With A Faltering Economy, Mental Health Services Are More Vital Than Ever

An undesirable consequence of the COVID-19 mitigation efforts has been the sudden and sharp plunge of a recently record setting, healthy economy.   At  least 46 states have shut down non-essential businesses in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.  Those closures have sent an additional 22 million Americans to claim unemployment benefits and the numbers of unemployed continue to grow.    

According to a recent Gallup poll, 25% of workers say it’s likely they will lose their jobs or be laid off in the next 12 months.  That compares to only 8% who felt that way a year ago.  Those feelings of pending doom are even more dire for people of color.  32% of Americans of color felt it likely they would lose their jobs, compared to 21% a year ago.

 

Men looking for work in depression era unemployment line

 

It’s not hard to see why workers are stressed over their job prospects.  Many of the small businesses shut by government order will never reopen.  According to a survey from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a quarter of small businesses are two months or less away from going out of business. 

Economic downturns and mental health are linked

Conventional wisdom has been that when economic downturns create high unemployment and declines in living standards, mental health issues increase. Suicides, binge drinking, depressive disorders, emotional and behavioral disturbances in children, as well as other indicators of the mental health of a society all become more pervasive. Furthermore, poorer mental health frequently equates to poorer overall health.

A recent meta-analysis of over 20,000 studies examining the association of economic factors on mental health supported these conclusions.  In this research, Frasquilho¹ et al found that economic downturns have a substantial impact on the prevalence of common mental issues, as well as more serious concerns such as suicidal behaviors and substance abuse. In turn, these issues impact business productivity, health care costs, crime, and violence.  The evidence was consistent that economic recessions and mediators such as unemployment, income decline, and unmanageable debts are significantly associated with poor mental wellbeing, increased rates of common mental disorders, substance-related disorders, and suicidal behaviors.

Effects on resiliency can be long lasting

It turns out that economic hardship is a robust predictor of mental health challenges. Financial insecurity creates lasting and negative effects on the capacity for resiliency during future hard times too, according to Steven Schlozman, MD, writing in The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds.

“Depression is made worse by environmental factors, and depression makes the ability to tolerate adverse environmental factors more difficult,” Scholzman goes on to say. When things get rough, psychological suffering becomes one big nasty circle. You feel worse, you react poorly because of how badly you feel, and reacting badly makes everything around you function more poorly.”

Sadly but importantly, this research may be extremely relevant to our current situation.  These findings should act as a guide to public policy makers, benefit managers, and business leaders.  Their decisions can help marshal resources to support mental health at a time when such resources are needed more than ever.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping employees achieve and maintain good health – so they can perform their best – for 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s industry leading Behavioral Health Coaching and Assistance Programs to maintain employee health and well being.  For more information contact Jeffrey Joo at 888-570-3479 or jjoo@espyr.com.

 

¹ BMC Public Health. 2016; 16: 115

Published online 2016 Feb 3. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-2720-y

PMCID: PMC4741013

PMID: 26847554

Mental health outcomes in times of economic recession: a systematic literature review

How Financial Wellness Programs Are Good For Companies, Too

 While the current national economy is fairly strong, the state of our personal financial wellness is scarier than ever. According to the recent Country Financial Security Index, 67% of Americans are worried about their financial future, credit card debt last year hit a record high and 44% can’t come up with $400 to cover an unexpected expense.

“The financial stress that plagues so many Americans follows them to work,” said Brian Nelson Ford, Financial Well-Being Executive at SunTrust Bank. “This leads to lower satisfaction in pay, decreased productivity and poorer health.”

Taking a closer look at how companies are affected, a Mercer survey discovered that employees spend about 150 hours of their work time every year worrying about their personal finances. That’s about a month of not-very-productive work, something difficult to absorb for companies of all sizes.

Three Ways Financial Wellness Can Help

Leaders are increasingly understanding their role in addressing financial wellness. But are they moving fast enough? A recent PwC survey of U.S. employees showed that financial wellness is the most desired employee benefit, exceeding even student loan repayment.

Maybe this list of three ways financial programs help companies will spur some action.

  1. Improve Employee Engagement

Worried workers are more than disengaged. A 2016 Towers Watson survey found that workers stressed about finances are absent from work almost twice as often as those who aren’t stressed. By alleviating stress and worry, financial wellness programs can dramatically increase your workforce’s productivity and attendance.

  1. Attract and Retain Employees

Worrying about money is a pain. Moving from job to job for a bit more money is common, especially in today’s job-friendly environment. Offering a financial wellness program can go a long way in this regard. According to a 2017 study by MetLife, 51% of employees are more likely to accept a job from a new employer when financial planning programs are offered. Similarly, 53% would be more loyal to their current employer when offered financial planning programs.

  1. Lower Healthcare Spend

Stress can lead to all kinds of physical problems – heart disease, stroke, digestive problems, weight gain and more – all of which, in turn, leads to higher insurance premiums for employers. While nailing down actual savings due to financial wellness programs is difficult, one study of a large public company reported an annual healthcare savings of almost 22% for heavy users of their financial wellness program.

Three Ways to Make Financial Wellness Work

If the above list did its job, you’re going to introduce a financial wellness program into your company, which is great. Both you and your employees will be very happy. Before you move forward, though, please keep these three tips in mind, as suggested by an article in Spark, powered by ADP.

  1. Talk to Your Employees

    Conduct a survey to find out exactly what your employees want in a program, and in what areas they need the most assistance.

  2. Keep Materials Simple and Clear

    As with anything financial, there will always be fine print. But please make sure all program materials are clearly written and easy to understand. If it looks too complicated, it won’t be used.

  3. Make the Program Readily Available

    In an article from TheStreet, Financial Literacy Group founder Dan Iannicola recommends you make your financial wellness program available to employees during work hours, not during their lunch hours. Also, he warns against incorporating any pitches for financial services or products. The objective here is to share information, not to sell.

One More Tip: Talk to Espyr

For years, Espyr has been on the leading edge of behavioral health programs creating innovative products and services that help people and organizations achieve their full potential. For more information on Espyr’s financial wellness products or other behavioral health programs call 888-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

 

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 888-570-3749 or click here.

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 888-570-3749 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 888-570-3749 or click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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