The Future of Work: Mental Health Matters

UC Berkeley Extension
28 min readApr 1, 2024


Welcome to The Future of Work podcast with Berkeley Extension and the EDGE in Tech Initiative at the University of California, focused on expanding diversity and gender equity in tech. EDGE in Tech is part of CITRIS, the Center for IT Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute. UC Berkeley Extension is the continuing education arm of the University of California at Berkeley.

Demand for mental health benefits has grown. Per a 2023 NPR article titled, “Psychologists Say They Can’t Meet the Growing Demand for Mental Health Care,” they quoted over half said they had no openings for new patients. Among those who kept wait lists, the average wait times were three months or longer. And nearly 40% said their wait list had grown in the past year.

There is a growing market for apps as well to fill the gaps, including relaxation apps for meditation or deep breathing, like Calm and Headspace, as well as platforms that connect people with licensed therapists, like BetterHelp. And there’s even a growing number of AI-powered solutions that emulate a therapist, including Woebot Health, Limbic and Wysa. All this has an impact on workers and the workplace. Unsurprisingly, some studies are showing poor mental health, depression, anxiety as associated with lost productivity through absenteeism and presenteeism.

And as we heard from Daniel Zhao at Glassdoor in our earlier podcast, newer generations of employees are expecting employers to address these needs with benefits. So let’s talk about what employees are seeking from companies and how companies are responding to discuss this important topic.

We’re delighted to speak with Sylvia Doss. Sylvia is a strategic advisor and educator with 15-plus years of experience designing solutions for better health and wellbeing in work environments and communities that drive business outcomes.

She brings that experience to Sable Advisory Services, an advisory firm she founded with her colleagues in 2020. Sable Advisory Services was created in response to the emerging uncertainty related to the intersection of health, environment, and work. She partners with companies to identify social risks and opportunities and to develop tailored solutions that promote positive social impact and enhance long-term business performance. Her work in this space expands into her community as a board committee member for the Healing Well, a nonprofit in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, where she fosters advancing a community of wellness, empowerment, liberation and love. Welcome, Sylvia.

Sylvia Doss: Thank you, Jill.

Jill Finlayson: It’s so great to have you here, and this is such a timely topic. Those stats that I read are really concerning, and we also hear a lot about burnout and exhaustion in work. So can you tell us a little bit about what you do and how you’re seeing this need for mental health grow?

Sylvia Doss: So what I do with Sable Advisory is we really look at the whole environment. And a lot of companies are concerned about sustainability, and they’re concerned about ESG—Environmental, Social and Governance. And we just work with them to think about, how does that really impact their employees? And how does it impact their relationship, not just with their employees, but their consumers and with their communities?

And so it often comes up that with our employees, how are we really supporting them? And yeah, there’s the health aspect, but there’s this mental health aspect that connects so strongly with it and is just largely, I wouldn’t say ignored, but it’s kind of like the stepchild of health, I guess, is maybe how I could think about it.

And so we want to help organizations think about not just what programs are needed. You know, historically, I’ve worked for organizations where it’s all about programs. But also, how does that fit into the organization? How does that fit into the work that people do? And how does that actually better and improve outcomes for the organizations, outcomes for the people, outcomes for the community?

Jill Finlayson: So when you talk about these programs, tell me a little bit more about the different types of programs that are out there and where they fall short from this holistic view.

Sylvia Doss: So for years, I’ve worked with organizations where we have mental health services. And we’ll have, say, a mental health panel of therapists. So just like your doctor, you go in, you find a therapist, you make an appointment, and you go and see them.

That actually has expanded, particularly through the pandemic, to more virtual care. So now you can see your therapist via Zoom, which I personally think is actually a great thing. I think it increases accessibility greatly.

The other ways that I see it happen is-and you mentioned some things, Calm, Headspace, but also versions of that, which is a combination of some of that type of therapy, like CBT therapy, but with a therapist in the background, a therapist more assigned to groups of people that assigned to individual people. And then I would say, the last thing that I see with employers are the apps where it’s totally AI-driven.

My concern is with intake, really. And do people know where they are mentally? Do they know what their needs are? And where’s the intake to make sure we’re getting people to the right places?

Jill Finlayson: Yeah. I think that’s really important to think about—what people are feeling, when they are seeking these services, what are their needs? And are they being almost a concierge to find the right place to start for where their needs are today? So you’ve talked to a lot of companies. How are they defining health and wellness? You said mental health was the stepchild. So what’s the larger sphere that all of the mental health fits into?

Sylvia Doss: Health and benefits. It’s looking at, what are the top drivers of health? Where are we spending our money largely? There was something the Business Group on Health—actually, they ran a survey at the end of last year. 70% of the employers ranked mental health and substance use disorder services as their number two emerging area of concern.

And their focus is actually turning to virtual mental health providers. I personally think that what gets missed — and this is really a lot of work we start thinking about with Sable Advisory—is there is a really deep connection between work, our mental health, our overall health. These kind of things go together.

And I remember when I was a kid, now, my parents, they worked 9:00 to 5:00, and they came home, and we had dinner every night. And they didn’t work weekends. And Sundays, we spent time with family. And I didn’t sense that there was this concern over work-life balance. I feel like now we’re just trying to get that back, just having time to rest.

And so if you don’t have enough of that, job satisfaction, work stress—all of those things contribute to our mental stress. I began studying particularly during the pandemic is, what are some of the things that are really challenging people? Because I think we saw mental health just kind of blow up. And I just did a simple calculation.

If I have a nice job, I work 40 hours a week, I don’t have a huge commute, how much of my time over a seven-day workweek actually is spent on work and work-related-getting to work, getting from work? And it’s about half of that time. And so it just makes sense to me. You can’t spend half of your time doing something and it doesn’t impact you.

Jill Finlayson: Absolutely. Well, I think when we look at what companies are doing, it’s exciting to see that they are prioritizing this, that this is an area of emerging concern for them. So as they look at the needs that are growing, they’re also, of course, pressed with financial limits on the other side. So how do you coach the companies to take this more seriously?

Sylvia Doss: I actually don’t think that they cannot take it seriously. There’s different ways to actually look at how we start to support people in mental health. There’s a top-down approach, and there’s a bottom-up approach.

And the employer—one thing is, yeah, you get a program. You have a program that’s accessible for people. But the other thing is not contributing to people’s poor mental health.

And to me, that means having managers who can actually manage people. And manage people isn’t just project management. It’s actually being able to talk to people, understand what’s going on with people, be able to have those conversations when it’s needed, checking in with people before meetings, just having that type of culture.

And I actually believe that things can go pretty far when you have a culture that starts to say, hey, our mental health is really important. And that in itself balance off a lot of costs. It balances off the cost and the usage of the programs, and it increases productivity. I mean, we know there’s studies and data—this isn’t just talk—that show that you’re more productive when you’re having a great day.

Jill Finlayson: Absolutely. So how do we give managers these skills to support their employees? And how do we build the culture that promotes wellness?

Sylvia Doss: The way organizations are typically set up, things are really siloed. You have your organizational development people, you have your benefits people, you might have your wellbeing people, your safety, your workers’ comp. I actually think, number one, the basic infrastructure needs to be revamped because all of this is working together, and it’s not as simple as just, OK, we’re going to get together once a month and talk about it.

It’s almost like it needs to be revamped. That’s one of the main things that can happen. And use data, find ways to use data, and understand the intersectionalities of people and the population. I would say, you may look at recruiters, and recruiters are thinking about the population one way, and health people over here are thinking about the population a different way. But we really need to understand our population.

And I’m talking about more than what kind of diseases or injuries they have, more than age, and gender, and how many kids they have covered under the plan. We need to understand ethnicity. We need to understand sexual orientation. We need to understand commute times if they’re commuting in. We really need to take some time and understand who our people are.

Jill Finlayson: That’s a great way to break it down and to really think about the role that diversity, equity, and inclusion can play in these mental health challenges and the needed supports. So some of the things that companies do are they have employee resource groups, but what do you see as needed when we start to consider all of those different populations that we have in the workplace?

Sylvia Doss: Well, employee resource groups—and you mentioned that, but I don’t want to undermine that because that is actually a grassroots way to start connecting all these different intersectionalities of people and working with those groups and having them support a broader corporate strategy and initiative of we want to have healthy people—that means mental and that means physical. I think is a great way to get them involved in saying, well, this is what our people need. This is what we need.

Jill Finlayson: So if we want to provide needed supports for specific intersections that are out there, are there other things we can do to recognize that not everyone is having the same experience?

Sylvia Doss: So this is where we get down to the different programs available. And with mental health—and I think a lot of people actually feel this way. When it comes to a mental health provider, me as a Black woman, my age, living in a part of the world I live in, I’m looking for someone who understands who I am, who has a similar experience to me. I had a friend once, and she was a therapist.

And she focused on working with first-generation South Indian women of a certain age, and that was very, very specific. But that’s what she related to, and that’s who she could talk to and help. And she understood a lot of the background. So I believe that organizations need to take into account that you can’t just throw out a general panel of providers without knowing what’s the diversity, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, how accessible they are.

And one thing I don’t want to leave out is also parents and their kids. So having kids under 18—it’s a significantly growing area for mental health support. And I just don’t see that enough focus is really given to that.

Jill Finlayson: It’s still coming up a lot, the sandwich generation, where they have the kids in school, but they also are dealing with aging parents as well, which can be another huge stressor.

Sylvia Doss: Yeah. And it’s interesting you mentioned that because I was just thinking today, when you go to search for a mental health provider, the way they’re titled actually doesn’t align, I think, with what a lot of people are looking for as an industry, the mental health profession, could actually fix. There’s a whole lot of marriage and family.

And I was like, well, I don’t need a marriage therapist, but just not understanding what falls under that category. I just think that they also could do some work. And to your point of the sandwich generation, you’re a caregiver. You could use some support, probably a different type of therapist than someone who is working with new parents as an example.

Jill Finlayson: Absolutely. Stressors come from different sides. So I see three elements to this, and I’d like to hear your thoughts on these different elements. So one is, how do you manage stressors that come from inside the workplace-work-related stress, that work-life balance that you talked about? Then there’s the family relationship stresses. But there’s another level, which is the world.

We’re in a very divisive time in our country. The politics are very challenging, and there’s a lot of trauma induced just by the news. So we’re getting it from all sides. And so as we think about the company and their opportunity to be supportive, they have to look at all three of those buckets.

Sylvia Doss: Absolutely. Something else stands out during the pandemic is just having environments that I think of as a safe workplace. And to me, a safe workplace means not just I’m safe physically, but I’m also safe mentally.

I know I’m going to go in, I’m not going to be harassed. I know I’m going to be respected there. I think a lot goes into just the culture of the workplace, just having your basic health essentials, being able to have access to programs and providers, and the couple other areas, which was crisis support and environmental essentials is what I named it.

It can’t be our personal crisis support. You have a family issue. It could be a broader crisis support, which is what’s going on in the world right now, and the environmental essentials. So how do we support people environmentally? But organizations have to realize that all this is going on for people, which is why we’re even having this conversation because if all this wasn’t going on, this probably wouldn’t be at the top of a lot of our conversations and concerns.

I think that just speaks to, what kind of culture do you want of your organization? And how do you go about building that and building it from the top down and the bottom up? You’re going to have to hold people accountable and particularly, I’d say managers accountable. And you’re going to have to really get some empathy going through that organization. I think empathy goes a long way to supporting people when there’s challenges they’re having inside the workplace, or with the family, or just in the world.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah. You mentioned environmentally. Say a little bit more about that.

Sylvia Doss: Yeah. You know, I have an environment just in the community I’m in. And I have an environment in being here in California or being in San Francisco. And I also have an environment being in the US and these world issues. There’s this old-school mindset that hangs out there and it says, when you come to work, you come to work, and all that stuff should be off to the side somewhere.

And I think that still filters through work environments. And it’s just not the way things work. And frankly, it never did. And so I think of environments, we just have to be sensitive that things go on.

I’ll give you an example. So years ago, there was a shooting of a Black church. And for me to go into work and no one says anything about it, it’s like, that’s impacting my environment.

Jill Finlayson: So why do you think it’s so difficult to give people the health services, like the therapist? Why are the weights so long? And do you see any outlook on the horizon that says that’s going to improve?

Sylvia Doss: Years ago, particularly when I first moved to the Bay Area and I was working for an insurance company, part of my role was in going out and attracting providers and setting up contracts with providers groups. I’ve been thinking about that with mental health providers. And it may come down to pay, frankly—pay and finding ways to actually get people through the educational system focus on therapists.

So I believe that there’s a shortage of therapists, particularly when you start to look at all the different intersectionalities of people. But I don’t believe that the industry has really put forth a roadmap and a pathway to increase that. And instead, the road is going toward apps.

Jill Finlayson: Right. So if you can’t afford or you can’t get a therapist, is an app better than nothing?

Sylvia Doss: I actually think an app probably is better than nothing. I’ve used a couple of meditation apps for years, and I’d say it’s better than nothing, for sure.

Jill Finlayson: How do we get where we need to be faster? And maybe this is one of those ways.

Sylvia Doss: Yeah, perhaps so.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah, because we do have to train a new generation. And I think this is a question of this is one of those jobs that is perhaps both AI-tolerant but also being challenged by AI.

Sylvia Doss: Yeah. I think it’s really interesting. If you ever talk to therapists about AI and what they do, there’s certainly a difference. What may be a challenge for these AI mental health apps is the fact that it’s AI. And do people trust it? Do people feel like they’re being heard? [LAUGHS] I think that will be a challenge. And I wonder, when you know that it’s AI, does it move you further away from really being able to ever have people relationships?

Jill Finlayson: I’m glad you brought that up. I think there have been some studies that have said that people knowing it’s AI doesn’t affect their ability to use the apps. They’re OK with that, and it’s still a place where they can express themselves.

But I think you’re bringing up another big issue that’s another cause of mental health issues in the United States. So I don’t know how much you can say about this, but the loneliness epidemic. We’re more connected than ever before, but people feel more isolated than ever before and feel like they can’t build those social relationships.

Sylvia Doss: What I can I tell you about loneliness is just this past week—I’m familiar with Bell Hooks. And in her book, All About Love, there was some stuff in there about loneliness. And this is from the early ’90s, I think—loneliness really becoming a problem. I’m probably not an expert in loneliness. I can’t really put my finger on what it is, but I do know that if I’m having a hard time and I can get together with my girlfriend, even just to talk about having a hard time, it makes a significant difference. And if people don’t have those types of relationships, who do you bounce off or vent when you have a bad day, or when you’re struggling with a family issue, or when someone passes, or you just don’t have those people in your life who are going to look out for you?

Jill Finlayson: Yeah. And I think data also says that you live longer—your health span and your life span is longer if you maintain social ties. That’s one of the metrics they can measure. So it’s a question of, how do we help people bridge some of those human gaps and not just have the friends at work? Because is the workplace your family? That discussion has gone both ways, where people are like, it’s great that it’s family; no, it’s bad that it’s family. It’s work.

Sylvia Doss: Yeah. Well, I could go a couple of ways on a workplace. I have worked for groups with people who were pretty close to family, and I have worked for groups where people are not at all family.

I think it just depends on how well you connect with people. I mean, oftentimes, when you’re in workplaces where, people, you feel that close to them, there’s going to be a couple of people you’ll probably keep up with forever. And really, it’s not necessarily family as much as it is, I think, friendship.

Jill Finlayson: Absolutely. So with work being more porous, being more 24/7, having these emails go all days, all times, some of the things that I’ve heard people talk about is put at the bottom of your email, my hours may not match your hours. Please don’t feel obligated to reply if it’s outside your work hours. But what are some of the other things that companies should encourage or employees should do to protect themselves from this 24/7 being on?

Sylvia Doss: I will tell you, Jill, years ago, I had a manager, she would get into a work conversation on a Saturday night. So you’re at home on Saturday night, the phone rings, and she what the hell this work conversation. And I hadn’t reported directly to her. but when I was about to, someone said, don’t even start that. Just don’t be available.

So it takes some strength, especially when you’re young in your career, to not be available certain times. And this is where I think self-esteem comes in—your self-esteem, your self-love. You don’t let someone else take that away from you.

And I have talked to people on weekends. I’ve talked to people when I was sick. But the understanding is that’s not the norm. We have a crisis here. I’m going to be here to help you.

But the norm is not that we’re just going to have these random conversations that we can have on Monday on a Saturday night. I advise young employers, when you go into a workplace, you have to figure out if it is really the culture for you. But it doesn’t mean that you’re the problem.

It may just not be a fit, or they may actually be a problem on top of that. The 24/7 and putting things on your email, you have to just get into shutting down. But it does—it takes a little bit of strength, I think, to do that working with a company where people around the clock.

Jill Finlayson: And that’s where I think leadership does matter because as new graduates, new employees, they’re not going to know how to set those boundaries, so it really does come down to the leadership to encourage those practices and walk the walk.

Sylvia Doss: Yeah. Almost like having no-email times.

Jill Finlayson: Exactly.

Sylvia Doss: And you get in trouble for sending emails at 10 o’clock at night.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah. And I was thinking more about the remote work. So we talked about the mental cost of having a long commute. So we have now proof that flexible work, remote work works.

So a lot of people are doing that. And disproportionately, women, people of color, people who live a long distance from their workplace are especially benefiting from this. But there’s a flip side to this as well. If you are remote and not physically in the workplace, how do you avoid being left out, feeling isolated, or even a little paranoid, like what’s going on when I’m not there?

Sylvia Doss: Well, this is actually something I’ve thought about really a lot, coming up through a workplace that was present. I was with them all day. And you think about things that go on in the workplace. There was the study that what people miss not being in a workplace.

And at first, it was this thought, oh, I’m going to miss people. But they’re not missing the people. They’re seeing the people on Zoom and talking to them.

But they miss things like visibility, being able to run into that senior executive, or run into someone in that other department that you might be interested in working in. Culture is an issue, learning opportunities, and even having a structured day back to the 24/7. I believe that it takes the organization—and this is where you start to bring together mental health, organizational development, the health people, everybody together. How do you build this virtual company, basically?

And what I find so interesting, Jill, is there used to be a group that I would follow. They would have a conference every year, and they talked about remote work. And this is before the pandemic. So the people who were connected with that were people who had opted for remote work. They were living all over the world, doing all kinds of stuff, doing remote work.

That group pretty much went out of business because now the people who are in this remote-work situation, it’s new to them. They didn’t opt for it. It came upon them, just the difference.

I don’t know if I could really say how do you create this complete virtual company where I can get to know the people and learn and development because that’s an area I’m interested in. I’m not sure. But unless that’s happening, there is no place for an employee to go except for another company.

Jill Finlayson: It’s quite challenging, and it’s a balancing act because it’s partially the employee’s responsibility to make sure that they maintain those relationships and hooked in, but it’s also the company’s responsibility to make sure the infrastructure is there, that people aren’t unintentionally left out of meetings or invites. So there’s a proactiveness on both sides.

Sylvia Doss: Right. I wonder if employees coming in could have some kind of mentor who runs interference for them.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah. I think mentors are a huge resource for understanding the unwritten rules and get the lay of the land.

Sylvia Doss: Exactly, exactly.

Jill Finlayson: Another thing that really comes up when you think about mental health is vacation. Let’s take a vacation. Let’s go breathe, really separate ourselves from work, and have a vacation. Are people taking vacation?

Sylvia Doss: I think it depends. I think it depends on your organization. I think more traditional organizations, there’s still vacations.

But there’s a couple of challenges with vacation. And one is being OK with that respond to an email 10 o’clock. Now you’re not going to respond to an email for a week or two. Are you going to do that?

What I used to find is someone went on vacation, you didn’t email them. You just kept everything until they came back. Unless they were taking a super long vacation, everything could just wait. The other issue I think with vacation is—I mean, the US isn’t really big on days off to begin with, and the issue of unlimited vacation, and people not understanding it. And me, having been in the benefits and the health care realm, it’s like, how do you unlimited vacation?

What happens—you know, I’m asking all the questions and find out that unlimited vacation technically means you don’t have a vacation plan, which means that you don’t accrue vacation. So I need a week off, and I have a manager who says, OK, yeah, you can take a week off, not this week. It’d have to be next week.

I could also have a manager who says, I can’t afford for you to take a week off right now. And it also defaults to the culture of the company. So now that two weeks that I had accrued under one company, under my unlimited vacation plan, I didn’t accrue it, so maybe just don’t get to take it.

Jill Finlayson: It’s not a commodity that you can say, ooh, I have to take it or it’ll go away.

Sylvia Doss: Right. It’s made-up. And I think I’ve mentioned I feel like it’s a scam because I mean, who wouldn’t want real unlimited vacation? But if it’s going to be up to my manager to say, you can take it, you can’t take it, and then people start to feel maybe I shouldn’t be taking vacation because everybody here only takes two weeks. And so I want to do this three-week thing, but I shouldn’t.

It used to be a benefit. The longer you stay, the more vacation you get. That was a win-win. But it really depends on the culture.

I’ve seen it play out in companies that way. Companies with unlimited vacation. Sometime, people happen to be in companies and with groups within those companies where they can actually benefit from that. And then other ones, it’s like, oh, no, nobody takes a vacation here.

Jill Finlayson: I like your point that it really comes back to, again, defaults to the culture of the company. And so if an individual does want to take vacation, are people actually just taking vacation days? Or are they feeling like they just have too much to do? Or are they continuing to work when they’re on vacation? What are you seeing?

Sylvia Doss: I see that people work a lot on vacation. At least, they’ll check their email. Oh, I’m just going to check my email in the morning. Well, [LAUGHS] now you’re working on vacation. I mean, the benefit of vacation is to be able to step away from this day-to-day, half of your time each week being associated with work.

It allows you to actually step away from that and focus on other things. It allows you to do something creative, do something fun, take some walks in the park, go visit some family or friends. It allows you to just focus on that. And just focusing on that, we know it’s really relaxing to our mind, to our brain, to our bodies. And when we run people 24/7 basically 365 days a year, it’s just not healthy.

Jill Finlayson: Absolutely. And I think that point that you just made about creativity, you come back able to have a better perspective. You can see things that maybe you weren’t missing because you were in the weeds. So I do think there’s a lot of benefits to getting a real break.

Sylvia Doss: Absolutely.

Jill Finlayson: So we talked a little bit about all the different aspects of people’s lives where stress comes in. One of the major things that we talk about is a major event in someone’s life—a divorce, a loss, the grieving process. That’s a very individual experience as well. So what do you see as company policies? And how can we do a better job of supporting people when they’re in that moment of crisis?

Sylvia Doss: Well, first off, I think part of it is having managers that understand that this employee is having a personal crisis. It’s not their personal crisis. It’s my employee’s personal crisis because sometimes I think managers can think, well, OK, that’s not that big of a deal you need to get over it. And this is the empathy and the compassion part of it.

But I think something that’s difficult about it is that if I’m grieving, I can grieve for months. Do I not work for months? But I do believe that employers need to find a way to have those kind of conversations with employees. Three days bereavement is just deplorable.

So what I was 27, my mother passed. And we had three days bereavement. And I took a week

Nobody said anything about it. That week was nothing. That week was nothing in that.

And I just wish that maybe I would have had a manager who even would have said, I can’t just have you off for months necessarily unless you really do need to take a personal leave, but would have supported me in maybe taking extra days here and there, supported me in getting some mental health support. Don’t give me the biggest project ever and hold my feet to the fire. When somebody is going through something, we care about them. We looked out for them, make sure they’re eating.

Jill Finlayson: A little kindness goes a long way.

Sylvia Doss: Yeah. And I think for those particular issues—grieving, divorces—you have to realize that is significant for people.

Jill Finlayson: This is the most intergenerational workforce that we’ve ever had. We’ve got a lot of different groups of people. Are you seeing any differences in regard to willingness to talk about mental health needs amongst these different generations and what they expect?

Sylvia Doss: Yeah, yeah. I think the younger generation is much more open to talking about mental health. It’s just much more common for them.

To that point, I’m not sure that they act on it in the best way. And what I mean by that is for me to say, hey, I have a therapist or whatever, and I’m talking to a younger person, they’re like, OK, it’s no big deal. And they may say, oh, I need to take care of my mental health.

But to actually go to a therapist, actually take the steps to do it, I’m not convinced that they’re doing that at a significantly greater rate than prior generations. And part of that may be digital solutions. Yeah, it may be your Calms, and your Headspace, and your Insight timers, and other things like that. But I do think that they’re more open to it, for sure.

Jill Finlayson: Is there still a stigma around mental health and talking about mental health? Or do you think that has improved?

Sylvia Doss: I think it’s improved, but I still believe it’s a stigma because I think as you go on with different generations in the workplace, you get to older generations, I think there still is a stigma about mental health and what’s going on with that person. And is this work too hard for them now?

The concern with work before was, if have a mental health issue, they think I can’t do the work. And let’s say you have a younger person who is constantly seeing their therapist, how do the managers think about that? I could go probably to physical therapy forever for a knee, and it wouldn’t be a concern, right? But if I have to go to my therapist, I don’t know.

Jill Finlayson: That’s an interesting comparison of what’s acceptable and what they start to question.

Sylvia Doss: Yeah. So I think there’s some of that there. I don’t think it’s gone at all.

Jill Finlayson: Kind of wrapping up on two fronts, let’s talk about what companies and leaders need to do. What red flags should they be watching for? And how can they better support their employees?

Sylvia Doss: Employers really need to pay attention to, number one, is who’s in your workforce? And don’t have that just creep up on you. Know who’s there. Know rates that people are coming, and going, retiring, or just quitting. Understand the flow of your workforce. Understand what your primary health concerns are and ask about it from different angles.

I’d probably challenge every employer, if you have employee resource groups, you should be interviewing them—every one of them—and get their feedback on it. Is the company doing enough around health, and mental health, and supporting you? And I know that the challenge going out and asking employees is now you have to do something about it. But you should want to do something about it. So I think that that’s first red flags. You should know that so that you know what’s going on with your business.

I think some strategies—and it goes along with that—is just making sure that you even understand intersections and that you are valuing intersections. So I’m a woman of a certain age, I’m a Black woman, I have a certain education, I live with a certain place. All those things matter.

And for strategies, one thing is do a bottom-up and top-down strategy. And a really easy bottom-up strategy is do some manager training, and at least have your managers at the beginning of every meeting ask people how they’re doing. Give them a scale, 1 to 5, red, yellow, green, where are you today? And use that information to inform how you run that meeting.

When I worked for Chevron, a very safety-focused organization, every meeting started with a safety moment—every one. When we have vendors come in, they bring their safety moment for us to start to meeting with. There’s stuff I do now that’s still very safety-focused because of that. And so just start to intertwine that into your own team. That’s what I would say for employers.

Jill Finlayson: A little bit about how you run your meetings how you interact with people, just having that sense of keeping a check-in and understanding where people are at.

Sylvia Doss: Yeah, exactly.

Jill Finlayson: So let’s talk about the individual, so the individual employee. What are some red flags they should be watching for for themselves in terms of how they’re doing in the workplace and beyond? And what are some strategies for taking advantage of what your company has to offer? But also, what are other things that you can do if your company maybe isn’t offering as many benefits as they could?

Sylvia Doss: So I do think that individuals do need to take responsibility. And we need to take responsibility for ourselves and the impact it has not just on us, but our families, the people around us. I think a thing that is challenging is knowing when do you do that. When do you have a challenge? When are you approaching burnout? And we don’t always know that until we hit that wall.

So practicing healthy practices upfront—this is where you get to this wellness and wellbeing, right? It helps us to know that something is getting out of sorts—things like creativity and gaining creativity from being on vacation, but also doing something creative in your life-meditation, exercise, start checking your sleep. I mean, I was never good with sleep. It took me over a year of tracking my sleep before I could actually get into a pattern of, OK, now I know I’m rested, I’m not rested. And even just being in nature and just starting to incorporate something every week, put it in the calendar because it supports us, but it also starts to say, God, I’m so exhausted. And you start to realize, I’m super exhausted because this job is wearing me out.

And then little things, check on people around you. And I think we go through and we say, hey, how are you doing? But if you know someone is coming back from a divorce, check up on them. See if they want to go grab lunch, coffee, just little stuff, really, to keep us connected and take responsibility for us.

And as far as mental health, if you have a company that’s not providing services, there are ways to get mental health support. There are a lot of providers of therapists who work on a sliding scale. You can Google providers in your area, and you can look them up. And some of them they will tell you, I work on a sliding scale. So if you can’t afford a full bill, maybe you can afford a partial bill.

Jill Finlayson: I think that’s a great way to leave people here, that you should check on the people around you. You should take care of yourself. And you should ask your company to provide the supports that will provide for a more productive, and happy, and effective team.

Sylvia Doss: Yeah, give them some suggestions.

Jill Finlayson: Fantastic. Any final words you want to leave people on this topic of mental health in the workplace?

Sylvia Doss: I guess the one thing I want to mention is that it’s really serious. We’re really at a critical point, and I think a lot of things that we see, particularly in the news, is really driven by poor mental health. And so when Business Group on Health says, hey, this is like a top trend we’re paying attention to, it really needs to be a top trend that I think all of us are paying attention to.

I think we’re beyond I’m not feeling good today, I should get a therapist. I think we’re well beyond that. And so just to take it seriously, and take care of your employees. The last thing I want to mention is people often say, what can I do in this world to make things better? And it’s looking after yourself and looking after people around you.

Jill Finlayson: That’s such a great message to leave people on, that this is something that we should be paying attention to. This is a serious topic. It’s a trending topic, and it’s not one we can ignore and that we need to take care of ourselves and pay attention. Thank you so much, Sylvia.

Sylvia Doss: Well, thank you, Jill.

Jill Finlayson: And with that, I hope you enjoyed this latest in a long series of podcasts that we’ll be sending your way every month. Please share with friends and colleagues who may be interested in taking this Future of Work journey with us. And make sure to check out to find a variety of courses to help you thrive in this increasingly challenging working landscape. And to see what’s coming up at EDGE in Tech, go ahead and visit

Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll be back next month with another look at the future of work. The Future of Work podcast is hosted by me, Jill Finlayson, produced by Sarah Benzuly, and edited by Matt DiPietro and Natalie Newman. Thanks for listening.



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