More Than the Blues - Mental Health for Employees and Families
While it is common to temporarily feel blue or out of sorts from time to time, a growing number of Americans are more deeply affected by stress, anxiety and depression. These problems can have a significant impact on their lives, relationships and their work. Mental health is part of a person's overall health, but it is still commonly overlooked and stigmatized.
The Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), a non-profit workforce health and productivity research and measurement organization, found that depression alone impacts 10 to 20 percent of employees, affecting not only their quality of life, but their work productivity as well. They estimate the cost to employers to be $620 per employee annually in absenteeism and medical costs. This is about or about $200,000 for a company the size of Antea Group.
Depression is a serious condition influenced by a number of factors including thinking patterns, social environment, behavior patterns and genetics. It is common for someone to struggle and not ask for help-most never do. Sometimes, individuals simply do not know where to start.
At Antea Group, we recognized that mental health issues were something our employees face and felt their quick and easy access to a provider was less than ideal.
Finding a Solution to the Mental Health Problem
In our quest for a solution, we started with our benefits broker, soliciting programs and ideas to help our employees access providers more easily and quickly. We conducted a comprehensive search for mindfulness and other stress management programs.
As a result, we identified a third-party provider, Learn to Live, Inc. to help us launch a program for employees and their family members struggling with stress, depression or social anxiety. The program offers anonymous and confidential online support and tools, anytime and anywhere at no cost to the employee or their dependents.
We know that a resource will only be successful for the people who use it, so we were especially pleased to see 24/7 accessibility and creative engagement efforts for our employees like the comprehensive assessment, which allows people to understand their levels of stress, depression and anxiety.
Even though the program only recently launched, we have already exceeded our first year membership goal in just four months. More importantly, on all measures of life improvement for people completing the program, the results are on par with or better than face-to-face treatment options.
To encourage participation and continued engagement, Learn to Live sponsored a Mental Health Challenge in May, in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month. The program starts with a comprehensive assessment that helps members understand their levels of emotional and mental health.
The assessment results in a personalized plan that may include learning tools for managing stress to improve overall mental well-being for example. The corresponding programs -- with videos, animations and interactivity - are available anytime by the employee or their family members.
We also offer additional incentives to encourage participation in stress management and mental wellness programs for our employees by providing rewards for participation in educational sessions. Employees can earn points that count toward their status in Vitality, our incentive-based health wellness program.
Breaking Through the Barriers
One barrier to success that benefits and HR often encounter in creating these types of programs is a hesitation from the C-suite to invest and support them. Before engaging in discussions with our executive team around the need to increase our focus on mental health issues, we analyzed our medical plan and employee assistance data. Our management team was supportive from the start, but it helped that we could provide statistics on the number of people facing mental health challenges.
This was further confirmed when the cost of lost work time and underperformance at work (presenteeism) was factored in. Research from IBI suggest that these factors resulting from depression cost employers about $530 for every employee. Medical and pharmacy treatment can cost an additional $90 for every employee. The Institute also found that employees with depression are absent eight more days per year than workers without depression are and have the equivalent of 11 more days of presenteeism annually.
What Antea Group Learned
In the spirit of collaboration and sharing of best practices, here are tips employers should consider before embarking on their own initiatives:
- Focus - Given the numerous options to address the many needs, it is critical to have specific goals and a succinct plan with an implementation timeline.
- Communicate - This may be one of the most critical elements to a successful program. Developing colorful and non-threatening branding materials is helpful. It is also critical to keep employees informed every step of the way. Give them a heads up that a new benefit is coming. Make sure they have every opportunity to learn how easy it is to use the tools and participate in the program. Stress that it is completely anonymous and confidential. Tell them again and again.
- Champions - Before kickoff, involve influential employees and let them offer insight into the program and tools so that they can provide testimonials and encourage co-workers to try the resource if needed.
- Measure your success - Make sure to have baseline data before you get started, so that you can ensure that the program is working and having a positive impact on your employers and their families.
We are encouraged by the progress made with our mental health program thus far and encourage other businesses to focus on not only the physical health of their employees, but also the mental health and well-being. After all, employees are one of an employer's greatest asset.
About the Author
Rosanna Ouellette-Pesicka has over 20 years of experience managing corporate functions such as human resources, benefits, compensation, payroll, facilities, accounting, billing, communications, health and safety, and training within the environmental consulting industry. Her previous experience includes human resources management in the manufacturing industry.