Life at VF
May 02, 2022

Bridging the Gap Between Physical and Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace

Jessica Muhlenberg, VF’s Vice President, Global Benefits, Wellbeing and Mobility, has dedicated her career to helping employees navigate the workplace and manage their wellbeing. Over her five-year tenure at VF, she has implemented numerous programs to create a healthier, more positive environment across the company. To mark this Mental Health Awareness Month, we sat down with Jessica to talk about a few of the innovative ways that VF supports associates’ mental health and prioritizes wellbeing.

Why is associate well-being important to you?

This cause is important because, in one way or another, it affects everyone who works for us. It is crucial that we have a breadth of well-being resources that are readily available and accessible to our associates.

I recognize this need because I personally deal with anxiety and need to work on compartmentalizing work and my personal life so I can maintain a healthy balance. I keep separate cell phones for work and for home and after wrapping up for the day, I don’t check email or texts until the next workday. I make it a priority to set aside time to exercise or a walk outdoors each day. And if a day is particularly challenging, I will take time out of my day for a short meditation to prevent becoming overwhelmed. It is important for me to work in an environment where I feel confident being transparent with my team and colleagues about how I effectively manage these challenges so I can be my best self at work, and at home. I know I am not alone on this journey, and I am committed to supporting personal growth in the workplace so all associates feel supported and can access the help they need.

Why is it important to talk about mental health in the workplace?

For too long, mental health has been treated as an issue separate from physical health, when in reality it is all connected. We each have just one body, and the heart and the head and the rest are all interconnected; it’s not productive to think about physical and mental health as mutually exclusive.

Gen Z and younger Millennials in the workforce are much more comfortable discussing mental health, which is helping to drive the conversation even as other associates who may be more private about such matters, are experiencing the same issues and traumas. We regularly communicate about our mental health resources so that everyone knows how to access the help they need.

How does VF support associate mental wellness?

Mental health support is available to associates at all levels, from the part-time retail associates in our stores to the office-based associates at the corporate level. Through our health plans and Employee Assistance Program, there are multiple channels for team members to access mental health services which best fit their needs and preferences, whether that is traditional therapy or online therapy. Through our providers, we even offer therapy via text message for associates who are more comfortable communicating through that platform. We also provide our BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ associates with access to providers who identify with their individual needs. We are actively working with our health care providers to continue expanding access to providers and support overall.

In what ways does VF encourage mental health wellbeing?

We train our leaders to be aware of mental health needs and keep mental wellbeing in mind when leading their team. We encourage our leaders to be a resource and while they are not trained therapists, they can help detect an issue and point a teammate in the right direction for assistance. Mental health care starts with active support, and we make sure that all associates have somewhere to go to for that support.

How has VF adjusted its approach to mental health during the pandemic and are these changes here to stay?

I consider VF a ‘leader among leaders’ in that we had already begun implementing resources around mental health before the pandemic.

That said, COVID forced us to put even more emphasis on actively checking in with our teams during the past few years. As we have moved through the pandemic, we are now thinking less about reactive care and more about being proactive. Two years ago, we were in crisis mode, but now we can take a step back and see what is helpful and most effective and keep those resources in our toolkit for the long term. Unfortunately, we do not see many of the mental health issues brought on by COVID subsiding, so we need to take in what we’ve learned and focus on longer term mental health management and resiliency.

Do any brands align with mental health causes?

We consistently see our brands championing mental health initiatives as an extension of their impact work. A few examples of this:

  • For JanSport®, mental health is one of their key brand pillars. JanSport implemented the ‘Lighten The Load’ campaign, through which they have committed to destigmatizing mental health and supporting open and honest conversations, particularly with younger consumers.
  • Vans®’ Checkerboard Day has historically aligned with mental health programs.

Altra® partners with the Still I Run organization, which promotes the mental health benefits of running, from de-stressing to management of anxiety and depression. Through social media campaigns and group runs, the program reaches audiences across the country to address mental health.

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