Dying For Help: Addressing Mental Health Stigma In The Workplace

Polished.  Buttoned up.  Accomplished.  Funny.   This was how Sally Saba, MD was described.

And on March 5, 2017 she attempted to take her own life.

So it was only natural that the filled auditorium was hushed when Dr. Saba, Vice President of Operations, Performance and Compliance in Diversity and Inclusion at Kaiser Permanente Health Plan in California described her battle with depression and attempted suicide. Dr. Saba was speaking at the #Findyourwords Forum on Mental Health Stigma sponsored by Kaiser Permanente in Atlanta October 15.

Along with Dr. Saba, the Forum featured a panel of distinguished mental health experts, one of which was Norman Winegar, Chief Clinical Officer for Espyr.  I interviewed Mr. Winegar who shared his valuable commentary on mental health stigma, depression and suicide prevention for this article.

Golden: Mr. Winegar, why are people who suffer from depression and other mental health conditions reluctant to get help?

Winegar: There is a pervasive social stigma associated with seeking help for behavioral health conditions. People fear negative repercussions, both professionally and personally.  They’re concerned about a potential lack of promotions at work or alienation from friends and family.

Golden: Why should employers be concerned about mental health stigma?

Winegar: There are many reasons. Undocumented and untreated behavioral health conditions can have serious outcomes. Mood disorders are the leading cause of lost workdays in the world according to the World Health Organization.

Left untreated, behavioral health conditions can increase the cost of medical care. Compliance with treatment plans can be negatively impacted.   There is a high co-occurrence of mental health and physical health conditions, which can complicate and undermine medical care. Furthermore, people with undiagnosed mental health conditions use non-psychiatric healthcare services (including costly Emergency Department visits) 3 times more than those who do get treatment.

Employee performance is affected via absenteeism, presenteeism, turnover, decreased safety and increased risk. All these issues can and will affect team cohesion, customer service and can create disciplinary issues. Depressed employees for example are 20-30% more likely to become unemployed.

Overall, the cost of behavioral health conditions to US employers is estimated at $80-100 Billion annually (NIMH), so employers have a strong economic incentive to be concerned about mental health stigma.

Golden: What can employers do to reduce stigma and encourage employees to get assistance?

Winegar: Generally speaking it’s a combination of education and policy change.

  1. Use respectful language. Avoid terms like “crazy” or “he/ she is bipolar”
  2. Provide professional development opportunities for your employees (especially supervisors and managers) around diversity and mental health awareness
  3. Foster an inclusive workplace culture
  4. Create and communicate polices that make it safe for people in distress to come forward and access treatment. For instance, Kaiser Permanente has developed a Mental Health, Wellness and Resiliency Strategy to support the company-wide awareness of Mental Health issues and to create a stigma-free environment.
  5. Support educational programs in the workplace to educate about mental health issues and to encourage peer support
  6. Implement a suicide awareness and prevention program

Golden: Do suicide prevention programs work?

Winegar: Absolutely! Let me give you a few examples.

  • The US Air Force implemented a suicide prevention program and saw a 33% reduction in suicides over 6 years
  • The University of California, San Diego School of Medicine implemented in 2009 an online anonymous Interactive Screening Program after 10 physicians and medical students committed suicide over a period of 15 years. Since 2009, 300 physicians and trainees have accepted referrals to treatment via this anonymous, confidential program.
  • A large Federal customer of Espyr’s has since 2016 offered a similar Interactive Screening Program that has referred over 120 people to treatment in 2 years.

Golden: Is there a correlation between type of occupation and the severity of stigma around mental illness?

Winegar: Yes.

Healthcare professionals experience stigma as it relates to policies that may cause them fear of losing their professional license.

Government employees experience stigma as it relates to policies that cause them fear that if they seek treatment they may lose their security clearance, and hence their job.

Attorneys (and law students) experience stigma as it relates to policies that may cause them fear of losing their bar status or not being able to take the bar exam.

Law Enforcement and First Responders experience stigma as it relates to Fitness for Duty policies that cause them fear that disclosing a behavioral health condition may cause a temporary or permanent removal of their badge or weapon.

Golden: How can employers measure the mental health of employees?

Winegar: Employers have several tools at their disposal.

  • Holistic analytics can provide insight into the health of the workforce, beyond just claims analysis.
  • Health Risk Assessments (HRAs) should include not only questions about emotional wellbeing but also about employee awareness of employer-sponsored resources and whether managers are supportive of team members’ mental and emotional wellbeing.
  • Utilization of their EAP. For instance “free EAPs” usually have 1-2% usage, but employers know that 20+% of employees are having some type of mental health issue each year that can affect their work and therefore their employer’s profitability. So going cheap in this important area is unwise and poor business sense. Many factors can influence use of an EAP, but generally look for case utilization in the 8-12% range; look for your EAP to reach and impact 20-30% of your workforce through some form of activity.

Golden: What should I say to someone who is reluctant to get help?

Winegar: Have what I call a caring conversation. Ask if they are Ok. Note the behavioral changes you’ve seen. And it’s okay to ask someone if they are thinking about suicide or self-harm. This caring question will not “put the idea in their mind”.  Listen and be non-judgmental. Provide support and encouragement. Point out resources like a Primary Care Physician or the EAP. Keep faith-based resources in mind for some people. Follow-up and check in with the person.

If you think the person is in imminent danger to themselves or others, call 911 or if you are at work, speak with a manager or call security.

Golden: What was it that you wanted people to walk away with from your comments at the #Findyourwords event?

Winegar: Stigma drives silence and silence prevents those in need from getting help. This can have disastrous personal and business consequences. Breaking this silence encourages people to get help. This starts with each one of us.

When people feel safe, they are more likely to access sources of assistance and treatment.

Businesses need to act in responsible ways when it comes to their most valuable asset, their employees. Employers need to pair robust healthcare services with proactive programs like comprehensive EAP services and other specialized programs to reduce social barriers to seeking help (such as Interactive Screening Programs; Peer Support programs, Mental Health Awareness education, etc.). This makes good business and people sense.

 

To read more about addressing mental health stigma go to this prior Espyr post  See this post to read more about how employers can address the rise in suicides.

As a leader in behavioral health, Espyr is frequently called upon to help our clients and their employees deal with depression and suicide prevention. For more information on how Espyr can help your company deal with these issues, or any other behavior health issue, call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

 

Espyr Chief Clinical Officer Norman Winegar to Speak on Mental Health Panel

Depression and other mental health issues are more common than most of us would think.  40 million Americans live with depression, and 1 in 5 Americans is diagnosed with a mental health issue in a given year. Unfortunately, those who suffer from mental health issues often refrain from getting the help they need due to the stigma attached to mental health.

On Oct. 15, Norman Winegar, Espyr’s Chief Clinical Officer, will join a distinguished panel of mental health experts to discuss what employers can do to relieve the stigma that prevents employees from getting the professional help they need. The event, #FINDYOURWORDS: Breaking the Silence Around Mental Health and Wellness, is presented by Kaiser Permanente.

The event will begin with keynote speaker, Dr. Sally Saba, Vice President of Operations, Performance, and Compliance, National Diversity and Inclusion at Kaiser Permanente, who will share a compelling story about her personal journey and struggle with mental health.  The panel discussion that follows will include a representative from the State of Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and community advocates.

As a leader in behavioral health, Espyr is honored to participate in this important conversation.  The event, which will take place in Atlanta and was open to the public, sold out very quickly.  For those interested in learning more about how employers can help relieve the stigma of mental health,  we will provide a synopsis in a blog posting following the event.

 

Workplace Drug Use: Think It’s Not A Problem For You?

If today’s employers are finding that employee engagement is especially low, it may be because some of their employees are high. A new study released this summer by Quest Diagnostics, a provider of diagnostic information services, reveals that workplace drug use is the highest it’s been in more than a decade.

While prescription opioid rates have declined sharply across the nation, the on-the-job use of cocaine, amphetamines and marijuana has risen sharply, especially in certain regions. Here are a few specific findings from the Quest Diagnostics study:

  • Cocaine use has increased for the fifth consecutive year, including double-digit year-over-year increases in Nebraska, Idea, Washington, Nevada, Maryland and Wisconsin.
  • Between 2013 and 2017, methamphetamine use has increased 167% in parts of the Midwest, 160% in parts of the South, 150% in areas of the Northeast and 140% in the Southwest.

If you still think drug use has yet to reach your employees, consider these disturbing stats from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence:

  • 70% of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed.
  • Of those 70%, more than 42% admit that their work productivity suffers due to their use.

“The significant drop in opiate use is a promising sign,” said Matt Nieman, General Counsel, Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace. “Yet, the ten-year high rates serves as a stark warning that efforts to prevent substance abuse in the workplace are as important today as ever.”

The Opioid Problem is Not Over

The drop in opioid use doesn’t mean the opioid problem has gone away. Opioid prescriptions have nearly quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the drugs legitimately help people manage pain, they are also still very addictive. The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides plenty of scary facts to illustrate our point:

  • Roughly 21 to 29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • Between 8 and 12% develop an opioid use disorder.
  • An estimated 4 to 6% who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids.

Drug Use is Expensive, Too

These trends aren’t just disturbing on a human level. They’re costing employers – and society at large – a lot of money. Crain’s Detroit Business points out that, in 2013, opioid abuse alone cost businesses $16.3 billion just in disability claims and lowered productivity.

Tess Benham, of the National Safety Council, reminds us there’s also a high cost in absenteeism. Where the average worker misses about ten days per year, those abusing pain medication or using heroin miss an average of 29 days of work per year.

When you consider the combination of lowered productivity, higher health care, substance abuse treatment costs and missed work, you have a total economic burden of $78.5 billion, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Curtis S. Florence, who led the research, adds, “And that’s definitely a conservative estimate.”

What Can Employers Do to Help?

Common sense says that employers need to be part of the solution. First, however, they need to admit there’s a problem. In a survey by the National Safety Council, seven in ten employers reported on-the-job drug abuse issues ranging from absenteeism to overdose. Yet, only 24% said it was an issue.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence  has some clear, practical advice for employers, all centered on encouraging and supporting treatment. Here are some specific ways they say employers can address substance use and abuse in the workplace:

  • Implement a drug-free workplace and other substance abuse policies.
  • Offer health benefits that provide comprehensive coverage for substance use disorders, including aftercare and counseling.
  • Reduce the stigma of getting help through education and communication. You can read more about steps we’ve seen work in this blog on Reducing The Stigma Of Mental Health.
  • Educate employees about the health and productivity hazards of substance abuse through company wellness programs.

While all these policies and programs will help, the NCADD has one strong recommendation. “ “Without question, establishment of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is the most effective way to address alcohol and drug problems in the workplace,” says the NCADD. “EAPs deal with all kinds of problems and provide short-term counseling, assessment and referrals for employees with alcohol and drug abuse problems.”

At Espyr, we also understand the power of EAPs. But as a leading behavioral health company we’re continuously innovating to find new solutions to behavioral health issues. For example, we’re leading the way with a suite of coaching programs to encourage employees to ask for help when they need it or when traditional counseling isn’t required. We’ve developed innovative new approaches like Spotlight™, a behavioral health coaching and proprietary data analytics platform. Spotlight is able to proactively identify and aid employees (and their dependents) that may need assistance with drug abuse and other healthcare issues. It can more than pay for itself in reduced absenteeism, increased employee engagement, increased employee retention and a reduction in healthcare costs of up to 20%.

Espyr is offering Spotlight with partners such as Fairbanks Employer Services, one of the oldest and most highly regarded alcohol and drug treatment centers in America. With this new marketing partnership, Fairbanks will offer this technology to their portfolio of client companies under the name Fairbanks Spotlight™.

For more information on how Espyr can help you achieve a drug-free work environment, call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

College Students In Crisis. What You Need To Know Now.

There’s a mental health crisis spreading across our colleges and universities. If you’re a parent of a college-aged child – or an aunt, uncle or grandparent – you should be very concerned.  If you’re a college administrator, college student mental health issues shouldn’t be coming as a surprise to you.

The Disturbing Facts

It’s time we think seriously about college student mental health and the emotional turmoil that is affecting so many of our college students.   You might be surprised, and probably shocked, at these statistics provided in an article recently by Gene Beresin, Harvard Medical School Professor of Psychiatry:

  • 73% of college students experience some sort of mental health crisis during college.
  • Almost 50% of college students have had a psychiatric disorder in the past year.
  • Almost 33% of college students report having felt so depressed, they had trouble functioning.
  • More than 80% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they have to do.
  • 45% have felt that things were hopeless.
  • College directors of counseling services say demand for counseling services has grown at least five times faster than average student enrollment.
  • Only 25% of students with a mental health problem seek help.

These problems, of course, lead to other problems, starting with diminished school performance. In a University of Michigan study, depression was shown to be a significant predictor of not only GPA, but also the likelihood of dropping out. In addition, the co-occurrence of depression and anxiety is associated with a significant additional drop in GPA.

With all this going on, alcohol and drug abuse cannot be far behind. Even suicide comes into play. Yes, this mental health crisis is serious, and something must be done.

The Rest of the Story

Let’s start this section by being perfectly transparent: Espyr, offers a Student Assistance Program (SAP) providing colleges and universities with licensed behavioral health experts that support students with free and confidential professional assessment, counseling, referral services, coaching and other support services. Would we like every campus to offer a customized Espyr SAP? Yes. Would this completely solve the problem? No. But it is a big piece in solving the puzzle.

Unfortunately, for the typical college student in emotional trouble, there are too many factors getting in the way of finding any kind of help. According to the Huffington Post article quoted previously these include:

  • Age-Specific Vulnerabilities – About 50% of psychiatric disorders begin by age 14.
  • Immature Brains – The human brain does not fully mature until about age 26. Until we reach our mid-twenties, the brain is largely driven by emotion.
  • The Stigma of Mental Health Problems – This stigma exists for adults, as well as college-aged children. Students may worry about a “black mark” on their record or being judged and categorized by peers.
  • Limited On-Campus Services – Even in small schools, the ratio of certified counselors to students can be 1:2,000 – or worse.

Making Things Better

This situation cannot be fixed overnight. But we have to begin. Just looking at some of the issues and problems already mentioned, the action plan is fairly clear:

  • Increase Access to Qualified Help – For the suffering students who want to get help, they need to have places to go, people to call or websites to visit. Of course, an SAP from Espyr or elsewhere can help in this regard, and has proven repeatedly to be extremely valuable to thousands of students and their families.
  • Increase On-Campus Learning – Key to prevention is accessible education about mental health issues, as well as promoting all options for finding help.  SAPs like Espyr’s can help faculty and administrators with training, workshops, and access to educational resources.
  • Decrease the Stigma – Again, education is key. The more students realize they’re not alone in their suffering, the more they’ll be willing to seek help.
  • Promote Student Well-Being – Good mental health is promoted by good nutrition, exercise, good sleep habits, meditation, discussion groups and more. These activities should be part of every campus curriculum, whether official or not.

These suggestions are not exhaustive, by any means. But it’s a step in the right direction, a step towards saving our children from unnecessary suffering. Maybe, even, saving their lives.

For more information on how to develop a customized Student Assistance Program for your educational institution, call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

Suicides On The Rise: What Can Employers Do?

Earlier this year, we endured a one-two punch of the suicides of fashion icon Kate Spade and author/TV personality Anthony Bourdain.   As always happens following celebrity suicides, a barrage of TV, news and social media stories followed exploring, in intricate detail,  how they died and what led up to their fateful decisions. Unfortunately, these tragedies – and the ever-present news coverage – often lead to more of the same. In a study published by the International Journal of Epidemiology, media reports of suicides of well-known figures can trigger suicides in viewers and readers. When someone struggling with mental health issues sees that someone with similar issues responded to that suffering by killing themselves,  “It puts death on the table”, says news site Vox.

But these stories can also have a positive effect; they can cause employers concerned about the physical and mental health of their employees to evaluate their healthcare plans and determine if they’re doing enough.

Causes of Suicide

While the cause of suicide is not known, it most often occurs when the stresses of life exceed the coping abilities of someone already suffering from a mental health condition. In these cases, at these moments, stressors and health issues converge to create strong feelings of hopelessness and despair, something that seems impossible to overcome through any other method than death.

Most people who actively manage their mental health conditions go on to engage in life. Regrettably, it’s more common for those conditions to go untreated. Depression is the most common risk factor associated with suicide, and it’s often one that is undiagnosed or untreated. Other risk factors include anxiety, substance abuse, bipolar disorder and a family history of suicide.

Any of the conditions mentioned, especially when unaddressed, increase the risk for suicide.

The Cost of Suicide

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shares the latest statistics on suicide, and it’s not good news. Here are just a few of the startling facts:

  • Since 1999, suicide rates in the U.S. have risen nearly 30%.
  • Almost 45,000 Americans die each year by suicide – about 123 per day.
  • For every documented suicide, there are 25 suicide attempts.
  • Suicide costs the U.S. $69 billion annually in medical costs and work loss.

To make matters worse, since the stigma surrounding suicide leads to underreporting, the CDC estimates these numbers to be higher.

The Employer’s Role

Those employers who currently provide some sort of behavioral health counseling benefit – better yet, a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – are already going in the right direction. Same with school administrators providing a Student Assistant Program (SAP). Their employees (or students) have a place to go when they feel the need to seek help.

More comprehensive EAPs and SAPs, however, don’t stop at basic counseling. Some offer early suicide identification services and 24/7/365 intervention. Others conduct suicide prevention training activities on location or, in the aftermath of a suicide, critical incident trauma responses to help the rest of the community deal with their feelings.

Of course, many people in need don’t seek help. They’re worried about confidentiality, they fear their mental health conditions may jeopardize their employment or they believe “things will just work out.”

At Espyr®, we offer an industry-first Interactive Screening Program (ISP) that provides employees and students 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. Here’s how it works:

  1. Employee/Student visits the anonymous ISP website
  2. Takes a brief stress and depression questionnaire
  3. Receives a personal response from an EAP counselor
  4. Exchanges messages with counselor – asks and learns about available services
  5. Gets feedback and encouragement
  6. Requests an appointment or referral

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 judgement.”

If you’d like to learn more about how you can help your employees (or student population) deal with feelings of suicide – or any other behavioral health issue click here.

 

 

 

Health and Wellness: Revealing Trends In Benefits

The numbers don’t lie. The inclusion of new, innovative health and wellness offerings and initiatives as part of a company’s benefits package is increasing dramatically. In a survey by WorldatWork, the leading nonprofit professional association in compensation and total rewards, 900 respondents across the country described some of the ways companies in 2017 are taking better care of their employees than they were in 2016. In this article, we’ll take you through the most impactful changes.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – Up 20%

According to the WorldatWork survey, 80% of the respondents’ companies offered an EAP in 2016. In 2017, that number went up to 96%. This should not come as a surprise. A comprehensive EAP program, implemented correctly, can improve employee retention, reduce absenteeism and help produce a happier, more productive workforce. Increasingly, employers and employees are recognizing the value – even as a recruiting tool. On their 2018 list of ten perks that attract and retain employees, BenefitsPro.com places EAPs just behind Snacks and Coffee, Flexible Work Schedules and Working from Home.

Behavioral Health Plans – Up 17%

Offered by 78% of the surveyed companies in 2016 and 91% in 2017, behavioral health plans and services are quickly becoming the norm. While engagement in these plans has been an issue historically, it’s important to have the resources in place for those who might need them. The other good news? More companies are making efforts to demystify these programs and remove the associated stigma. By making behavioral health part of a company’s culture and involving senior leadership, more and more employees are taking advantage of these services.

Another trend that will help: an increase in coaching vs. counseling. While the best coaches receive training and education comparable to counselors, the idea of coaching is something that is inherently more approachable.

Wellness Incentives – Up 18%

By providing rewards other than wellness itself, incentive programs can be very effective, and have increased in use from 56% in 2016 to 66% in 2017. Incentives could be anything from blue ribbons to free or subsidized health club memberships, often landing somewhere in the middle – cash, gift cards, event tickets and health insurance discounts.Fitness class

When combined with simple, short-term prizes, wellness incentives provide employees with enough motivation to get the wellness ball rolling until they begin to feel the internal benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Outcomes-Based Wellness Programs – Up 33%

All wellness programs are, of course, outcomes-based in that they hope to achieve better health outcomes for as many employees as possible. Outcomes-based wellness programs, however, are simply incentive-based programs designed to achieve a certain outcome, like not smoking or losing weight.

According to WellSteps, an employee wellness solutions company, an outcomes-based wellness program will increase program participation and effectiveness. A combination of data feedback and healthy activities can encourage desired health behaviors while giving employees many different ways to qualify. If you treat people with respect and don’t force them to participate, WellSteps points out, your employees will love your wellness program and employee morale will get a big boost.

Health Coaching – Up 14%

As mentioned earlier, counseling can still carry a stigma that keeps some people with behavioral health issues from seeking help. Also, people may need advice, direction or just someone to talk to, and don’t have the need for formal counseling. This is where health coaching can help. With more of a positive connotation than counseling, more employees will seek the help they need.

And it’s working. According to the International Coaching Federation, 86% of companies who implement a coaching program feel the ROI was valuable.

Financial Wellness Services – Up 10%

In their 2017 survey on corporate health and well-being, Fidelity Investments® and the National Business Group on Health® revealed 84% of companies now offer financial wellness services, such as access to debt management tools or student loan counseling, an increase from 76% in 2016. As more employers recognize the impact of financial wellness on employee health, a growing percentage of companies are expanding their well-being programs to include employee financial security.$100 bill puzzle

As programs, services and offerings continue to evolve, employers are embracing a broader definition of well-being, one that leads to increased participation and engagement among their workforce – and greater productivity. “Today’s programs take more of a ‘health meets wealth’ approach,” said Adam Stavisky, senior vice president, Fidelity Benefits Consulting. “They reflect a blend of financial, physical and social/emotional programs to provide maximum support for members.”

If you’d like to learn how your company can catch up to the trends in wellness – and improve the happiness and productivity of your workforce – call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or click here.

The importance of mental health in the workplace

A few months ago, Patti Murin, the actress playing Anna in the Broadway show, Frozen, tweeted that she needed to take some time off for mental health reasons.

In her tweet, Murin stated, “I’ve learned that these situations aren’t something to deal with or push through. Anxiety and depression are real diseases that affect many of us. It requires rest and self care to handle every time it becomes more than I can handle in my daily life.”

Mental health conditions are more prevalent than you’d think

Murin was right when she said that mental health issues affect many of us. The fact is that mental health issues are far more common than most people realize. One in five adult Americans – 41 million people – will experience mental health issues in any given year. Someone suffering from depression will miss approximately five missed work days and 11.5 days of reduced productivity every three months. The cost to the US economy is a staggering $51 billion annually in absenteeism and lost productivity and an additional $26 billion in direct costs of treatment.

Millennials, the largest segment of today’s workforce, report higher rates of depression than any other generation, and research indicates that depression is becoming more prevalent among younger women. Women, in fact, are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from depression.

 

“If you want a high-performing company, you need resilient, healthy employees.”

Tim Munden, Unilever

Unfortunately, many of those suffering from depression or other mental health issues don’t seek help. 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, or at least appear to those affected, be very real in some companies. Many with depression think they can just “power through it” and pull themselves together.

 

How employers can help

Employers have a vested interest in recognizing the importance of employee mental health and many are stepping up to act, as noted by Kari Paul in Workplaces are finally treating mental health as sick days, even on Broadway. “If you want a high-performing company, you need resilient, healthy employees, said Unilever’s chief learning officer, Tim Munden. Unilever is one of many companies like American Express and Prudential who have established comprehensive programs specifically designed to support employee mental health.

What should an employer do? First and foremost, companies need to remove 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.   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.

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 alcoholic consumption or reckless behavior can occur. Emotionally, a strong and consistent feeling of sadness, anxiety or hopelessness may be noticed.

Some companies offer wellness classes such as yoga or meditation. Exercise can help by raising endorphin levels. Unilever’s mental health program referenced earlier 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, such as those offered by Espyr, include information workshops and training for employees and supervisors on mental health. Besides helping employees recognize the symptoms of depression, this training prepares workers and supervisors for when and what actions need to be taken when suicide prevention measures are called for. Furthermore, employees have access to counselors through your EAP who are trained and certified to handle mental health issues such as depression.

If you’d like to know more about mental health programs for your company, call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Reduce Employee Financial Stress And Boost The Bottom Line

For benefits decision makers, employee physical wellness has always taken center stage, first with health insurance, then with proactive wellness programs designed to keep employees healthier and save employers money. Over the last few decades, as stress and behavioral health issues have been shown to take their toll in dramatic ways, emotional wellness has found a foothold in benefits packages.

Today, according to the 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, financial wellness has been picking up steam as the new priority for employers, with many companies planning to offer or expand upon their current financial wellness programs and services. The survey notes how overall financial satisfaction for employees has taken a big turn for the worse, plunging by 13 percentage points between 2015 and 2017 – from 48% to 35%. But this survey also interviewed employers, learning they are increasingly acknowledging the stresses – and work issues – that arise when employees are constantly worried about their finances or, even worse, being able to make ends meet.

“…we knew financial stress was impacting health and productivity…we didn’t realize how much.”

Impact on the job

There are a number of studies that address how financial stress affects employees and their performance at work. As reported in a survey conducted by Lockton Retirement Services, a benefit brokerage and consultancy firm, employees stressed over finances were more than four times as likely to suffer from fatigue, headaches, depression or other ailments. Even more surprising, they were twice as likely to report poor health overall, leading to more sick days, increased absenteeism and decreased productivity.

“In our work with clients and their employees, we knew financial stress was impacting health and productivity,” said Donn Hess, Lockton’s senior vice president and director of marketing and communications. “But we didn’t realize how much.”

An International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans survey tells the story from the employer’s point of view, citing that four out of five report that their employees’ personal financial issues are impacting their job performance, resulting in:

  • An increase in stress among employees (reported by 76% of employers)
  • Workers’ inability to focus at work (reported by 60%)
  • Absenteeism and tardiness (reported by 34%)

A receptive audience

The best and most comprehensive employee financial wellness programs in the world will only help if employees become engaged. The good news is, according to the PwC 2018 Employee Financial Wellness Survey, they want the help. To them, financial wellness has always been defined in terms of aspirational goals, like freedom from stress/financial worry and being able to make choices to enjoy life, so they’re looking for ways to get to that point.

The PwC survey found, in fact, that more than half of all employees (54%) want to make their own financial decisions, but are looking to have someone validate those decisions. Employees want a financial wellness benefit to come with access to unbiased counselors and help understanding all their options.

Crafting the right solutions

Providing a financial wellness benefit isn’t as simple as offering a personal finance guidebook and hoping for the best. The ideal solutions, based on the results of MetLife’s 16th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, involve providing real experiences that have meaning and value to employees – programs and offerings that support flexibility and empower employees to positively impact their situation.

Employees see their benefits as critical to enriching their work and life. When employers play an active role in their employees’ financial wellness, everyone benefits. The right solutions build confidence for employees, which, the MetLife study found, creates positive results both inside and outside the workplace.

In their 2017 survey on corporate health and well-being, Fidelity Investments® and the National Business Group on Health® revealed 84% of companies now offer financial wellness services such as access to debt management tools or student loan counseling, an increase from 76% in 2016.

When considering a financial wellness program for your company, look for an experienced, dedicated partner, like Espyr. Espyr can help you with financial coaching programs and innovative approaches to financial wellness as part of a customized Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

For more information on behavioral health programs, reducing financial stress and increasing productivity within your company, call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

 

 

How Productive Are You When You Can’t Make Ends Meet?

Money, is the leading cause of stress in America and, boy, are we stressed out these days! According to a study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Services, stress, anxiety and depression were at all time highs in 2017.  39% of respondents reported being more stressed than a year ago, while only 19% reported being less stressed. Financial worries (a significant source of stress for 64% of adults) rank higher than work (60%), family responsibilities (47%) and health concerns (46%).

If you’re in HR or running a business, I hope I have your attention because employees stressed due to financial worries are not good for your business.

Millennials seem to be most affected by financially induced stress. According to a study by Northwestern Mutual, an estimated 28% of millennials are experiencing so much stress that it’s affecting their job performance. That’s twice the rate of the general population.

Furthermore, 23% of Millennials say that financial stress makes them physically ill on a weekly or monthly basis compared to just 12% of workers among all age groups.

Jacob Passy in his Market Watch article, Americans are plagued by financial anxiety — and it’s only getting worse, provides thoughtful commentary on what’s driving financial anxiety and how financially driven stress affects demographic groups – gender, age and race – differently.

“The vast majority of respondents believe a person’s mental health impacts their physical health (86%, up from 80% in 2017).” 

There are no magic bullets to relieving financial anxiety and stress, but there are some tried and true steps to take.

  • First on every advice list is to create a budget and stick to it. Unfortunately, studies show that 2/3 of American adults don’t have a budget and many of us fall into the trap of spending more than we make at times. Consumers are not like the US government; we can’t sell debt or print more money in order to spend more than we make.
  • Put away an emergency fund. Of course, this may be easier said than done, but start small. Even a few dollars a week will add up. 69% of U.S. adults have less than $1,000 in savings, while 34% have no savings at all. What happens if you’re in an auto accident or have a health emergency and you have no savings? Talk about stress!

Make savings a way of life. Many financial experts say to pay your self first. In other words, put money into a savings or investment account before you see how much you have for other purposes. Many banks will let you set up an automatic monthly transfer from your checking to your savings account. That’s a great way to force your self to save.

Eliminate debt. Between student loans, car loans, mortgages and credit card debt, some people dig such a deep hold of debt that they may never get out. Getting out of debt, especially credit card debt, can be very therapeutic, not to mention financially rewarding.   According to Meghan Murphy, Vice President of Thought Leadership at Fidelity Investments, Fidelity’s research show that paying off debt has the biggest positive impact on a person’s overall well-being.   Bigger even than exercise.

“If you want to reduce stress, start by paying down your debt.”

 Meghan Murphy, Fidelity Investments

And, maybe one of the most overlooked opportunities for many is to tap into the resources of your EAP. Many EAPs include financial consulting and financial coaching as a free service. Unfortunately, employees often miss this because they aren’t aware that they even have the benefit of free financial advice and coaching.   Employers can help by working with their EAP to market these services better. Ask your EAP for marketing materials to explain the services offered. Your EAP should be willing to set up lunch and learns, webinars and other employee meetings to raise employee awareness.

Financial worries don’t have to be deterrents to productivity at your company. If your EAP is not offering services like financial coaching then call Espyr. With a national network of financial professionals and financial coaches we can help.

Call us at 866-570-3479 or click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Health and Wellness: Is Your Company Keeping Up?

The numbers don’t lie. The inclusion of new, innovative health and wellness offerings and initiatives as part of a company’s benefits package is increasing dramatically. In a survey by WorldatWork, the leading nonprofit professional association in compensation and total rewards, 900 respondents across the country described some of the ways companies in 2017 are taking better care of their employees than they were in 2016. In this article, we’ll take you through the most impactful changes.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – Up 20%

According to the WorldatWork survey, 80% of the respondents’ companies offered an EAP in 2016. In 2017, that number went up to 96%. This should not come as a surprise. A comprehensive EAP program, implemented correctly, can improve employee retention, reduce absenteeism and help produce a happier, more productive workforce. Increasingly, employers and employees are recognizing the value – even as a recruiting tool. On their 2018 list of ten perks that attract and retain employees, BenefitsPro.com places EAPs just behind Snacks and Coffee, Flexible Work Schedules and Working from Home.

Behavioral Health Plans – Up 17%

Offered by 78% of the surveyed companies in 2016 and 91% in 2017, behavioral health plans and services are quickly becoming the norm. While engagement in these plans has been an issue historically, it’s important to have the resources in place for those who might need them. The other good news? More companies are making efforts to demystify these programs and remove the associated stigma. By making behavioral health part of a company’s culture and involving senior leadership, more and more employees are taking advantage of these services.

Another trend that will help: an increase in coaching vs. counseling. While the best coaches receive training and education comparable to counselors, the idea of coaching is something that is inherently more approachable.

Wellness Incentives – Up 18%

By providing rewards other than wellness itself, incentive programs can be very effective, and have increased in use from 56% in 2016 to 66% in 2017. Incentives could be anything from blue ribbons to free or subsidized health club memberships, often landing somewhere in the middle – cash, gift cards, event tickets and health insurance discounts.

When combined with simple, short-term prizes, wellness incentives provide employees with enough motivation to get the wellness ball rolling until they begin to feel the internal benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Outcomes-Based Wellness Programs – Up 33%

All wellness programs are, of course, outcomes-based in that they hope to achieve better health outcomes for as many employees as possible. Outcomes-based wellness programs, however, are simply incentive-based programs designed to achieve a certain outcome, like not smoking or losing weight.

According to WellSteps, an employee wellness solutions company, an outcomes-based wellness program will increase program participation and effectiveness. A combination of data feedback and healthy activities can encourage desired health behaviors while giving employees many different ways to qualify. If you treat people with respect and don’t force them to participate, WellSteps points out, your employees will love your wellness program and employee morale will get a big boost.

Health Coaching – Up 14%

As mentioned earlier, counseling can still carry a stigma that keeps some people with behavioral health issues from seeking help. Also, people may need advice, direction or just someone to talk to, and don’t have the need for formal counseling. This is where health coaching can help. With more of a positive connotation than counseling, more employees will seek the help they need.

And it’s working. According to the International Coaching Federation, 86% of companies who implement a coaching program feel the ROI was valuable.

Financial Wellness Services – Up 10%

In their 2017 survey on corporate health and well-being, Fidelity Investments® and the National Business Group on Health® revealed 84% of companies now offer financial wellness services, such as access to debt management tools or student loan counseling, an increase from 76% in 2016. As more employers recognize the impact of financial wellness on employee health, a growing percentage of companies are expanding their well-being programs to include employee financial security.

 

As programs, services and offerings continue to evolve, employers are embracing a broader definition of well-being, one that leads to increased participation and engagement among their workforce – and greater productivity. “Today’s programs take more of a ‘health meets wealth’ approach,” said Adam Stavisky, senior vice president, Fidelity Benefits Consulting. “They reflect a blend of financial, physical and social/emotional programs to provide maximum support for members.”

If you’d like to learn how your company can catch up to the trends in wellness – and improve the happiness and productivity of your workforce – call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or click here.