Late in the COVID-19 pandemic, we began learning about enterprises that had been working to improve the mental well-being of employees. Those enterprises were getting improved business results. For example, in the October 12, 2021 Harvard Business Review, Erin Kelly, Lisa Berkman, Laura Kubansky, and Meg Lovejoy summarized research on specific ways in which seven strategic changes to workplace conditions affecting employee well-being led to beneficial business outcomes. Those outcomes included increased job performance (including increased productivity) and lower levels of employee burnout.

Evolutionary change continues

Those reports continue to come in, and the details evolve month by month to include different kinds of strategic changes that go beyond changing the hybrid working arrangements. Some of the recent changes may be surprising, such as the addition of virtual reality as a means of increasing employee engagement. Other changes did not rely on computer technology but used other methods including tabletop games, employee briefings, and administrative or organizational changes.

On May 22, 2023 Strivr, known for using virtual reality as a delivery medium and other interventions affecting operational and managerial skills, began offering in-headset mental health virtual reality applications. While these applications may not be what some L&D professionals think of as “eLearning,” they do teach techniques that enable users to take “mental health breaks” to tackle increasing levels of burnout, depression, and anxiety. Strivr refers to the techniques as “de-skilling” for emotional well-being. In the press release announcing the changes, Strivr listed four new and expanded offerings.

Surprising changes

Since some elements of the addition to Strivr’s customer offerings came as a complete surprise to many in L&D, I asked Strivr’s CTO Aneesh Kulkarni for a few details. In my interview I was mainly curious about two of the four offerings revealed in Strivr’s press release.

  • Strivr Mental Health and Well-Being Applications
  • Strivr Home

Well-being content and immersive learning

These offerings support development of soft skills. Aneesh told me, “The vision at Strivr has always been to elevate performance through immersive experience. It’s a broad and ambitious vision. If you think about the performance of an employee, it’s not just their skills, it’s not just about how good they are at their job. It’s about how relaxed they are as they are learning, it’s about how motivated they are. As they’re learning things, as they’re doing things, especially in today’s world, we think part of elevating performance is to make certain that employees are well set up to be productive. Our going into well-being is a natural progression from learning and training to thinking about employee well-being as just one part.”

How does Strivr's use of immersive technology work for mental health and well-being support? It makes sense that individuals with a good set of soft skills bear up better under pressure. This has been borne out by research. Aneesh observed that “people in today’s world are doing a lot more. Efficiency seems to be the name of the game for enterprises. They are expecting a lot more from the employees. Being able to go about your day in a great state of mind really is important. There is a lot of cognitive science and research that supports that! People that are engaged but are supported through mental health are much more likely to be productive.”

Strivr Home

I asked next about Strivr Home. I thought I understood what it is about. Based on the name, I thought that Strivr Home must focus on dealing with the effects of change and stress on the employee’s domestic situation or personal response to workplace stress. I could not have been more wrong!

Aneesh corrected my misunderstanding. “Strivr Home is an interface to focus on the employee alone. The purpose of Strivr Home is to ensure that the individual employee acclimatizes easily to a VR experience. We recognize that a lot of our learners are first-time VR users. It is important for us to get them in the headset, to get them oriented, situated, and to find what they are looking for quickly.

"Strivr Home is not a collaborative hub. You’re not there to invite your friends or family to participate in training or in the experience with you.

"We do want you to be relaxed. The Strivr Home is really simplification, unification, and personalization of the experience for everyone. This makes it easier for users (employees) to find different kinds of content as we start to launch more online than training and learning. We want people to be able to find it. We want to make it look and feel relaxed as people go into those experiences.

"As to how we deal with referrals for the mental health content, who decides what is appropriate or relevant? We know that it’s partly on us (Strivr), working with partners like Reulay and Healium. These are companies that are well-established in the employee well-being and mental health space. It is also the decision of the customer to identify the kind of content they want to expose to their employees. In the end, the enterprise customer has the final choice about whether this is something that they want to make available to their employees. In some cases, the customer may have employees with the skills to use the Strivr Development Kit to create content, in cooperation with Strivr’s developers.”

What makes all this work?

In addition to Strivr’s new training offerings that are based on research discoveries about effective immersive learning and those being developed by Strivr partners, there are others including curriculum materials that make use of artificial intelligence. I believe you will find these types of materials that are being offered by Strivr and other highly qualified organizations effective at improving performance.