Burnout key on computer keyboard

How To Prepare For A Second Wave of Employee Burnout

Employees everywhere are feeling it.  Employee burnout. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues on, the compounding effects of stress and anxiety from social isolation, fears of contagion, added workloads where staffs have been reduced,  and (for many) the potential of financial ruin are mounting.  The cumulative effect is edging many of us close to, if not beyond, a breaking point.  With daily news media reporting on the spreading pandemic second wave in Europe, breakouts in colleges and newly rising infection rates in many states, we need to be prepared for not just a second wave of the virus, but the mental health impact of  a second wave of employee burnout.

The executive recruiting firm, Korn Ferry, recently published an article, Burnout: The Second Wave, which brought attention to this looming issue facing employers throughout the country.  The article is worth a read, but excerpts are provided below.

Employee burnout is increasing

According to the article, nearly six in 10 employees reported feeling burned-out last month, compared to 45% in April. Moreover, as it becomes clear that the pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon, more employees are blaming the virus for their burnout, citing it as responsible for increased workloads, lack of support, and unclear performance expectations.

Experts say the increase in instances of employee burnout is troubling given that employees have had some time to adjust to the “new normal” of remote working and fear of layoffs. What’s more, organizations have ramped up wellness efforts over the last four months. Now, however, the concern for organizations is employees sliding from burnout into anxiety, depression, or worse. “Organizations are looking hard at the impact that diminished informal interaction and personal support is having on employees,” says Mark Royal, a Korn Ferry senior director.

Current efforts are not enough

What many employers are finding is that Zoom check-ins and basic wellness activities like yoga classes, mindfulness training, and gym classes aren’t enough. In fact, instead of relieving stress, reports indicate that work-sponsored social activities over Zoom could actually be causing more stress. George Atkinson, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry, says right now wellness isn’t about programs or activities. Rather, he says, it is about “creating intimacy with employees to cut through the surface.”

“People need to vent, but they aren’t comfortable talking about these kinds of issues with managers or coworkers,” says Atkinson. That puts the onus on managers and leaders to proactively engage with employees, something they aren’t necessarily comfortable with, given that they are legally bound by what they can and can’t ask about home, kids, and health.

It’s not just the pandemic

But it isn’t just the work-life imbalance created by the pandemic that is leading to burnout. It’s also ongoing racial unrest, wildfires, and the upcoming election, among other factors, that together with the pandemic are creating a general feeling of hopelessness and lack of control, experts say. To be sure, part of the problem is that people haven’t had time to take a breath because they are being hit with one metaphorical body blow after another.

Another problem is that employees often don’t know that help is available for them. “Organizations need to proactively connect employees in need of help with available resources,” says Royal, pointing to benefits like psychological counseling, telehealth programs, employee resource groups, and company-supported childcare.

Managing employee burnout 

According to the Korn Ferry article, the most important thing leaders can do is to make sure employees know they are not alone in how they feel, nor should they feel guilty about it.  We agree, but we’d add several tips on how to handle burnout from an Espyr blog published last year.

  1. Learn your own strengths

If your job doesn’t fit your skill set, it’s easy to become disengaged.   Look at new projects or even new positions to get energized and send burnout packing.  “Workers who are truly engaged spend about four times as many hours doing what they do best every day, in comparison to doing what they don’t do well,” said Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup. Getting involved in activities that develop your strengths further can help you feel even more energized, confident and motivated.

  1. Understand your weaknesses

In order to understand what you need to work on, it’s important to figure out what, exactly, is holding you back. Self-assessment is essential; without it you can’t even begin to grow. Can you improve your knowledge or skills? Learn new ones?  There are many online courses offering management and leadership classes.

  1. Develop strong partners at work

It’s not always true, but friends at work can help boost your efficiency and performance. Having friends at work can make it easier to seek advice without feeling judged, allowing you to gain access to feedback and information you might not otherwise get.  Developing strong relationships and having people you can rely on — plus being a reliable partner to others — goes a long way toward preventing burnout according to Harter.

Whether you’re concerned with burnout or not, numerous studies have shown that friends are truly good for your physical and mental health.  Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many health problems, like depression, high blood pressure obesity and even dementia.

  1. Communicate

If you are feeling burned out, don’t try to suck it up or hide it.  It won’t work.  A conversation with higher-ups can be valuable in fostering support, ideas and feedback for everyone involved.  A good manager will be open to discussing your situation, supporting you through a rough time, and working with you to address the stressors causing the burnout. Sharing what you’re going through and feeling heard is, in and of itself, a powerful step toward improving your situation.

  1. Identify a good manager

A recent Gallup study on stress and burnout at work found that employees who felt supported by their managers were overwhelmingly less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis. Employees who felt supported by their manager are about 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis, according to Gallup.

  1. Keep good health habits

It goes without saying, but good basic health habits – eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep –  can go a long way  in relieving stress and thus burnout.

  1. Consider a change

Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place – the wrong job, a boss you don’t like, a company culture that conflicts with your personal values.  You may need a change – a new position in your company, a new company, maybe even a new career direction.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching  and consulting solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Coronavirus Anxiety is Spreading Fast

Thanks to the widespread and constant media coverage, we all know the factors that facilitate infectious pandemics like coronavirus (COVID-19). A rise in long-distance travel, increased international exchange and global climate changes are just some of the guilty parties helping the spread of disease across our planet faster than ever.

We also know how to minimize our risk of infection – washing hands properly, covering coughs and sneezes, staying home if sick, keeping surfaces clean and staying away from sick people.

According to a Psychiatric Times article, however, that same informative media coverage is also responsible for panic, stress and the potential for hysteria. Pandemics are not just a medical phenomenon; they can be the cause of anxiety-related behaviors, sleep disturbances and an overall lower perceived state of health, especially in individuals already suffering from mental illness.

How Many are Affected?

It’s still too early to know exactly how many are suffering from mental or emotional problems as a result of the most recent pandemic. But take note of how aware you have become of washing your hands, touching surfaces or getting on a plane. For most of us, these things are much more top-of-mind than they were just weeks ago.

There has been some research, however. In February, according to Bloomberg Opinion, the Chinese Psychology Society surveyed 18,000 asking if they felt anxiety related to the coronavirus outbreak. Almost 43% said yes.

Asian students wearing masks to protect themselves from coronavirus

What About Patients and Healthcare Workers?

Not surprisingly, the closer people are to the infection – like coronavirus patients, families of patients and healthcare workers – the greater the anxiety and overall mental toll. 

Quarantine is a prudent and necessary response to any viral outbreak, a critical step towards slowing the spread of the virus and providing valuable time to prepare. Yet, as also stated in Bloomberg Opinion, this isolation is usually accompanied by unwelcome (and under-reported) side effects, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress (or PTSD). After the SARS outbreak of 2002/2003, researchers identified how these events can take a mental toll on both patients and medical staff.

  • A study of 233 SARS survivors in Hong Kong found that 40% had “active psychiatric illness” years after the outbreak, including PTSD, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • 2006 study of 549 employees of a Beijing hospital that treated SARS patients found that 10% exhibited symptoms of PTSD.

Whether for patients, healthcare workers or the public at large, it’s clear that mental health care and treatment needs to be an integral part of the coronavirus recovery process. Long-term psychological effects could become the infection’s longest-lasting legacy.

How Can I Help My Employees Right Now?

When faced with situations that are uncertain and that we can’t control, it is normal to feel more anxious. Here are some helpful tips we provide to our clients to give to their employees, gathered from our team of coaches and counselors, as well as sources such as National Public Radio and the Wall Street Journal:

 

  • Manage Information – Find a credible, trusted source of information like the CDC website (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), your state public health agency or your primary care physician. Stay informed so you’re aware of current information like precautions, warnings or quarantines – but be careful about overloading on information as that can increase feelings of anxiety. Checking your trusted news source once or twice a day should provide the information you need.
  • Plan Ahead – Often, our anxiety increases when we feel a loss of control. While we can’t control if we come in contact with coronavirus, there are some things we can control – like planning ahead. Make plans now for how you would address childcare and work if you or other family members were to get sick or schools/business would close. Talk to your doctor about any prescription medications that may require refills. And take an inventory of non-perishable groceries and over-the counter medications you may want on hand.
  • Stay Connected – Talking to family and friends can be very helpful in relieving stress and anxiety (during a pandemic, or anytime).
  • Maintain Your Routine – Continuing to do the things as usual – like exercise and going to bed at the same time – are helpful in creating a sense of normalcy which helps reduce stress. 
  • Get a Good Night’s Sleep – Research shows many benefits of a good night’s sleep, including reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Breathe – Regularly practicing relaxation techniques – deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, etc. – can help reduce stress and anxiety. Taking a break and engaging in an activity you enjoy, like watching a favorite show or playing a game, can also help.
  • Take Basic Precautions – Take the recommended precautions to help stay healthy – wash your hands for 20 seconds, avoid touching your face and avoid contact with those who are sick. Not only do these things reduce your chances of infection, they can help you feel more in control.

What About Employees Who Need More Help?

Psychological effects of a pandemic are wide-ranging, and many need help beyond dealing with a little extra anxiety. This is where Espyr comes in. Through our industry-leading coaching, counseling and assistance programs, Espyr has been helping employees maintain good physical and mental health for 30 years. 

One such program is iResolve, a service that is included in every Espyr Employee Assistance Program (EAP). With iResolve, employees can access unlimited and immediate help as easy as making a phone call. There’s no appointment necessary, and employees will speak to one of our licensed professional counselors, coaches or clinicians.  

iResolve helps employees build resilience and develop coping strategies for dealing with uncertainty. Furthermore, it promotes connectedness and strengthening of support networks when social distancing measures are suggested.

Thanks to Espyr and iResolve, employers are able to provide employees with the help they need, whether due to coronavirus anxiety, other mental health issues or work-related problems. 

About Espyr

Espyr is a leader in behavioral health solutions, offering employers a variety of innovative products and services designed to maximize human and organizational potential. 

For more information on how Espyr can help your company provide for the mental health of your employees, call 888-570-3479 or click here. 

Woman wondering whether she has ADHD

Adult ADHD and Its Implications for Employers

Employees are any employer’s most valuable asset.  That’s why I’m always encouraged whenever I hear professionals from outside the Behavioral Health field educating and informing employers about the business and organizational impact of untreated mental health conditions.  In this case, it was an article appearing in the Society of Human Resource Management’s HR Daily newsletter.  In that article, Mr. Jathan Janove, JD, discussed the workplace impact and costs of a common type of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that persists into adulthood. It’s often called Adult ADHD. 

Mr. Janove pointed out that ADHD is a treatable condition is often undiagnosed and untreated, despite the existence of effective treatments.  This fact should not surprise anyone.  It’s true of most types of mental health conditions in the US and the world. It results in unnecessary suffering for adults, families and children, and additional costs for employers, consumers and taxpayers. 

Differences Between Physical and Mental Health Conditions

It’s likely that sometime in our lives 100% of us will experience some type of physical illness or injury.  Most of the time, we will recognize the need for treatment of that illness or injury, we’ll know that treatment exists and how to access it.   But this is often not the case with mental health conditions. 

A few years ago the Harvard Mental Health Newsletter published the findings of  a mental health study of 9,000 Americans.   Over 40% of those surveyed had – at some point in their lives –  experienced symptoms indicative of one or more mental health conditions according to the diagnostic manual in use by physicians and behavioral health professionals at the time.  However, whether it’s a failure to recognize the need for treatment, denial of the existence of a problem, or lack of awareness of treatment options and accessibility, many of those with mental health conditions will fail to obtain treatment.  That failure leads to substantial and often unnecessary human suffering, as well as significant cost and risk burden falling on employers.  ADHD is a good example. 

ADHD And The Effect on The Workplace

ADHD is often thought of as a childhood disorder, but actually it’s very common in adults.  The National Institute of Mental Health estimates the prevalence of the adult form of the condition at around 8%, with men being more affected than women.  Most of these adults who experience ADHD are in the workforce.  

ADHD is experienced by adults along a range from mild to severe symptoms.  The major symptoms are inordinate difficulty staying focused and hyperactivity.  The symptoms affect all aspects of a person’s life – work, social, familial and health.  

Many people cope with the chronic condition very well. Those who do have usually done so with the assistance of treatment and education or counseling about managing the condition and their lifestyle.  (Many effective treatments exist and they are improving.)  In fact, people who experience Adult ADHD are often very successful people who enjoy long and rewarding careers. They include CEOs of large corporations, professional athletes, engineers, physicians, attorneys, law enforcement officers, professional drivers, teachers and many others.  For these people, the condition can seemingly result in enormous energy, creativity and focus. 

More often the challenge in the workplace involves those employees experiencing undiagnosed and untreated ADHD or in assisting those who need a little help. It is a condition that has the potential to have serious impacts on workplace productivity and employee morale and it can present special challenges for managers and human resource professionals.

Workplace Challenges For Those With ADHD

Many employees with untreated or poorly treated ADHD struggle with distractibility, poor time management, poor memory and deficient communication skills.  While all people experience these issues at times, those with Adult ADHD, experience them frequently and to the degree they interfere with daily life.  They are often the employee that comes to managers’ attention due to tardiness and absenteeism, high error rates, or having difficulty with change. These employees often have a challenge completing complex tasks and projects on time, or with juggling competing priorities.  In fact, they often find it difficult to accurately estimate the time required to complete a task and thereby earn an unwanted workplace reputation of scrambling at the last minute to finish an assignment.  Interpersonal skill deficits often associated with the untreated condition can result in conflict with team members, supervisors and customers.  They can become the targets of bullying or suffer discrimination and bias. They are sometimes perceived by their peers as “the last person I want on my project team.”  A pattern of job and financial instability can be the result.  If this isn’t enough, imagine the parallel problems these symptoms generate in their social and family life.  These can add another unwanted and substantial challenge that threatens to further degrade their health and wellbeing.

Implications for Managers and Human Resource Professionals

In my role as a behavioral health and employee assistance professional, I once had an HR manager tell me that she wasn’t really sure she wanted to learn that a particular problematic employee might have ADHD.  She said that was because that information would trigger a cascade of onerous and costly accommodations that added another burden to her job.  Her initial perception and concern may have been driven by misinformation or stereotyping. My experience has been that this concern is often overblown and not a starting point for HR professionals who might encounter this situation. 

On the other hand, I’ve had multiple employees tell me that they have been afraid to come forward to their employer to say they had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and to ask for accommodations to help them get their work done.  They have feared reprisals from managers and social stigma from their peers.  They may not have known that their employers can often provide support as well as simple and straightforward accommodations that can greatly assist them in their jobs.

Workplace Accommodations To Help Those With ADHD

Adult ADHD can be a condition afforded protection by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and various state laws. Ignoring it is unwise and creates risk of litigation against employers. Progressive employers appreciate that it’s best to understand if a worker has Adult ADHD that is affecting performance and conduct, and who may need accommodations.  Employers can usually create reasonable accommodations once they understand  the employee’s job, the tasks that are challenging the employee and relevant information from the employee’s medical provider.  As Janove pointed out in his article,  accommodations are often simple and inexpensive, and along with diagnosis, treatment and education they can help employees function at an optimal level.   Workplace accommodations could include:

  • White-noise headphones to reduce distractions in a noisy workplace
  • A quieter workspace where possible
  • Calendars and notebooks to track deadlines and progress
  • Coaching to help employees break complex tasks into multiple smaller steps
  • Short breaks to move about or to do different tasks (to assist with hyperactivity)

Challenges For Employees With Unrecognized ADHD

Employers have a strong business incentive involving productivity and risk mitigation to act, but employees with unrecognized Adult ADHD pose different challenges.  We know that the combination of treatment, education/counseling and (sometimes) simple workplace accommodations can help these employees to function well at work and in other areas of their lives. What should employers do and what resources are at their disposal? They should examine two areas:

Effective Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) 

Most employers offer some type of EAP.  The EAP can be a valuable access point to engage employees with education, guidance, counseling and referrals to treatment. But EAPs are often underutilized, not connected to other employer-sponsored wellbeing programs, and they can be inherently passive – waiting for employees to come to them.  They seldom screen workforces for the early warning signs of possible behavioral health issues. Plus, many employers are simply poorly engaged with their EAPs.  This lack of engagement does little to create greater awareness and acceptance of people with behavioral health conditions in the workplace.  

On the employees side, to benefit from the EAP they must first recognize the need for taking action.  They must recognize and want to eliminate the problems that their untreated symptoms are generating. Then they must be aware of and recognize the EAP as an accessible means to a solution.  Finally, they have to muster the courage to take action to access the EAP, which can present logistical barriers even if the social barrier is overcome.   To help address this dynamic, Espyr has added technology-enabled outreach, advocacy and coaching services to reach more employees in need and to do so earlier in their struggles.

Workplace Culture

Human Resource professionals must be the leaders in their organizations in creating a workplace that values diverse employees, reduces the social stigma often associated with accessing care for mental health conditions, and equates physical health and wellbeing with mental health and wellbeing.  This includes examining policies and practices concerning how the work organization messages information about benefits, wellness programs, and it’s EAP.   HR professionals must be the voice for such important issues when communicating with their senior leaders who ultimately shape the overall workplace culture.  And, of course, they must constantly communicate the culture to all employees.

To Learn More

To learn more about Adult ADHD and the stake employers have in assisting workers with this and similar conditions, visit the National Resource Center on ADHD, a program of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD®) supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can reach this center online at https://chadd.org/nrc or by phone at 1-866-200-8098. You can also learn more by visiting the National institute on Mental Health’s Help for Mental Illness page at www.nimh.nih.gov/findhelp.

If you’d like to comment on this blog post, we’d like to hear from you. Please mail us at blog@espyr.com

About the author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr, a national behavioral healthcare company that provides employee, student and member assistance services and a variety of coaching programs that improve organizational effectiveness and employee health, safety and wellbeing. He is also the author of four books related to the behavioral health industry. To learn more about how Espyr can help your company or organization, call us at 888-570-3479.

 

 

 

Mental health sign on workplace desk

30 Years of Change in Workplace Mental Health. What Do Employers Need to Be Doing Now?

October 2019 will mark Espyr’s 30th anniversary. Over those 30 years, we’ve witnessed significant changes in attitudes toward mental health, both by society at large and in the workplace.

We’ve evolved as well, changing from EAP Consultants, a company focused primarily on comprehensive Employee Assistance Programs, to Espyr, a leading provider of behavioral health solutions designed to maximize human and organizational potential.

Compared to our founding 30 years ago, people today are much more aware of the importance of mental health and more open to discussing personal mental health issues. Also, employers are increasingly including mental health benefits as part of their company’s wellness offerings.

Despite all the progress in mental health awareness and understanding however, the stigma of mental health persists. Some studies indicate mental health stigma is even worse now than in the past. Meanwhile, many employers, while they talk about the importance of employee mental health, have not taken the appropriate actions necessary to put mental health on equal footing with physical health.

To illustrate the point, let’s recap the state of mental health and, particularly, mental health in the workplace.

Awareness and Attitudes Toward Mental Health Have Changed

In many ways, people today have a better awareness and understanding of mental health and mental health disorders.

• According to a 2015 article in the Huffington Post, as recently as 1996, more than 50% of the US believed that depression was a sign of personal or emotional weakness. While this specific question has not been tracked over time, recent polls have asked whether seeking treatment for mental health issues is a sign of weakness. Less than 20% of respondents said treatment indicates weakness.

Another study in 2016 compared news stories concerning mental illness from 1995 to 2004, and from 2005 to 2014. Stories in which stigma or discrimination were mentioned as problems increased from 23% (1995-2004) to 28% (2005-2014).

• In a 1996 study, 54% of the US public attributed major depression to neurobiological causes; in 2006, this increased to 67%1. Similarly, the percentage of people endorsing the benefits of treatment by a physician for people with major depression went up from 78% (in 1996) to 91% (in 2006) 1.

• In another study of U.S. adults, only about 25% agreed that people are caring and sympathetic to people with mental illness 2.

Yet, Mental Health Stigma Still Exists

Just over 25% of US adults – one in four – will suffer from a mental disorder in any given year, including anxiety, depression, impulse control disorder and substance abuse3.

Yet, only about 20% of adults with a diagnosable mental disorder4 or with a self-reported mental health condition5 saw a mental health provider in the previous year. One of the major barriers to seeking help? The embarrassment associated with accessing mental health services.

In an article in May 2019, SHRM (The Society for Human Resource Management) noted a telling indicator of mental health stigma from a 2019 study done by Unum and the Disability Management Employer Coalition. In this study, 70% of employees who missed work due to mental health issues did not inform their manager that this was the reason. In the same study, 61% felt that there’s a social stigma in the workplace toward colleagues with mental health issues.

In fact, according to several studies, mental health stigma may be actually increasing.

In 2010, Pescosolido and colleagues assessed the stigma around mental illness by comparing findings from a 2006 survey with a similar 1996 survey. They reported an increase in stigma during the 11-year period, adding, “Our most striking finding is that stigma among the American public appears to be surprisingly fixed, even in the face of anticipated advances in public knowledge.”

Previously, the same researchers had compared the public perception of mental illness in 1996 with findings from a similar survey in 1950. They reported that, despite an increased understanding of the causes of mental illness by 1996, stigma had increased. This finding was also reflected in the 1999 Surgeon General’s report on mental health: “Stigma, in some ways, intensified over the past 40 years, even though understanding improved.”

 

Mental health sign on workplace desk

Mental Health in the Workplace

In the battle to combat mental health issues, the workplace is ground zero. Workplace wellness programs can identify at-risk employees and connect them to the appropriate treatment. These programs also have the means to help employees manage stress. In addition, by addressing mental health issues in the workplace, employers can reduce health care costs for their businesses and employees.

The stakes are high. Depression alone costs the US economy an estimated $210 billion per year, and a little under half of the cost is related to lost productivity in the workplace, according to Darcy Gruttadaro, director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation.

According to the CDC, mental health issues impact the workplace in multiple ways:

Poor mental health and stress can negatively affect employees in terms of

• Job performance and productivity
• Engagement with one’s work
• Communication with coworkers
• Physical capability and daily functioning

Mental illnesses such as depression are associated with higher rates of disability and unemployment.

• Depression interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time, and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time6.
• Only 57% of employees who report moderate depression, and 40% of those who report severe depression, receive treatment7.

Mental Health and Physical Health are Connected

Complicating things further, mental health issues often occur along with physical health issues, a phenomenon called comorbidity. 29% of adults with a medical disorder have at least one mental health disorder. And 68% of adults with a mental health disorder have at least one physical health disorder.

Comorbidity makes medical diagnosis and treatment more complicated and more expensive. The costs for treating people with comorbid mental health disorders and physical conditions are two to three times higher than for those without co-occurring illnesses. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, more than 60% of the $210 billion annual cost of depression is actually going to treat medical conditions that often accompany mental health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease. In fact, it’s estimated that by combining medical and behavioral health care services, the United States could save $37.6 billion to $67.8 billion a year8.

What Leading Businesses are Doing

Unilever, American Express and Prudential are some of the many companies who are stepping up their efforts to improve employee well-being. These businesses have established comprehensive programs specifically designed to support employee mental health. Unilever also provides regular employee workshops on sleep, mindfulness and exercise, all of which have been linked to good mental health and psychological well-being.

General Electric has even taken steps to ensure employees know that the company views no difference between an employee seeking help for opioid addiction or an employee seeking help for 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.

Kaiser Permanente has developed a Mental Health, Wellness and Resiliency Strategy to support company-wide awareness of mental health issues, and to create a stigma-free environment.

Deloitte announced its first Chief Well-Being Officer, Jen Fisher, in 2015. Ms. Fisher launched Deloitte’s Mental Health at Work campaign, which provides mental health training, information and educational opportunities. Deloitte’s employee resource initiatives promote well-being, provide content on how to mitigate stress and practice resilience in the workplace.

Johnson & Johnson has created many internal employee resource groups and programs around mental health. The J&J Mental Health Diplomats – headed by Craig Kramer, J&J’s first Mental Health Ambassador – has recruited over 1,000 employees in 32 countries, and trained more than 350 employees in Mental Health First Aid. The company extends mental health services to employees’ family members, too, ensuring positive well-being beyond the workplace.

Lendlease conducted a global health assessment of its employees in 2013 and found that 16% were at high risk of developing depression. In response, Lendlease introduced Well-Being Leave, an initiative that allowed employees to take one day off every quarter to attend to their health and well-being needs. In its global headquarters, the company also established The Wellness Hub, a place for preventative care, resources and activities focused on employee well-being.

Is It Enough?

Despite these notable examples, there is still work to be done. Just over half of employees surveyed in one recent study stated they either had no mental health programs offered through the workplace or didn’t know if any such programs were offered.

Furthermore, to be effective in maintaining employee mental health, businesses need to train managers to recognize the symptoms and warning signs of mental health conditions. By at least one measurement, employers are falling short in this regard. According to findings released in May 2019, only 25% of managers in the US have been trained in referring employees to mental health resources.

What Should Businesses Be Doing?

Most mental health experts will agree that there are three primary areas where employers should focus their mental health actions:

• Raising overall awareness of the importance of mental health and ending the attached stigma
• Changing the culture
• Improving access to mental health care

In an earlier Espyr blog (Removing the Stigma of Mental Health), we described a number of steps businesses should be taking to increase awareness, remove mental health stigma and increase access to care.

1. Your EAP is the most powerful weapon in your arsenal to combat mental health stigma and increase employee access to help. While this is certainly the case if you have a comprehensive EAP, it may not be true with a “free” or low-cost EAP that came bundled or embedded in a disability insurance product. These “EAP with purchase” products generally provide an EAP in name only; their business model only works if employee engagement is minimized, so they will be unlikely to serve any meaningful role in creating employee engagement.

2. Education and visibility are critically important. Your EAP should be very willing and adept in helping to build awareness and educate your employees. Initiatives we’ve seen work include:

• Hosting lunch-and-learns and guest speakers on behavioral health topics in the workplace
• Offering a monthly topical webinar to educate employees and normalize behavioral health issues
• Providing educational newsletters
• Providing special presentations to educate managers and supervisors about key mental health issues: mental health first aid, suicide prevention, PTSD awareness and substance abuse (including the opioid epidemic)

3. Promote awareness of the EAP and easy access to behavioral health treatment services at company benefit fairs.

4. Create a culture of acceptance, and make sure that it starts at the top. “Having full C-suite level support is important because you need to create a culture of safety,” says Don Mordecai, national leader for mental health and wellness at Kaiser Permanente. “Just going up to people saying, ‘This is okay’ is not going to make them feel safe in our stigmatized society. Workplace culture needs to be open to talking about mental health.” For example, when speaking to employees about medical benefits, include behavioral benefits and issues in the conversation, thereby normalizing behavioral health. Also, incorporate language in company policies to prevent stereotyping and eliminate improper labeling or bullying of employees with behavioral health challenges.

5. Develop a peer support program to train employees to assist distressed co-workers and encourage them to access provided professional behavioral health services.

Helping employees feel comfortable talking about mental health and developing a culture of support is a good start. But these steps are only worthwhile if employees have adequate access to care. Some suggestions we provided in our blog, Removing the Stigma of Mental Health, included:

1. Provide access to an interactive screening program, allowing employees to anonymously take a screening test for stress, depression and anxiety. Then, if they wish, enable them to speak with a behavioral health professional to understand their screening results and, if needed, connect them to the appropriate form of assistance – a therapist, psychiatrist, treatment program or self-help or support group. Espyr offers just such a behavioral health solution, called REALYZE™. REALYZE includes a screening program, as well as a review of the results with a professional, licensed mental health coach. Employees are then connected with the appropriate intervention resources, which could be the employer’s existing health plan. Espyr’s mental health coaches oversee the entire process to ensure more positive outcomes.

2. Larger companies should consider placing behavioral health clinicians on-site at workplaces to assess, refer and provide short-term counseling. A 2015 survey by the The National Association of Worksite Health Centers claims that 45% of all employers offer some sort of on-site health clinic. Adding a behavioral health clinician to these clinics is a natural wellness extension and further helps normalize the concept of mental health.

3. As behavioral health professionals, let your EAP partner help you draft policies that permit employees to leave work to keep behavioral health or EAP appointments. Structure benefits and policies knowing that many areas are underserved in terms of psychiatrists, so alternatives to psychiatry may be needed.

Espyr is Leading the Way

At Espyr, we’ve recognized the changes in mental health awareness, attitudes and our client’s needs over the past 30 years. In addition to providing one of the most comprehensive EAPs that employers can find anywhere, we’ve enhanced our product portfolio with new groundbreaking behavioral health solutions to help employers address the well-being needs of their employees.

• Products like Spotlight and REALYZE work to proactively target at-risk employees and deliver greater engagement, productivity and retention, while reducing healthcare expense.

• Our newest offering, Fit To Pass, provides coaching support and a customized plan to help professional drivers overcome barriers and challenges to achieving better health, especially when it comes to passing their DOT re-certification exams. This program is just as effective for law enforcement or any other occupations that require physical exams as a condition of employment.

To learn more about how Espyr can help your employees and your organization achieve their full potential, please call us at 888-570-3479.

 

Bibliography

1. (Pescosolido et al., 2010)
2. (Kobau, DiIorio, Chapman, & Delvecchio, 2010).
3. (Kessler, Chiu, Demler, & Walters, 2005)
4. (Wang et al., 2005)
5. (Hennessy et al., 2012)
6. Lerner D, Henke RM. What does research tell us about depression, job performance, and work productivity? J Occup Environ Med. 2008;50(4):401–410.
7. Dewa CS, Thompson AH, Jacobs P. The association of treatment of depressive episodes and work productivity. Can J Psychiatry. 2011; 56(12):743–750.
8. Melek SP, Norris DT, Paulus J, Matthews K, Weaver A, Davenport S. Potential Economic Impact of Integrated Medical-Behavioral Healthcare: Updated Projections for 2017. Milliman Research Report. Seattle, WA: Milliman, Inc.; 2018.

Do Your Employees Know Where To Go In A Crisis?

You’ve done everything right. You’ve learned how much a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help with employee health and wellness.   You know happier, healthier employees are more productive. You helped put together a quality EAP. And, after reading our article on building a more effective EAP, you’ve taken the time and energy to introduce the full spectrum of EAP services to your employees.

Now what?

The biggest challenge for any company offering an EAP (or any other employee health and wellness program) is getting employees to take advantage of the features when they need them. Employees have the information, but do they actually know what to do – or, more importantly, who in your organization to turn to – in case of a health or behavioral crisis? In most companies, apparently, the answer is no.

The research raises an employee health and wellness issue

The Standard is a leading provider of insurance and other financial products, and they recently commissioned research on the link between employee disability issues and employee productivity.

When employees were asked who they turn to in their company when they needed assistance, the answers weren’t as consistent as any of us would like.

In companies with 100 – 499 employees:

  • 44% went to their HR manager
  • 33% went to their direct supervisor
  • 18% went to both their HR manager and direct supervisor
  • 5% went elsewhere

To make things less clear, according to The Standard research, the size of the organization changed the results substantially. In organizations of 10 – 99 employees, as well as those with 2,500 or more, the direct supervisor was noted by employees as the dominant go-to.

This tells us that many companies – companies of all sizes – aren’t communicating or delegating a clear process or point of contact for employees when it comes to actually needing help. This confusion may be keeping some employees from getting the help they need. It could also lead to an overall negative experience or, even, a decrease in productivity.

For behavioral or mental health issues, since employees are already more reluctant to seek help in those areas versus a physical issue (see our article on removing the stigma of mental health), the confusion and negative effects may be even greater.

The research also provides the answer

Based on the research, employees that go to their HR manager first tend to have a more positive experience.

  • 73% of employees who worked with their HR manager felt they knew how to provide the right support.
  • 67% felt more valuable to the organization.
  • 73% felt more productive after the experience.

On the other hand, going to their direct supervisor brought up other issues.

  • 54% of employees felt uncomfortable discussing their health condition with their direct supervisor.
  • 60% said working with a direct supervisor made them concerned about losing their job.

HR managers were shown to be more able to help employees in other ways. In general, they are usually more aware of available resources, including EAP services, which is helpful to any employee seeking help. Here are our last statistics from The Standard supporting the HR manager as the choice for EAP manager – the EAP go-to – in any size company.

  • When working with HR, employees were more likely to receive helpful communications.
  • 44% of employees working with an HR manager returned to work faster than when they worked with a direct supervisor.

What’s in it for the HR manager?

Not only are HR managers in the best position to help with employee health and wellness issues, they can also help them in terms of the importance of their job and taking more pride in their work. According to an article from Human Resources MBA, an online guide for exploring and picking the best HR degree programs, “An HR manager who takes on the role of EAP manager is responsible for promoting the health and welfare of an organization’s most important assets.”

For more information on how we can help your company with employee health and wellness programs, call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.