While numerous factors outside of work impact individual mental health, employers can make a difference with a few key steps. Photo via Getty Images

In 2023, it is imperative leaders keep the wellbeing of their workforce at the forefront of their minds.

According to an October 2022 publication from the McKinsey Health Institute, 59 percent of the global workforce report having at least one mental health challenge either now or in the past. These challenges not only threaten employee wellbeing but can also impact performance by a reduction in productivity.

Numerous factors outside of work impact individual mental health. Nonetheless, employers can make a difference with a few key steps, such as properly training management to mitigate toxic behaviors, prioritizing inclusivity and providing mental health resources.

Management training

To start, leaders need to prepare their managers to set the tone for employees. Frontline managers can have a large influence on employee wellbeing through their daily interactions with their teams. Even if organizations offer a host of mental health benefits, employees might not take advantage if their managers do not buy in. There is no substitute for the genuine care and concern that a supportive manager offers their employees, and they can tell the difference when they are authentically cared for or not.

Although the vast majority of managers have good intentions toward their employees, managers also may hold themselves and their teams to high standards without realizing the impact on mental health. Managers should receive training in how to respect work-life balance, help employees prioritize their duties, and create and maintain a supportive, positive work environment. These things may not have been on the radar for management in the past, but it is now the norm to lead with the wellness of the whole person in mind.

Beyond helping employees balance their lives, managers also need support in balancing their own, particularly to avoid burnout. Employees and managers may both face pressure to perform, and leaders need to make sure mental health initiatives for junior employees do not simply transfer excessive workloads to their supervisors. To accomplish that, train managers in time- and stress-management techniques and keep the lines of communication open with the executive team. Staying in tune with the pulse of wellness at work requires open communication and the commitment to support work-life balance by all members of the organization.

Prioritize inclusivity

Since 2020, inclusivity has become a bigger and bigger part of the conversation about workplace culture. The impact of a discriminatory workplace on mental health can be profound. When employees experience or indirectly experience discrimination in the workplace, their overall wellbeing suffers, with engagement and satisfaction decreasing as well, according to a 2021 survey from Gallup. The good news is most workplaces already have policies in place to prevent and report discriminatory practices.

However, a truly inclusive workplace will go beyond anti-discrimination policies to create an affirmative environment where employees can fully embrace their identities. Steps to promote inclusivity include celebrating holidays of various cultures, creating opportunities for employees to discuss their heritage and traditions, organizing relationship-focused exercises and offering educational opportunities in the workplace. To promote unity in the workplace, leaders should take care to discourage the formation of cliques and ensure all employees feel welcomed and not judged or mistreated by coworkers. Valuing diversity and honoring the individual drives the culture of tolerance and acceptance, which promotes a harmonious and productive work environment and team.

Provide mental health resources

To promote mental health and wellness, employees need access to the right resources and the knowledge to navigate those resources. In many cases, employees with the biggest mental health challenges may also face the most obstacles in receiving care. For employers offering health care benefits, employees may need training on how to find mental health practitioners in their area. What is more, employees accustomed to inconvenient appointment times or long wait lists for therapists may benefit from learning about online therapy platforms, which can offer care sooner and outside of typical work hours.

Many employers also choose to offer an employee assistance plan, or EAP, which can offer further mental health programs, free of charge. Despite their relevance to employees in need, EAPs are often overlooked and underutilized, making it even more necessary for managers or HR to proactively reach out to employees and educate them about their EAP benefits.

For organizations without the budget to provide health care benefits or EAPs, their leadership should investigate free or low-cost mental health resources in their region. In many cases, local government will provide free access or subsidies for mental health care. Nonprofit organizations may also offer free programs for those meeting eligibility requirements.

Employers should keep in mind employees may feel afraid to use mental health benefits for fear of stigma. While managers should be careful not to intrude on employees’ personal lives, managers can still gently offer caring support to employees who show signs of struggling with mental health, including chronic tardiness, absenteeism, low mood and a sudden change in personality or work performance. The ability to know if a behavior is out of the norm for an employee, the manager needs to have built a relationship with them and to care enough to notice the change.

As employees continue to face mental health challenges in their personal lives, employers can be part of the solution by educating managers, emphasizing inclusivity and offering mental health resources and support. Being a caring human being goes a long way, even at work.

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Karen Leal is a performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, a provider of human resources offering a suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

Recruiting can be difficult — but finding the right partner can make the process a lot smoother. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: How to get the most out of your recruiting partner

guest column

I’ve been in the retained recruiting industry for nearly two decades, with a four-year stint in the middle as an internal director of talent at a management consulting firm, so my knowledge is primarily based on the point of view of an outsourced recruiter. What’s more, my professional advice is relevant to most companies, but not all.

At Sudduth Search, our clients are generally investor-backed companies in the lower and middle market. Most are startups— both early-stage and large but all are growing rapidly—and we mainly search for director to C-level executives. And just like not all companies are the same, not all recruiters are either. I don’t believe there is a “plug and play” one size fits all recruiter; you need to find one that works for you and your culture. That being said, there are indeed ways to ensure you ARE getting the most out of the recruiter with whom you engage.

Ok, now that we’ve got the boring stuff out of the way, let’s get into some real talk. How should you choose a firm and launch your search?

Get on the same page

First and foremost, make sure the recruiter you choose is the right cultural fit (a.k.a. emotionally intelligent and not a jerk). Will the recruiter represent your company and ethos well? If you’re put off by the recruiter’s sales tactics, or the recruiter regularly isn’t prepared, they’ll likely treat your search the same way. If YOU wouldn’t hang out with your recruiter outside of work, chances are your best candidates won’t want to talk with them either.

Expertise is key

Can the recruiter explain the process they follow, step-by-step? Recruiting isn’t luck. The best results come from following a proven process, being diligent, and detail-oriented. If your recruiter is “winging it,” and pushing candidates they already know, that’s not what you need. Heck, you could do that yourself and save a lot on fees. Have them walk you through their specific strategy so you know they aren’t just hoping to find the resume you’ll like.

Know your niche

Let’s also touch on recruiters with a specialty focus, something I get asked about more often than anything. Here’s what some of my prospective clients say: “We want someone who specializes in purple unicorns from the rainbow ranch industry.” For comparison sake, when you hire a lawyer, do you limit your search to ONLY those who work with purple unicorns from said industry? No, because we all know there could be a conflict of interest with competitors. Plus, if an attorney knows the law and how to apply it, it shouldn’t matter if they have a narrow focus. Similarly, if a recruiter specializes in exactly what your company does, or what the related position is for, their focus will be very narrow, making it difficult not to trip over past (or current) clients during the process. And it’s always possible your recruiter will be looking to poach from your team when they’re done with you. If a recruiter knows how to recruit for a multitude of positions within various industries, their methodology is probably what makes them successful; they’re not just spinning a rolodex, hoping it lands on the right candidate (and yes, I know I just aged myself).

Once you’ve chosen your recruiting firm, let’s talk about how to maximize their value:

  • Your recruiter should provide you more than just fodder and a resume for the recommended candidates. An important part of the process needs to include the recruiter giving you a thorough overview, analysis and opinion of the candidate. Answers to questions such as: What is their motivation for changing jobs? Why are they interested in your position? Why have they had a short tenure? How much revenue do they manage? You need to understand the candidate’s motivation for entertaining a new position and any gaps between jobs or questionable moves should be addressed. My hope is that my clients can forgo the boring interview questions and get straight to the meat of whether they like the person, and believe that particular candidate will be successful in the role and an asset to the team.
  • Your recruiter should scour the market without just focusing on people looking for a job, but also passive candidates. Most of our searches have a minimum of 50 candidates, and some have 300+. As a client, you should have the ability to see all of the candidates being considered. You’re paying for the search; you need to know that the recruiter has completed their due diligence and pursued as many leads as possible.
  • Passive candidates take longer to decide if they’re interested in your open position. Give them time to go through that thought process of deciding if they are interested. If you rush the recruiter, and the candidate feels pressured, you’re probably going to miss out on some stellar talent.
  • Your recruiter should be talking to the candidate all along the way, to keep them engaged and better ascertain whether the candidate is still interested and will accept an offer if given one. Nowadays, the market is a bit crazy, so you’ll never know whether the candidate is being recruited elsewhere. However, if the recruiter is doing their job, they should have a good idea whether the candidate will make it to the finish line and accept your offer.
  • Weekly calls: I know, I know, you don’t need another meeting on your calendar. But trust me, this is the best way to execute a successful, efficient search. The recruiter should provide weekly updates, including challenges, feedback and progress with particular candidates that look favorable. You, as the client, should be open and communicative with your concerns, questions or otherwise.
  • The recruiter should help you through the offer negotiation process to ensure there are no surprises. The last thing you want is to make an offer and then find out the candidate is entertaining three other offers. Ok, even with 20 years of experience, I sometimes get surprised. But I do everything possible to prevent that from happening. You should know exactly why the candidate wants or is willing to make a job change, from the first time you talk to them. While salary expectations can vary, you should never get to the point of offer and be shocked by the amount it will take to secure their commitment.
  • So what if you are a start up, does all of this advice apply? Absolutely, because with fewer people, early leadership hires are even more critical to your ability to succeed and raise capital.Startups and early-stage companies need to think creatively when making offers. If someone is prepared to take a risk on you, they deserve to at least make the same money they did before.Or maybe you can you offer them success-based compensation, like equity or tracking stock? If the person you are hiring is not motivated by success-based compensation, then they are probably not cut out to be at a scaling company. It takes someone who is self-driven, who can see the end result and figure out how to get there. They must be willing to put their own “skin in the game” in order to see the whole company succeed. They are the type that thrives on being challenged. If they don’t, then let them go as they will likely bolt if the going gets tough and you are better off knowing that ahead of time.

I think that covers most of it. I’m probably going to make a lot of recruiters mad because I just made their jobs harder. But I believe it’s a recruiter’s responsibility to bring as much value to their clients and the recruiting process as possible, and to ultimately attract the best talent possible. And if you do need a purple unicorn from a rainbow ranch, please call Sudduth Search, we’ll find you one.

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Jen Sudduth is the founder and managing partner of Houston-based executive hiring firm Sudduth Search LLC.

Whether it's in the gym or the boardroom, the ability to pick yourself up after a failure is key to success, as this former Olympian learned. Getty Images

3 startup lessons you can learn from this Texas Olympian turned entrepreneur

Guest columns

I've hit rock bottom more times than I can count. As a gymnast, I overcame injuries that would have ended many other athletes' careers — only to watch my Olympic dreams slip out of reach. As a businessman, I built a successful startup — and then lost it all.

The main thing I've learned? Setbacks can be productive if you're willing to learn from them. Today, as I lead a successful company, I constantly inform my decision-making with the lessons I learned as an athlete and entrepreneur.

Three of those lessons can help everyone — both in the gym and in the boardroom.

First, never give up.

When I was 12, I trained under gymnastics coach Ralph Reeves, the toughest coach I ever had. I would spend hours perfecting my craft — getting up on the pommel horse as I tried not to look down at my cracked and bloodied hands. Upon finishing each routine, Coach Reeves would utter one word: "Again."

Not, "Nice work, how about one more?" or, "Can you do another?" Just, "Again." And so I would get back up on the pommel horse — again.

As the Junior Olympic Games, the pinnacle of high school gymnastics, approached during my junior year, it looked like my hard work was about to pay off. Then, I blew out my knee and tore my ACL, MCL, and meniscus while training. Refusing to let my injury determine my fate, I went on to win my first national championship.

Next, I headed to the University of Oklahoma to learn from legendary gymnastics coach — Paul Ziert. While my high school coach gave me my discipline, Paul gave me my style. My teammate Bart Conner taught me the true meaning of "first one in last one out." He led by example, encouraging the entire team to practice extra hours. His ability to inspire without uttering a single word stayed with me.

I eventually graduated from the University of Oklahoma as a five-time All-American and NCAA champion with a spot on the Olympic roster. But due to President Jimmy Carter's boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, I never got a chance to participate.

I was devastated, but I picked myself up — again — and transitioned to the business world. More setbacks awaited.

Second, forgive others.

In the mid-1980s, I started my first company. But before I knew it, the relationship I had with my business partner had soured and I found myself broke, divorced, and living in a tiny apartment on a loan from my ex-father-in-law.

That episode would have been enough for a logical person to never open another business — to never trust anyone again.

Call me illogical. After this incident, I went on to build and sell multiple successful companies. I say this not to brag, but merely to prove my bona fides to other entrepreneurs who are just starting out and facing their own challenges.

It's crucial to forgive your colleagues, your subordinates, even yourself. I didn't dwell on losing my Olympic dreams; I moved on to compete as a businessman. And I didn't vow revenge on my ex-partner, I forgave him.

In fact, if I ran into him on the street, I'd thank him for teaching me the greatest lesson of my life. The day I stopped hating my ex-partner was the first day I felt joy again.

Finally, trust, but verified.

As an athlete, I had to trust and listen to my body, my doctors, my coaches and trainers to overcome my injuries. After my experiences, I've learned to pay very close attention to what people are saying — and more importantly, what they aren't saying — in the boardroom. Reading body language and getting to know people before you do business with them is just as important as studying their qualifications on paper.

Today, as I lead a business, I spend countless hours strategizing for and planning out my board meetings. Sometimes my preparation lasts three times as long as the actually meeting. But as I learned throughout my athletic experience, preparation is the best way to ensure success.


If you're an entrepreneur, you will eventually experience a business setback. It's inevitable. But the next time you do — pause, make a game plan, and think to yourself, "again."

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Michael Wilson is the CEO of Healthcare Highways.

Like a lot of cities, Houston might have a talent problem when it comes to cybersecurity. Getty Images

How Houston can bridge the cybersecurity talent gap

From education to implementation

According to Inc.'s Emerging Risks Survey, the talent shortage jumped to first place as the top risk for businesses worldwide in 2019. More specifically, a recent study reported a gap of almost three million global cybersecurity jobs.

Cyber attacks continue to skyrocket but there are nowhere near enough cybersecurity professionals to handle all the threats. The field has plenty of job openings, companies are desperate for talent and employees can eventually earn $95K a year, and often more. So, what's the issue?

Employers struggle to keep employees up to speed on the latest technologies and skill sets needed to succeed and thrive in the rapidly changing and evolving business landscape. To remain competitive, Houston businesses must attract qualified workers to fill these positions that range from cybersecurity to industrial technology, engineering and medicine. And the earlier we can reach them, the better.

One way to address the talent gap is for Houston employers, academic institutions and parents to share the responsibility to prepare young children to be adaptable. While these ideas are for the cybersecurity space, they can be applied to any industry.

Parents: Pay attention to child's interests at a young age

Encouraging creativity and exploration at home is the first step to fostering children's potential career interest. Children show at a young age what they are interested in. Do they color and draw? They may like a more creative field like graphic design. Nurturing artistic interests at home can be as simple as letting kids make projects with household supplies such as paper towel rolls, or old clothes and asking them about their creations.

Or, do they tinker and take things apart? Foster those engineering and computer interests through career days, science fests, coding camps and through trips to retail locations like Apple and Microsoft. When parents, guardians, older siblings, aunts, or uncles express excitement in their interests, children are more likely to feel encouraged and continue finding their passion over time.

Educators: Encourage career exploration

Educators are continuously working to prepare students for the workforce by asking the persistent question of how do we teach students about jobs and careers that haven't even been created yet? We can't. We don't prepare them for jobs, but we provide them with the skills to be adaptable, flexible, creative, critical, collaborative and curious. At The Village School in Houston, we have an internship program that helps students gain a better sense of their future, even for those who are unsure about their career path.

Businesses: Shape the next workforce through educational partnerships

Local businesses must have relationships with schools and organizations. Reflect on what your business can do to better prepare the next generation of talent. Go beyond the norm of only involving college-age students and also partner with local K-12 schools to broaden outreach even more extensively. This will work to help students have a better idea of potential careers and can also be a great recruitment tool. Offer internships to students, externships to teachers and be vocal about the skills and foundation necessary to succeed at your workplace. The talent shortage can't be fixed overnight but businesses can work to be proactive in creating the partnerships and programs needed.

At Village, we currently have partnerships with companies like Cisco, Houston Methodist Hospital, and Pimcore. Our students learn directly from these companies exactly what a career can look like and gain a better sense of what expectations are in the real world. With Cisco, students are able to acquire experience within in-demand careers in computer science, information technology and cybersecurity to see first hand what these jobs consist of.

Dell Technologies recently published a report saying 85 percent of the jobs in 2030 haven't been invented yet. That's an intimidating statistic for today's learners — and businesses. Together, parents, business executives, and educators can prepare the next generation of workers to succeed while combating the crucial need to fill jobs with passionate and capable employees.

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TeKedra Pierre is the internship coordinator at The Village School.

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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.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.