When employers recognize the interconnectedness of employee wellbeing and business success, they lay the foundation for a sustainable future for their organization. Photo via Getty Images

Inflation impacts everyone, including individuals, the workforce and business leaders. As the cost of living continues to rise, employees face diminishing purchasing power, shrinking retirement savings and higher stress levels.

In PwC’s 2023 Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 57 percent of respondents named finances as the top cause of stress in their lives. With these factors in play, employers should consider the support they provide for employees’ financial health, which directly impacts them emotionally and physically. When any one of these elements are out of alignment, employee productivity and engagement suffer, in turn impacting business success.

The Inflation Conundrum

Inflation is the silent financial predator that affects every aspect of life. Coupled with the financial responsibilities of the workforce, like child or elder care and college tuition, inflation erodes the value of money over time. As prices surge and the purchasing power of the dollar declines, the effects can ripple through a person’s life, including the workplace. Here are several ways inflation can impact employees:

  • Diminished Salary Satisfaction: Inflation does not discriminate. When prices rise, compensation does not follow suit at a one-to-one ratio. This can lead employees to feel their salaries are no longer sufficient to maintain their desired standard of living. Employees who do not have enough for their daily needs are not saving for their future goals, which exacerbates salary dissatisfaction.
  • Eroding Retirement Savings: A 401(k) is a critical component for many employees’ long-term financial strategy. However, inflation can interfere as the cost of living finds employees allocating less to their retirement accounts. Fewer contributions can have a significant long-term impact on the workforce’s financial goals.
  • Increased Stress and Anxiety: Financial insecurity and the higher cost of living can impact mental health. The stress and anxiety common with financial challenges often makes its way into the workplace, resulting in decreased productivity and engagement, interpersonal tension and employees seeking additional or alternative employment opportunities.

The PwC survey underlines how financial stress impacts employees beyond their pocketbooks with 50% or more reporting a negative impact on sleep, mental health and self-esteem. While physical health and relationships at home are not far behind at 44 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

The Holistic Approach to Employee Well-being

In times of economic uncertainty, it becomes vital for employers to prioritize their employees' well-being. A holistic approach, proactively addressing emotional, physical and financial health, can mitigate the negative impacts of inflation and foster a more engaged workforce. A few strategies to consider include:

  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Employee Assistance Programs are a valuable resource for employees facing personal or financial challenges. These programs provide access to counseling services, financial advice and other forms of support. Offering EAPs demonstrates an employer’s commitment to the overall well-being of their workforce.
  • Greater 401(k) Contributions: Employers can consider increasing the company’s 401(k) contributions in recognition of the strain inflation places on employees' retirement savings. A higher match encourages employees to save more and helps offset the erosion of their retirement savings due to inflation. It is important to note, this is not a short-term solution. Once implemented, it is difficult to walk back these changes without negatively impacting employee morale.
  • Open Communication: Open and transparent communication with employees is always key but is especially paramount to understanding their concerns and needs during periods of inflation. Regular surveys or meetings to gauge employees' financial stress levels and field suggestions for improvement can provide valuable insights.
  • Financial Incentives: Though it is not an immediate fix to immediate financial needs, incentivizing employees to save and invest can be a win-win strategy. Employers can offer financial literacy programs, workshops, or provide bonuses or incentives tied to employees' financial goals. These resources, trainings and initiatives can empower employees to make better informed financial decisions.

The Consequences

Business leaders should realize inflation impacts more than balance sheets, sending shockwaves deep into the health, morale and productivity of their workforce. And when employees are suffering with their mental, physical or financial health, they are more prone to look for employment where these needs are met.

Employers are at a crossroads where they can create a workplace culture that not only supports employees during times of inflation but also fosters resilience and loyalty. EAPs, increased 401(k) contributions, open communication, and financial incentives are just a few of the strategies that employers can implement to ease the burden of inflation on their workforce.

When employers recognize the interconnectedness of employee wellbeing and business success, they lay the foundation for a sustainable future for their organization. Employees can weather the storm and eventually thrive when armed with the proper support and tools.


------

Kelly Yeates is vice president of service operations with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

------

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.