Resilience is being able to bounce back from adversity or trauma

Can Resilience Be Learned?

The American Psychological Association (2014) defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress.  Clinically, it might not be that simple, but for most of us resilience is the ability to bounce back – to mentally or emotionally cope with a situation or return to the way we were before the situation occurred.  If we recognize the importance of resilience the next question we’re likely to ponder is whether we’re born resilient or can resilience be learned?

Resilience is being able to bounce back from adversity or trauma

An example of professional resilience

Annabelle Timsit, writing in Quartz magazine, recently described the tragic situation of a young French woman who, while caring for a new baby at the tail end of maternity leave, discovered she had breast cancer.  After a 15-month bout of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment she was thankfully cancer free. Unfortunately, her much anticipated return to work was shattered with news that her job had been eliminated.

For most of us, a one-two punch like this would have been a crushing blow.  For Patricia Acensi-Ferré it led to an entirely new career as she launched a consulting company coaching employees and employers on how to foster resilience in professional situations.

Why do employers need a resilient workforce?

Acensi-Ferré’s situation may have been more severe than typical, but personal situations that either distract us at work or disconnect us from work happen quite frequently. Situations resulting in employees taking voluntary leave can happen for many reasons.   On average, 273,000 women and 13,000 men take maternity or paternity leave in the US every month.  Many more take voluntary leave for other reasons,  burnout being one of the most common.  According to a recent Gallup study, burnout affects three out of every four US employees to some degree.

Increasingly, companies understand the value in supporting employees through personal transitions, crisis or burnout.   The reason for supporting those employees is quite clear.  When employees take voluntary leave the cost to retain or retrain them when they return can be very high.

Resilience can be learned

Resilience isn’t a trait people either have or don’t have — it involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed.

A good, comprehensive EAP, like what we offer at Espyr, will have coaches specifically trained on how to help employees learn to be more resilient.

Here are 8 strategies used by Espyr’s coaches for building resilience:

  • Nurture a positive view of yourself. Develop confidence in your ability to solve problems and trust your instincts.
  • Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. “You can’t prevent stressful events from happening, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events,” says Dr. O’Gorman, PhD., a psychologist in private practice in East Chatham, N.Y., and a spokeswoman for the American Psychological Association. “Try keeping a long-term perspective.”
  • Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals no longer may be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that can’t be changed can help you focus on circumstances you can affect.
  • Look for opportunities for self-discovery. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship report better relationships, a greater sense of strength, an increased sense of self-worth and a greater appreciation for life. Take a lesson from Patricia Acensi-Ferré who relied on her personal resilience to not just overcome a trauma, but thrive as a result.
  • Make connections. Good relationships with family, friends or others are important. Accept help and support from those who care about you.
  • Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect good things to happen in your life.
  • Move toward your goalsDevelop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
  • Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly, get enough sleep, eat a healthful diet and limit alcohol consumption.

Consider writing your thoughts about stressful events in your life. Try meditation and other spiritual practices. Many people find these activities help them build connections with others and restore lost hope.

“Becoming conscious of your strengths makes you stronger,” says Dr. O’Gorman. “Resilience increases as you recognize the magnitude of what you’ve already accomplished and survived in your life and helps you believe you can meet the challenges that lie ahead.”

About Espyr

Want to know more about building a resilient workforce?  Espyr is a leader in Employee Assistance Programs, coaching and other innovative behavioral health programs, all designed to help your employees and company achieve their full potential.  To learn more call us at 888-570-3479 or click here.




It’s Time To Address Mental Health Stigma

If you’re an employer, the mental health of your employees may be costing you a lot more than you think. In fact, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, mental health disorders are the most costly medical condition, costing businesses about $200B per year in healthcare expenditures, plus an estimated $225B in lost productivity.

One in five adult Americans – 41 million people – will experience mental health issues in any given year. What makes mental health disorders more challenging for employers – and more costly – is the fact that more than half of those with mental health issues won’t seek treatment. Employees often stay quiet due to the stigma of mental illness and concern that co-workers or supervisors will think poorly of them. There is still a perception by many that it’s acceptable and even encouraged to stay home from work if you’re physically ill, but not okay for mental illness. Concerns that having a mental health issue can affect career advancement can be very real in some companies, especially in some industries such as healthcare, transportation, law enforcement and education.

Nick Otto reporting in EBN, quoted Pamela Greenberg, president and CEO of the Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness. “The reason for these grim statistics is stigma,” Greenberg said, speaking at the World Health Care Congress recently. “People are afraid to say they have a behavioral health disorder and are scared to get treatment.”


What should an employer do?

Awareness and education through frank and open discussions and training is critical in removing mental health stigma, as we’ve reported previously in our blog on Removing the Stigma of Mental Health.

“Studies have shown that [more accepting] workplaces have happier employees with better productivity,” said Michelle Riba, a professor of psychiatry and the associate director of the University of Michigan Depression Center in an interview with Huffington Post.

Mr. Otto reports how General Electric took steps to ensure employees know that the company views no difference between an employee seeking help because of opioid addiction than if they had cancer.

Diana Han, chief medical officer at General Electric noted that employees engaging in mental health programs are returning to work at a faster rate than unengaged workers. “Days away from work has really been a big win for employees and our business,” she said.


It starts at the top

Employers need to get full support from their C-level leaders, added Don Mordecai, national leader for mental health and wellness at Kaiser Permanente.

“Having that kind of C-suite level support is important because you need to create a culture of safety,” he added. “Just going up to people saying, ‘This is ok’ is not going to make them feel safe in our stigmatized society. ”Workplace culture needs to be open to talking about mental health.”


Take a proactive, prevention oriented approach

Social stigma around mental health won’t go away overnight. Another way for employers to address employee mental health is to approach it proactively rather than waiting and hoping that employees will step forward and seek treatment. Espyr offers two innovative solutions that provide proactive and targeted outreach to employees with mental health issues.

Realyze™ uses an online behavioral health risk assessment to look across an employee population and identify issues like depression, anxiety, stress, PTSD and substance abuse. At-risk employees are connected with the appropriate licensed Espyr behavioral health professional, community health services, or the employer’s health plan if long term counseling is required.

An Espyr licensed health professional oversees the entire process, ensuring employees stay engaged, conducting follow-up assessments and increasing the likelihood of successful outcomes.

Realyze can complement existing employee assistance and wellness programs, increasing engagement in those programs, making them more effective and improving employers’ return on investment.

Another proactive, targeted solution is Spotlight®. Spotlight begins by putting employee healthcare claims and other third-party data through a proprietary algorithm, which identifies employees who are both at high risk of driving healthcare costs and most likely to engage in treatment. Those identified employees are connected with the appropriate Espyr licensed behavioral health professional. This one-two proactive approach allows employers to focus their healthcare spend where it can have the highest return, something not possible until now.

Spotlight also addresses comorbidity, the all-too-common occurrence of simultaneous mental and physical health issues. In fact, 29% of adults with a physical health issue have at least one mental health issue. When underlying mental health conditions are addressed, it’s easier to reduce the severity and duration of physical health conditions.


About Espyr

To learn more about Realyze, Spotlight or just to talk about how Espyr can help you improve the mental health of your organization, call 888-570-3479 or click here.

Announcing The Launch of Realyze™ – A Targeted, Proactive Solution To Employee Behavioral Health Conditions

For immediate release April 25, 2019

Marietta, GA: Espyr today is launching REALYZE, an innovative behavioral health solution that packs a one-two punch for employers. First, REALYZE identifies employees who have or are on the verge of having conditions like depression, stress, anxiety, PTSD or substance abuse. Then, it provides a proactive outreach ensuring at-risk employees are engaged with the appropriate behavioral health solution.

One in five adults will suffer some form of mental illness in a given year. For employees in high-stress jobs, that number can go much higher. For various reasons: the stigma of mental illness, denial or simply not knowing where to turn, the majority of those affected will not seek help. That’s bad news for productivity, absenteeism and employee turnover if you’re an employer.

“Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of employee behavioral health problems, especially those employers in high stress occupations,“ according to Espyr CEO, Rick Taweel. “Employers need a simple, effortless solution that will proactively engage troubled employees and align them with the most efficient and effective services. With REALYZE, in many cases those services may be the employer’s existing wellness programs. REALYZE will actually make their wellness programs more effective and improve their return on investment.”

REALYZE starts with a clinically validated online behavioral health risk assessment. Employees with moderate-to-high-risk assessment scores are contacted by a licensed behavioral health professional, a REALYZE Guide, who reviews the assessment result with the employee and may provide further assessment. The Guide then connects the employee to the appropriate behavioral health service, which could be the employer’s existing wellness programs, other behavioral health solutions provided by Espyr, community behavioral health programs or the employer’s health plan if long term counseling is needed. The Guide remains involved throughout the process, ensuring employees stay engaged, conducting follow-ups and increasing the likelihood of successful outcomes.

About Espyr: Espyr is a leader in behavioral health. We provide a continuum of behavioral health care from acute and chronic health conditions to leadership development, all designed to help people and organizations reach their full potential. For more information go to

Contact: Jeffrey Joo



Workaholics often have work/life balance issues

Work/Life Balance: Are You A Workaholic Or Do You Just Love Your Job?

.You work long hours. After dinner you whip out your laptop to take care of unfinished business. When it’s time for bed you’re thinking about what’s in store for tomorrow. Your mind is so active you find it hard to fall asleep.  Work/life balance seems to be an elusive concept.

Sound familiar? For many of us, it does. Does that make you a workaholic? What can you do about it?

Someone who just can't stop thinking about work may have work/life balance issues

A recent article by Nancy P. Rothbard and Lieke ten Brummelhuis in the Harvard Business Review explored the differences between being a workaholic and just working long hours. Furthermore, it considered whether there are differences, particularly health differences, between workaholics who are engaged in their work and those who aren’t.

Workaholics and work/life balance

Workaholics have a compulsive drive to work hard, thinking about work constantly, and feeling guilty and restless when they are not working. Workaholism is often associated with working long hours, but the two are distinct: it’s possible to work long hours without being obsessed with work, and it is possible to be obsessed with work but only work 35 hours a week or less.

Workaholics can suffer a number of adverse mental health impacts such as stress, anxiety, depression and sleep problems. What’s more, as we’ve pointed out in previous blog postings, behavioral and physical health problems often go hand in hand; workaholics have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Study findings

The authors conducted a study with 763 participants who were surveyed about their work tendencies, work motivations and  hours worked per week. Participants also completed a health screening which provided information about their biomarkers, such as waist measurement, triglycerides, blood pressure, and cholesterol. In aggregate, these biomarkers are a reliable gauge for an employee’s risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes — what is referred to as Risk for Metabolic Syndrome (RMS)

The study found that work hours were not related to any health issues, while workaholism was. Specifically, employees who worked long hours (typically more than 40 hours a week), but who did not obsess about work, did not have increased levels of RMS and reported fewer health complaints than employees who demonstrated workaholism. Workaholics, whether or not they worked long hours, reported more health complaints and had increased risk for metabolic syndrome; they also reported a higher need for recovery, more sleep problems, more cynicism, more emotional exhaustion, and more depressive feelings than employees who merely worked long hours but did not have workaholic tendencies.

What if you love what you do?

Workaholics often recognize that they’re obsessed with their work, that their work/life balance is off. Their excuse is that they love what they do. Does that matter?

The study differentiated between those who were engaged in their work – enjoyed what they were doing and were easily absorbed in it – and those who weren’t. The study revealed that both types of workaholics reported more psychosomatic health complaints (e.g., headache, stomach problems) and mental health complaints (e.g., sleep problems, depressive feelings) than non-workaholics. However, non-engaged workaholics had higher RMS — a 4.2% higher risk — than engaged workaholics, suggesting that loving your work can mitigate some of the risk of obsessing over it.

The author’s conclude with two key findings:

  1. When it comes to effects on health, working long hours is not as bad as obsessing over work.
  2. Workaholics who love their jobs are somewhat protected from the most severe health risks. However, they still reported more depressive feelings, sleep problems, various psychosomatic health complaints, and a higher need for recovery than non-workaholics. These are all signs that well-being among workaholics, regardless of how much they love their job, can be impaired.

Fixing your work/life balance

The authors offer several steps to reduce stress and possible health conditions learned from their study.

Begin with acknowledging when your relationship to work is unhealthy.  Does work feel like it’s out of control?  Is it undermining your outside relationships?

Regain control over your work behavior. One way to do this is by setting clear rules for how many hours you will work each day. This can help you accept that there is a point at which you’ve done enough work for the day. If you have trouble “switching off,” you might want to stop working two or three hours before bed. Taking up enjoyable non-work activities, such as seeing friends, watching a movie, reading a book, or learning a new skill, can also help you psychologically detach from work.

Consider why you work excessively and compulsively. The author’s found a striking difference in work motivation between engaged and non-engaged workaholics. Engaged workaholics worked because they enjoyed their work or found their work meaningful. These are intrinsic motivators. Non-engaged workaholics were more likely to work for extrinsic motivators such as money and status. Intrinsic motivation is associated with more optimism, effort, and persistence.  Extrinsic motivation often instigates anxiety and undermines persistence, making failure more likely.

About Espyr

Espyr is a leader in behavioral health, offering innovative solutions to help people and organizations achieve their full potential.

For more information on how we can help your company call 888-570-3479 or go to

How Much Is Employee Stress Costing Your Company?

Stress. Anxiety.  Words we hear and read about with increasing regularity.  News reports and social media assault our senses with an endless barrage of mass shootings, sexual harassment, immigration issues, political dissension and other stress inducing stories.  Add workplace pressure and financial worries and it’s no wonder that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting 40 million adults each year.  Nearly six in 10 American workers report anxiety impacts their workplace performance, according to a study published by academic journal Wiley-Liss. The economic effects of this mental health condition are huge — costing employers almost $35 billion from lost or reduced productivity in the workplace, the study says.

Nearly six in ten workers report anxiety impacts their workplace performance.  

The cost to employers is almost $35 billion per year.

How can employers help employees manage stress and minimize lost productivity?  Of course, your company’s EAP should be a go-to resource for employees, and employers should encourage employees to take advantage of their EAP.  But, there are other self-help steps that are good to know.

First, let’s define the terms as the media often uses stress and anxiety interchangeably.  They’re not the same.

Stress is a response to a threat.  It’s a reaction to a trigger.  It’s usually short term and can be positive or negative. We’re all born with innate response mechanisms for when we’re threatened, in distress, under pressure or fearful.

Anxiety is a reaction to stress.  It’s a sustained mental health disorder.

Chronic stress can affect your mental and physical health.  Emotional and physical disorders linked to chronic stress include anxiety, depression, headaches, high blood pressure, chest pains or heart palpitations, skin rashes, gastrointestinal distress, and sleep problems according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Coping with Stress

At Espyr we’ve gained extensive experience with clients whose employees work in highly stressful environments – first responders, military, law enforcement, healthcare to name a few.   Through our coaching and EAP solutions we’ve learned there are many ways to cope with stress.  Research has shown that people who effectively manage the stress in their lives have three things in common:

  • They consider life a challenge, not a series of hassles.
  • They have a mission or purpose in life and are committed to fulfilling it.
  • They do not feel victimized by life. They have control over their lives, even with temporary setbacks.

Katie Hurley, LCSW, in a recent article in Employer Benefit News gave several very good suggestions for coping with stress.

  • Relaxation breathing: The single best thing you can do when under stress is to engage in deep breathing. Practice this strategy when you’re calm so that you know how to use it when you’re under pressure. Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, and exhale for four. Repeat.
  • Practice mindfulness: Sure, there’s an app for that, but the best way to practice mindfulness is to disconnect from your digital world and reconnect with your natural world for a specific period of time each day. Take a walk outside and use the opportunity to notice your surroundings using all of your senses.
  • Get moving: Daily exercise releases feel-good chemicals in your brain. Making exercise a daily habit can buffer you from negative reactions to stressful events.
  • Keep a journal: Writing down your best and worst of the day helps you sort through the obstacles and focus on what went right. It’s normal to experience ups and downs on any given day.
  • Get creative: There’s a reason adult coloring books are so popular – they work. Whether you’re drawing, coloring, writing poetry, or throwing paint on a wall, engaging in a creative hobby gives your mind a chance to relax.
  • Crank up the tunes: Listening to slow, relaxing music decreases your stress response (just as fast-paced music pumps you up for a run.)

Learning to cope with stress can require some trial and error. What works for someone else might not work for you. It’s important to build your own stress reduction toolkit so that you have more than one strategy to implement when stress kicks in.

If you or one of your employees is having difficulty coping with stress and it’s impacting daily activities, seek professional help through your organization’s EAP or a physician.

About Espyr

Espyr is a leader in behavioral health.  If you’re concerned about the impacts of stress on your employees give us a call.  We provide a continuum of care ranging from integrated medical/behavioral health solutions, coaching and leadership development to comprehensive EAP, all designed to help employees and organizations reach their full potential. To learn more about how Espyr can help your organization, call us at 888-570-3479 or go to






How Employee Loneliness Affects Your Bottomline

According to a recent study by Cigna, loneliness in America has reached epidemic proportions. Their survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults revealed:

  • Nearly 50% report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out.
  • Nearly 30% rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
  • More than 40% sometimes or always feel isolated from others.

As interesting (or sad) as these findings may be, what does all this have to do with your bottom line? Well, there’s this:

Loneliness Affects Physical Health

If you’re a regular reader of Espyr® blogs, you’re already aware that mental health issues can affect physical health, and unhealthy employees raise your healthcare spend. The surprise, here, is that loneliness can do the same thing. In fact, the American Psychological Association has stated loneliness is just as much of a public health hazard as obesity, if not greater.

Pulling together research from more than 200 studies involving a combined 3.7 million participants, they uncovered these startling results:

  • Social isolation, loneliness or living alone each played a significant role in premature death.
  • Conversely, people with greater social connections (those who are less lonely) had a 50% reduced risk of premature death.

And we’re not just talking about senior citizens, here (although, that is an issue). The Cigna study also found that our youngest adults, those aged 18 – 22, say they are the loneliest generation and claim to be in worse physical health than their older counterparts.

“One theory is that loneliness and isolation can lead to anxiety,” said Fran Walfish, a California family and relationship psychotherapist. “And without taking action, it’s only likely to get worse.”

Physical Health Affects Your Bottom Line

With poor employee physical health – whatever the cause – comes decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and increased healthcare costs, among many other unwanted results. But there are certain costs associated specifically with loneliness.

A U.K.-based nonprofit, the Campaign to End Loneliness, has discovered that lonely people are more likely to have a higher use of medication and a higher incidence of falling, increasing their risk of requiring long-term care. In fact, they’ve put together a list of loneliness-induced physical issues, each coming at a cost to employers:

  • Loneliness and isolation risk factors are as negatively influential as cigarette smoking.
  • Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure.
  • Loneliness increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke.
  • Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%.

The Center for Workplace Mental Health also points out that loneliness can lead to “mental sluggishness” that can impair productivity, stifle creativity and hinder decision-making. These problems not only eat into a company’s profits, they pose very real life-and-death dangers in the workplace.

Treating the Symptoms and the Source

Improving employees’ health is important, and will never go away. It helps companies in all kinds of ways, from boosting morale to boosting the bottom line. But the secret to a happier, healthier, more productive workforce is to go to the source of the problem.

As part of the ongoing conversation about employers fine-tuning their healthcare plan, it’s becoming more obvious that mental health must also work its way into the mix. Companies like Espyr® are developing products that are bridging the gap between physical and mental health. Whether incorporated into a customized Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or not, Espyr’s broad selection of innovative solutions can proactively identify at-risk employees, can provide Masters-level counseling and coaching support or simply provide a platform for conversation.

Even for harder-to-grasp issues like loneliness, we’re able to make a difference.

For more information on Espyr and how we can help your company deal with today’s complicated health issues, call 888-570-3479 or go to



The Surprising Link Between Mind, Body and Healthcare Costs

Although usually treated separately, mental health and physical health can influence each other in many important, surprising ways. Ignoring one or the other in your benefits offering can significantly impact your employees’ quality of life, your business and, more specifically, your healthcare costs.

This is the first of several articles we’ll publish this year describing how behavioral and physical health conditions co-occur, how that impacts employer healthcare costs and the growing recognition of the importance of integrated medical and behavioral healthcare.

How Mental Health Affects the Body

Mental health affects more people than you think. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness tells us almost one in five U.S. adults – 43.8 million people – experience some form of mental illness in a given year. Whether depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction or any one of a wide range of problems, poor mental health can affect your ability to make healthy decisions and affect your body’s ability to fight off chronic conditions.

In a BlueCross BlueShield article, psychiatrist and BCBS medical director Dr. Ann Marie Oberheu says neglecting your mental health can lead to more serious health complications, including:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system
  • Obesity
  • And premature death

“Depression alone causes the abnormal function of neurotransmitters in the brain,” says Dr. Oberheu. “This can lead to chronic fatigue, insomnia and increased sensitivity to aches and pains.”

How Physical Health Affects the Mind

Since the mind and body are connected, the physical state also affects the mental. For many physical medical conditions, the effects go beyond the visual signs and symptoms; they can impact the patient’s psychological well-being, as well, affecting his or her quality of life.

In an article by the Mental Health Foundation, they explore the mental health ramifications of a seemingly benign physical illness – psoriasis. Apparently, the effects of this fairly common autoimmune disease (as many as 7.5 million sufferers in the U.S.) go much deeper than the red flaky sores on the surface of the skin. The dramatic emotional effects include:

  • About 1/3 experience anxiety and depression
  • 1 in 3 experience feelings of humiliation
  • 1 in 5 report being rejected and stigmatized
  • 1 in 10 admit to contemplating suicide

Even worse, emotional distress can trigger a psoriasis flare, which, of course, triggers further stress. This cycle can be very troublesome for both mind and body.

In an article posted by Everyday Health, this connection is further explained by Dr. Charles Goodstein, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine in New York City. He says the brain is intimately connected to our endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on emotional health. “Thoughts and feelings as they are generated within the mind,” says Dr. Goodstein, “can influence the outpouring of hormones from the endocrine system, which, in effect, control much of what goes on within the body.”

What Does It Mean For Employers?

When a mental disorder – for example depression, anxiety, substance abuse – co-occurs with another illness, it is often more difficult to treat the physical condition as well as the mental one, outcomes tend to be poorer and costs are higher.

There is growing awareness that mental and medical illnesses, particularly chronic conditions, frequently co-occur. Studies have shown that up to 40% of medical claims costs may be a direct result of behavioral health conditions.  We know that 25% of the total population suffers from multiple chronic conditions and that 29% of adults with a medical disorder also have at least one behavioral health disorder.

As businesses seek ways to control ever-increasing healthcare costs, there is growing recognition that mental health must become part of an employer’s overall healthcare plan. Traditional health & wellness as well as population health management programs do not address the impact of behavioral health conditions on physical well-being and the associated costs.

That’s why Espyr®has developed Spotlight®. Spotlight is a unique population health management program that addresses the large hidden costs of behavioral health when certain behavioral health conditions are co-morbid with chronic physical health conditions.  Spotlight uses proprietary data analytics modeling to identify those individuals who are at highest risk for future medical claims andare most likely to engage with a behavioral health coach.  This information is then used to create a plan for targeted and individualized behavioral health interventions.

For more information on Spotlightor how Espyr can help your company deal with today’s complicated health issues, call 888-570-3479 or go to



Your Workforce Is Not As Healthy As You Think

For the young men and women now in the workforce – now working for your company – anxiety and other mental health issues are on the rise.

According to The Atlantic, this should not come as a surprise. Anxiety has been a growing problem among young adults since, at least, the 1950s, reportedly caused by increases in everything from stress to pressure to social media to divorce. In addition, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health has been warning about higher levels of mental illness among college students since 2009. By age 18, a National Institute of Mental Healthstudy of Millennials uncovered, these students – our children – are dealing with a disturbing variety of issues:

  • 35% will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
  • 25% will be diagnosed with a substance addiction.
  • 20% will have a behavioral disorder.

These are the people coming into your company.

“Because we work so many hours, young people in today’s world want to bring their full selves into the workplace, and their full selves include mental disorders,” said Dan Schawbel, author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolationand research director at Future Workplace, an executive development firm. “Leaders have to be more empathetic and supportive of people going through tough times mentally because it’s more common than you think.”

Compounding the Problem

According to Mental Health America, there’s a growing behavioral healthcare gap; the problem is greater, but fewer people are receiving treatment.

  • The rate of youth experiencing a mental health condition continues to rise. The rate of youth with a Major Depressive Episode (MDE) increased from 11.93% to 12.63%, and only 38% of those are receiving treatment.
  • Many Americans experiencing a mental health condition still report having an unmet need. 1 in 5 – or 9 million adults – reported having an unmet need.
  • There continues to be a shortage in the mental health workforce. Many states saw some improvement in this regard, but in states with the lowest workforce, there was almost four times the number of individuals to only one mental health provider.

The Employer’s Responsibility

Every day, companies adapt to all kinds of business issues to maintain or increase effectiveness, efficiency and profitability – supply chain issues, rising prices, finding good employees, new competition, etc. In the same way, companies and company leaders are adapting to serve the increasing number of employees with mental health issues to maintain or increase productivity.

“I think HR is going to have to step up and take the lead on this,” said Schawbel. “With so many young people in the workplace, there is more of a demand for new skills.”

One of those skills is to ensure a company has a proper mental or behavioral health support system in place for its employees. While a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a great foundation, it alone does not provide the proper levels of care.

At Espyr™, we have developed a number of innovative behavior health solutions that meet this growing need. Spotlight™ is a behavioral health program that uses a proprietary analytics platform to proactively identify high-risk employees and dependents – those suffering from behavioral or physical issues – then reaches out proactively with personalized interventions. The Espyr Coach program offers coaching by mental health professionals for those who don’t quite need counseling or feel counseling has a negative connotation.

Both programs mean more employees will get the help they need.

More Helpful Practices

While programs, support and understanding are important steps in helping deal with the growing number of mental and behavioral health issues, there are endless ideas employers can implement, any of which may make a huge difference in an employee’s life.

The Society for Human Resource Management put together the following to-do list of practices for employers, as recommended by mental health experts:

  • Provide support and make reasonable adjustments to working conditions.
  • Maintain privacy around the worker and his or her condition.
  • Approach young workers when you are concerned. If they don’t want to talk to you, encourage them to seek support (through your existing program or anywhere else).
  • Speak to young workers regularly. Having a good relationship means you will know what their normal behavior is and can identify when things have changed.
  • Because alcohol may increase anxiety and stress and contribute to feelings of depression, ensure your workplace culture doesn’t encourage excessive alcohol use. Provide alcohol-free alternatives for workplace events.
  • Reduce stress for young workers by ensuring they take regular breaks.
  • Provide ample time between shifts to allow for rest and recovery.
  • Have a list of contacts for a range of help and support services posted prominently in your workplace.
  • Make sure your health care plan and EAP give convenient access to mental and behavioral health services.

For more information on how Espyr can help your company deal with growing mental and behavioral health issues, call 888-570-3479 or go to


The Surging Suicide Rate; What Should Employers Do?

Today’s news headlines that life expectancy for Americans fell for the second time in the past 3 years painted a disturbing picture of life in America.   The primary reasons for the decline? Increasing deaths from opioid abuse and suicide.

The suicide rate in America is up 33% in less than 20 years. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among those aged 10-34 and fourth leading cause of death among 35-54 year olds.

The suicide rate is up 33% in less than 20 years

Why the suicide rate has increased so rapidly is open to debate. Alcohol and substance abuse, increasing rates of depression, the declines in the family structure as well as sense of community, economic woes, even smartphone usage have all been associated with suicide in one way or another.

Mental health and suicide

The reasons for the increase in the suicide rate may be complicated, but what is clear is that suicide is preventable. In 2016, 45,000 people died by suicide in the US. The number of people who attempted suicide was nearly 29 times higher than that. That’s over 1.25 million people who attempted suicide but survived.

Survivors often describe that it wasn’t the desire to die that drove their suicide attempt, but a desire to escape pain. That pain can be physical, but is often mental pain. Mental pain can be difficult to acknowledge because of the stigma that exists around mental health issues.

The role of employers

One in five Americans will suffer a mental health issue in a given year

Employers have a vested interest in recognizing the importance of mental health.  Employees suffering from mental health issues such as depression will miss approximately five workdays and experience 11.5 days of reduced productivity every three months. This isn’t an isolated issue either. One in five American adults will suffer from some type of mental health issue in a given year.

How can employers help? First, companies need to eliminate the stigma of mental health. Studies have shown that more accepting workplaces have happier employees with better productivity. Awareness and education through frank and open discussions and training is critical in removing mental health stigma.

Second, employers need to learn to recognize the signs of depression. Depression can manifest itself in many different ways: physically, behaviorally and emotionally. Physically, changes in appetite, aches and pains, changes in sleep habits and feeling extremely tired can all occur. Behaviorally, those with depression may exhibit irritability, restlessness, trouble concentrating or difficulty completing daily routines. Increased alcohol consumption or reckless behavior can occur. Emotionally, a strong and consistent feeling of sadness, anxiety or hopelessness may be noticed.

Many companies offer exercise programs or wellness classes such as yoga or meditation. Unilever, one of many companies that have established comprehensive programs designed specifically to support employee mental health, provides regular employee workshops on sleep, mindfulness and exercise, all of which have been linked to good mental health and psychological wellbeing.

One of the most effective ways to support employees with mental health conditions is taking advantage of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Comprehensive EAP programs offer information workshops and training for employees and supervisors on mental health. This training helps employees recognize the symptoms of depression and prepares workers and supervisors for actions that need to be taken when suicide prevention measures are called for. Employees have access to counselors through the EAP who are trained and certified to handle mental health issues such as depression.

Of course, many people in need don’t seek help. They’re afraid to come forward because of the stigma of mental health. They’re worried about confidentiality or they fear their mental health conditions may jeopardize their employment.

At Espyr®, we offer an industry-first Interactive Screening Program (ISP) that provides employees with a convenient, anonymous way to connect with a qualified counselor about available service options through their EAP – and address their concerns before they escalate.

Offered in association with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the program has been especially effective. As one participant put it, “I was finally able to let someone know how badly I was feeling without any judgment.”

Learn more

As a leading behavioral health provider, Espyr has extensive experience working with employers to recognize and deal with employee mental health issues such as depression or feelings of suicide. To learn more how Espyr can help your organization call us at 888-570-3479 or click here.



What Every HR Manager Needs to Know About the Impact of Marijuana Legalization

With the conclusion of the 2018 midterm elections, Michigan became the 10th state (including District of Columbia) to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. In addition, voters in Utah and Missouri approved marijuana legalization for medical use, bringing the total number of states where medical use is legal to 33.

Social acceptance of marijuana legalization is growing. A 2017 Gallup poll revealed that 64% of the country believes marijuana should be legal, the highest level in nearly a half-century of polling. As a result, employers can expect to see a continued climb in the number of states legalizing pot.

Challenges for employers

The growing support of cannabis use for both medical and recreational purposes poses many challenges for employers.

Safety and productivity

The prospect of employees under the influence of marijuana raises concerns about absenteeism, productivity and workplace safety. Marijuana use in the workplace has been linked to an increase in occupational accidents and injuries due to short-term effects of the drug, such as memory issues, impaired sense of timing, decreased reaction time, altered problem-solving capabilities, changes in sensory perception and impaired body movements.

Healthcare cost increases

According to a study reported in the National Bureau of Economic Research, legalization increases both marijuana use and marijuana abuse/dependence in people 21 or older. It is also associated with an increase in adult binge drinking (defined as the number of days in a month an individual had five or more drinks on the same occasion).

The study’s authors note that the observed increase in frequency of adult binge drinking, along with an estimated increase in the probability of simultaneous use of marijuana and alcohol, suggests that legalization could result in “considerable economic and social costs from downstream health care expenditures and productivity loss.”

Woman smoking marijuanaHiring

Even before the economy was at full employment, many companies were having trouble filling open positions. Often, the barrier to hiring was finding candidates who could pass drug testing. “Legalizing marijuana is going to increase the number of people who cannot pass pre-employment and random drug tests,” said Kristy Duritsch, executive director for the Safety Council of Southwestern Ohio. “It’s also going to add to turnover rates.”

In Colorado, one of the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana, employers have begun hiring from other states after being unable to find in-state residents who can pass drug tests, according to HRTechnologist.

Some companies are abandoning drug testing altogether. A 2017 survey by Mountain States Employer’s Council found that of the 609 Colorado employers they surveyed, the percent testing for marijuana fell to 66% from 77% the prior year. “That’s disturbing from an employer’s perspective,” says Paul Bittner, partner at Ice Miller law firm. “You don’t want people coming to work under the influence of a drug. You not only lose productivity, but the bigger concern for employers is potential liability if there’s an accident and someone gets hurt or killed.”


Another issue employers will have to tackle is the possibility of lawsuits if employees feel they have been discriminated against, especially for medical marijuana users.

A frequently noted case is that of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic with a Colorado state-licensed medical marijuana certificate. He worked as a telephone customer service representative for DISH Network. Coats tested positive for THC, an indicator of marijuana use, during a random test and was terminated for violating the company’s zero-tolerance drug policy.

The case was ultimately decided by the Colorado Supreme Court, which determined an employee could be fired for consuming medical marijuana. This might sound surprising since Colorado’s off-duty conduct laws offer statutory protection for employees who engage in lawful activities outside of work. Since marijuana is legal in Colorado, consumption is a lawful activity in the state. However, the court held that “lawful” refers to activities that are lawful under both state and federal law, and marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Therefore, the off-duty statute does not protect employees who consume medical marijuana.

“Legalizing marijuana is going to increase the number of people who cannot pass pre-employment and random drug tests

What should employers do?

Bittner refers to Coats v. DISH Network as the “go to” case. “If you have a drug-free workplace policy, I would not change it,” he says.

Employers operating in a state where marijuana is still completely illegal can change their drug policies and address the use of marijuana directly. “Write policies that let your employees know that disciplinary action will take place and violations could lead to termination,” says Bittner. Employers should double-check to ensure their company is complying with the Drug- Free Workplace Act of 1988 and any state laws that may affect drug testing.

If you are federally funded or have federal contracts, you must still abide by the Drug-Free Workplace Act.

As more states legalize recreational marijuana, there has been some confusion as to whether employers can stick to existing drug testing and personal conduct policies. Do employers need to accommodate an employee’s use or possession of the drug? What should employers do if an employee tests positive for marijuana?

Bob Capwell, Chief Knowledge Officer at Employee Background Investigations, offers this advice: “Employers need to review their company policies as they relate to changing legislation and where they provide services. States that have reasonable accommodation laws for medical marijuana cardholders such as Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New York and Rhode Island are problematic and a concern for employers with blank prohibitions on medical marijuana users.”

States with legalized recreational marijuana all have exemptions for workplace drug policies. However, medical marijuana use at the workplace is less clear. A California court recently reaffirmed that an employer still maintains the right to discipline employees even where the marijuana use is recommended by a physician. In Arizona, on the other hand, an employer may not discriminate in any way against a certified medical marijuana patient who fails a drug test, unless the individual used, possessed or was under the influence of marijuana while at work, or unless failure to take disciplinary action would cause the employer to lose a financial or licensing-related benefit under federal law.

Some states afford protections to registered medical marijuana users and may require that employers engage in an interactive process to see if a reasonable accommodation can be made.

“As a practical matter, this means that if an employee in one of these states is using marijuana with a medical card, employers cannot fire them on that basis. However, if an employee is using marijuana recreationally, the employee’s job would not be similarly protected,” said Jill Cohen, attorney at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott.

In the majority of states, employers don’t have to make accommodations, even for off-duty medicinal use. Federal employers like DOT have no obligation to accommodate marijuana use.

However, employers don’t have to tolerate employees under the influence while on the job, even if a worker is using marijuana for medical reasons. So accommodations might include additional time off or a leave of absence for the period the worker needs to use the drug.

The underlying issue is that a medical marijuana cardholder may have an independently qualifying medical condition. Therefore, employers may want to engage in an interactive process even if the law does not require it, according to Rachel Schumacher, an attorney with Akerman in Los Angeles.

“Workers need to know that they can’t have an edible at lunch and come back to the office”

For some employers, the obvious way to enforce a zero-tolerance policy is to conduct random drug testing, but this is easier said than done. Unlike a Breathalyzer test for alcohol, which yields precise results for impairment, there is no definitive way for employers to determine an employee’s level of impairment from marijuana. Routine tests for marijuana yield a lot of false positives and negatives because marijuana can take a long time to be metabolized out of a user’s system.

Then there is the question of privacy rights. Personal testing is often very invasive, so employers need to strike a fine balance between employees’ privacy and workplace safety. Marijuana users applying for or working in positions that are under DOT regulation are subject to federal guidelines and have limited or no rights.

Employers must decide how strong of a position they want to take as a company. If you’re a safety-sensitive or federal contractor, you may not have a choice. But for other employers, mandatory drug testing sends a clear signal.

Employers who feel strongly about their workforce steering clear of marijuana use must clarify their position with a clear company policy that outlines the expectations and consequences of a positive test. As long as an employer has enforced a prohibitory policy at the workplace, the employer will reserve the right to legally terminate an employee for their use of recreational marijuana.

Employers who want to take a more liberal approach may want to communicate to workers that even though it’s legal to recreationally use marijuana, being under the influence at work is unacceptable. Workers need to know that they can’t have an edible at lunch and come back to the office, said Schumacher.

Finally, be sure to train managers on how to deal with potential use on the job or “for cause testing” on the job, along with the ability to identify signs of using at work.

About Espyr

Espyr is a leading behavioral health company. Our mission is to help our client organizations and their employees achieve their full potential.  As part of this mission, we help clients and their employees deal with drug and alcohol abuse issues and provide management consulting to HR teams on related intervention services. For more information on Espyr, call us at 866-570-3479 or go to