forwards some powerful methods to reverse the mental health crisis that we’re in the middle of.

According to Dr. Insel, the road to recovery comprises three Ps: people, place, and purpose. With those three structures in place, people experiencing mental illness can experience the support and care they deserve. 


Connection and belonging are essential for everyone. In the workplace, that means employers have to find ways to foster this positive social interaction, and ensure the company culture is conducive to connection-building. 

For example, in “Blue Zones,” or areas where people consistently live to 100-years-old, one of the most common components is a strong sense of community connection and belonging. So, not only can this help with morale and employee mental health, but having that connection can help people live longer.


Place is about the environment. It can be virtual or your physical environment in the office. It’s the space employees work, and has to be where they feel physically, emotionally, and psychologically safe. 

One of the best ways to build psychological safety is to promote vulnerability, leadership needs to be involved in this to have an impact. Leaders should be able to discuss their struggles and what helps them. That allows people to feel safe and start to open up. 


(photo from thought leadership spotlight session)

All humans need to feel a sense of purpose. In the workplace, this translates to employees knowing what they do matters. 

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has also defined workplace well-being as one of his top six priorities as surgeon general. His ‘five essentials’  framework aptly illustrates the correlation between the various factors that impact workplace wellbeing.

Both the three P’s and the ‘Five Essentials’ tell a very similar narrative: the ultimate goal is to bring the workers’ voice back into the workplace. The bottom line is that the whole organization requires a cultural shift to put this in place and genuinely have a safe and supportive culture for mental health at work, says Wilcox.

Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Nivati, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.

Keren's love for words saw her transition from a corporate employee into a freelance writer during the pandemic. After having made her mark as a Top Rated Writer with over 2000 positive reviews in the extremely competitive Upwork space, and having been featured on various magazines and publications, Keren has now moved on to bigger and better with her own digital marketing agency aptly named Epic Owl. When she is not at her desk whipping up compelling narratives and sipping on endless cups of coffee, you can find her curled up with a book, playing with her dog, or pottering about in the garden.


Embedding DEI in Grantmaking: From Vision to Action

Embracing our differences and lived experiences enhances innovation, creativity, decision-making, and better problem-solving. But it’s not always easy to turn aspirations into tangible actions. In a thought leadership spotlight session at From Day One’s Denver conference, Tanya Odom, director of equity and inclusion at the Walton Family Foundation, shared practical strategies and real-world examples of embedding DEI principles and practices into philanthropy, both internally and externally.Odom painted a vivid picture of the Walton Family Foundation’s legacy, tracing its roots to its founding by Sam Walton and Helen Walton in 1987. “We’ve been in the space of diversity, equity, and inclusion for over 25 years,” said Odom. In 2020, the foundation awarded $749.5 million in grants. “We actually fund in three very specific areas that are determined by the family, which are education, which has taken different pathways and ways of looking at it, but that’s been since the beginning. Another is the environment, more specifically oceans and sustainability. And the third is the home region, Bentonville, Arkansas, and Arkansas’ Mississippi Delta,” said Odom. “We infuse all of them with a sensibility about diversity, equity inclusion.” “Our framework centers around three key pillars: embed, align, and amplify,” said Odom. Through these pillars, the foundation aims not only to incorporate DEI principles into its own operations, but also to foster similar initiatives among its grantees and partners. This holistic approach reflects the foundation’s recognition of the interconnectedness of issues, and its commitment to driving systemic change. “It's not just about what we do internally,” she said. “It's about how we leverage our influence to effect change on a broader scale.”Navigating the Last Few YearsThe conversation turned towards the challenges faced during the pivotal summer of 2020, a period marked by widespread social unrest and calls for racial justice. Odom reflected on the intense global efforts during that time. “Many of us had never worked as hard as we did in the summer of 2020,” she said. “That summer and I would say the year after that. And I think there was a sense of people finally understanding what we did.”Tanya Odom of the Walton Family Foundation was interviewed by From Day One co-founder Steve Koepp during the thought leadership spotlightDespite the challenges, Odom recalled this period as a catalyst for change. “We’ve been saying this, this is not new. Odom mentions the curb-cut theory, an awareness that once you find a pathway to address some of these inequities, or structural issues, you usually find ways to address other issues. “So while the summer of 2020 was called a racial reckoning, in Europe, it was also often called a social reckoning. It just highlighted so many other things.”Leadership Buy-In and the Importance of CourageOdom underscored the importance of courage in leadership and the willingness to take bold action. This call for courageous leadership highlighted the need for organizations to confront difficult conversations and actively engage in the work of dismantling systemic barriers to equity.At the Foundation, Odom says, they held an interview with their board chair on the subject of diversity. “And that was very unusual. Our comms department actually got permission to have that go out onto social media. What was really important was that our board chair talked about how DEI connected to the thoughts and beliefs of Sam Walton. Sam Walton wasn't saying ‘diversity, equity and inclusion.’ But Sam Walton talked about access. So how do we connect it to the mission of the organization?”Philanthropy's Roadblocks and Future ChallengesDespite the foundation's commendable efforts, Odom acknowledged the roadblocks and challenges facing philanthropy in its quest for DEI integration. “Dr. King has a quote,” she said. “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances, economic injustice, which makes philanthropy necessary.”Odom remained optimistic about the future, emphasizing the importance of collective action and ongoing dialogue. “While the road ahead may be challenging,” she said, “I firmly believe that by working together, we can overcome these obstacles and create a more inclusive and equitable future for all.”Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, the Walton Family Foundation, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight. Cynthia Barnes has written about everything from art to zebras from more than 30 countries. She currently calls Denver home.

Cynthia Barnes | February 09, 2024

Getting Ahead of Attrition Through Career Equity and Recognition

In the age of hybrid work and digital transformation, companies face the challenge of meeting rising employee expectations despite strained profits. Aside from wages, how might companies ensure that their employees’ needs are being met?At From Day One’s recent Atlanta conference, Jeff Cates, CEO of Achievers and Kumari Williams, VP of belonging and diversity at Workday, discussed exactly this. According to research from Achievers, the number of people who are job searching in 2024 is going up by 10%. For most people, the number one consideration is wage, which makes sense given today’s cost of living and expenses.How do we solve the wage problem when most organizations are actually looking to reduce wage increases this year? Research shows that on average, in the U.S., employers are looking at wage increases of about 3.9% in 2024 compared to 4.4% last year.Emotional salary supports retention. Two-thirds of individuals reported that if they felt supported and connected at an organization, they would take that over a 30% increase in wage.This cultural environment fosters a strong sense of belonging, increasing the likelihood of individuals pursuing long-term careers within their organization. Belonging creates the difference between ‘I work at an organization’ versus ‘I’m connected; I have a career at this organization.’Creating a sense of belonging is ultimately what helps create the stickiness that can help offset the lure of wages. For Williams, belonging is an output of inclusivity—and building inclusive spaces and inclusive leaders are the cornerstone workplace belonging.“It’s even a KPI for our organization. And so at the highest level in the organization, we are focused on increasing belonging, not just maintaining it,” she said.Williams, left, and Cates, right, led a thought leadership spotlight titled “Getting Ahead of Attrition Through Career Equity and Recognition, Using HR Tech” (photo by Dustin Chambers for From Day One)So, how do you create an environment where people feel connected and fulfilled? At Achievers, equity and transparency are vital in creating employee-friendly talent practices. “Individuals that report a feeling of career equity are two times more likely to not job hunt,” Cates said.One key area where they dialed in on transparency was performance ratings, where workmates were free to share performance ratings as well as their ratings from a potential standpoint and how they could do better, he says.It’s time to shift the idea of recognition from a reward to a sustainable practice that nudges people forward. It’s not just about using money (but you can, in small doses), but about using recognition to drive behavior, Cates says. It’s also important to use data to draw relevant insights regarding employee performance and how recognition can further propel that.“It’s really when we think about recognition that’s not tied to the monetary that we can drive behavior—and if we are going to use monetary rewards, then it should be used in very small doses,” said Cates.When you think about all the things you can do that drive behavior, such as recognition, gamification, and things that create a sense of accomplishment, it’s important to note that even micro-nudging or micro-rewarding can add up to help build positive habits. By helping to create habits and drive behavior, you can really drive scalable impact on how people feel. By accomplishing smaller tasks and micro-rewarding, you help people achieve a sense of fulfillment and action.It also comes down to leadership accountability. “Oftentimes, we’re focused on the message at the top of our organizations and making sure that our executives are aware of what we're trying to drive,” said Williams, “and it just doesn't permeate the layers in the middle.”For Williams, being intentional about how you drive accountability among leaders in the middle of the organization is essential so that they can carry the work forward. Most of your employees’ experience is shaped by your middle managers, not the executives, she says.Staying competitive in the job market and reducing attrition is challenging, especially now that employees are increasingly focused on finding better wages. However, the one thing that employees do value more than higher wages is company culture, particularly a sense of belonging where they see a path forward career-wise, where they’re being recognized, and feel that they are seen and heard.Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Achievers, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.Keren's love for words saw her transition from a corporate employee into a freelance writer during the pandemic. When she is not at her desk whipping up compelling narratives and sipping on endless cups of coffee, you can find her curled up with a book, playing with her dog, or pottering about in the garden.

Keren Dinkin | February 08, 2024

Get It Together Today: The Guide for a Better Tomorrow

In the midst of planning her wedding, Abby Schneiderman reveled in the resources at her fingertips, transforming the daunting tasks into an exciting journey towards her big day. Websites, guides, and videos gave her all the dos and don’ts and provided ample space for organization and management. But she found herself thinking: what’s next? Where are the resources to guide her through the rest of those big life moments?She found information for many life stages, from having kids, to home buying, to retirement planning. But in her research, she discovered that these resources end at retirement. Who’s supporting people with what comes next? While not everyone gets married or has children, everyone encounters aging, estate planning, and death. So, why is there a gap in support? One reason may be that most people would rather not think about these later stages, but postponing such considerations can leave a person’s survivors in a difficult spot. Shocked by the lack of coverage, Schneiderman and business partner Adam Seifer co-founded Everplans, the first modern consumer brand in life and legacy planning.From Day One interviewed Abby Schneiderman, co-founder and co-CEO of Everplans (company photo)Schneiderman and Seifer recognized that the first step was to publish helpful planning advice and evaluate if there was an audience actively seeking it. “We started writing content. We wrote 500 original articles on everything like ‘How do you write a will?’ to ‘How do you name a power of attorney?’ to ‘What do you wear to a funeral?’” Schneiderman told From Day One. They posted the content as a blog and were inundated with readers. “This told us that not only was there a need for the content and the resources that we were putting out there, but that there was just a huge gap out there that nobody was helping people with,” she said.Everplans evolved into a digital vault for storing, organizing, and updating all of the important plans and documents to guide the later stages of life–and afterwards. Shortly after launching, Schneiderman experienced a tragedy that changed the trajectory of everything. Her 51-year-old brother was killed in a car accident. He had life insurance, but Schneiderman’s family struggled to access his accounts, get policies and documents in place, and ultimately, make the decisions no one wants to make on behalf of their loved ones. The pain of losing her brother complicated the hardship of making these difficult decisions.This tragedy led to the realization that in order to be effective, Everplans needed to reach people before they even started thinking about life and legacy planning. All too often people just begin planning when it’s overdue. “That’s my story, but everyone has a story,” Schneiderman said. And a common theme in these stories is disorganization: our stuff is everywhere.The average person has hundreds of online accounts to keep track of, on top of sticky notes, notebooks, desk drawers, and other means of storing important information. “And when the time does come, family members should not have to go searching around frantically in the middle of a fog having to find important information,” said Schneiderman.“Our mission is to help people get organized for themselves today, so that they can sleep better at night. In the event that their families need it, they have access to all the important information,” said Schneiderman. Everplans helps people organize, store, and securely share wills, life insurance policies, health care directives, online passwords, and even the small but important things like family recipes. “We cover all aspects of life, whether they be everyday practical pieces of information that you want to make sure don’t get lost, or extremely critical information that family members need to have access to.”One of Schneiderman’s key goals is making life and legacy planning accessible to everyone, even folks who tend to be put off by legal, healthcare, and technological complexities. Everplans gives people the toolkits to make informed decisions and make these complicated topics less overwhelming. In addition to all of the content on their website, Schneiderman and Seifer co-authored In Case You Get Hit by a Bus: How to Organize Your Life Now for When You’re Not Around Later and started a podcast to give people the resources they need in a bite-sized, colloquial way.The company’s founders see their platform as a great equalizer. “Everplans is really leveling the playing field for employees who may not have access to financial planners, accountants, or estate attorneys. It’s inherently educating all employees on the benefits of getting organized. The simple interface, easy-to-use platform, resources, and guidance engine will help get you organized for your family,” said Schneiderman. Everplans was available initially in a retail version as well as through financial services organizations. More recently, the platform became available as a benefit for employers to offer their workers.This inclusive approach not only helps Everplans’ customers, but also appeals to employers interested in offering Everplans as an addition to their total-rewards programs. Schneiderman pointed to the recent development of a management toolkit, which serves as a “resource for employers, specifically leaders in the organization, on how to have conversations with employees during challenging or pivotal moments.” Many well-intentioned managers lack the necessary guidance to support their employees and navigate tough conversations about life-changing events. Companies run the risk of losing employees when support feels inauthentic. The management toolkit provides employers with culturally relevant guidance to authentically support their employees.The benefits to employers don’t stop there, Schneiderman says. In a study conducted last year with 1,000 full-time U.S. employees, “we found a direct relationship between productivity and organization,” she said. “When my desk is messy, I’m less productive or when my closet is a mess, I’m frustrated. But also, when you don’t know where vital information is, you are more concerned and you’re less productive–there is this real relationship there.”By getting people organized, Everplans has a direct impact on productivity, the company asserts. People that are more productive or less stressed generally feel a greater sense of control about their lives. “Over time, as more and more people started using Everplans, we realized the site wasn’t about death–it was about life. Because getting organized lets you live to the fullest, knowing you’re prepared for anything, having done your very best for those you love.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Everplans, for supporting this sponsor spotlight.Erin Behrens is an associate editor at From Day One.

Erin Behrens | January 12, 2024