Tag Archives: mental health

Mental Health in Post-COVID Era

Finding peace of mind and mental clarity isn’t always easy, but it can often be the first step toward personal and professional success. On the flip side, when stress seems consuming, it can affect a person’s ability to focus, thereby taking a toll on workplace performance.

The American Heart Association CEO Roundtable Report surveyed thousands of employees (pre-COVID) and found 76% reported they struggled with at least one issue affecting their mental health. 

The past year of COVID-related social distancing, isolation and worry have resulted in increased rates of stress, anxiety and depression. Even post-pandemic, addressing these challenges head-on and with a research-focused strategy is critical.

As companies across all sectors balance the return of their workforce in person or in a hybrid format and address the mental wellbeing of their employees, several critical trends emerge as necessary steps for employers to ensure the maximum wellbeing of their team. These include:

Understanding the connection between mental and physical health: 

  • According to data from Springbuk Analytics, 69% of patients with a mental health condition also have a chronic condition.
  • When patients have a mental health condition and at least one chronic condition, insurance costs to employers rise by 126%.

Understanding how mental health affects workplace productivity: 

  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that approximately 45% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2019.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that, by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of lost productivity in all economically advanced countries.

Of course, with a diverse range of possible methods, solidifying best practices can seem overwhelming even for the most experienced management professionals. The “Building a Caring Culture: Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace white paper, prepared in conjunction with CSDZ, Holmes Murphy and MindWise Innovations, provides key insights and best practices on addressing mental health in the workplace.

See also: State of Mental Health in the Workplace

Building a workplace where mental health can easily be addressed is no small task. Mental health needs to be addressed across all sectors, such as health, wellness, safety and employee benefits.

Training leaders and supervisors to provide care and support to their employees, accepting employees for who they are, fostering a safe and empathetic workplace and understanding that each worker has other stresses, pressures and distractions from their personal lives all contribute to making mental health a priority in the workplace.

By talking about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, we can work together to break down the stigma and help others with existing conditions.

State of Mental Health in the Workplace

Discussions around the impact of mental health and well-being in the workplace are frequent Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark topics. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so we are offering our thoughts on the current state of mental health in the workplace.

Even before the pandemic, benefits managers were adapting employee benefits to better equip employees and plan members with mental health resources. However, as the work from home assignments continued and social isolation set in, employers became even more aware of the impact of mental health and well-being on productivity, absence and performance. With a greater emphasis on employee well-being, we hope programs initiated during the pandemic will continue to support improved access to care and will break down the stigma related to mental health.

Employers took advantage of employee resource groups (ERGs), either existing or newly implemented, to foster peer interaction, open conversation and joint problem-solving related to issues that have an impact on their personal and professional lives because of the pandemic. Group collaborations focused on important topics at that time with employees, such as home school successes, caring for an ill family member, loneliness and depression, challenges with family and positivity sharing, to name a few. Many found the sessions to be an excellent way to bring positivity and support into their life and provide a break from the hectic pace of working at home. As companies create back-to-office and hybrid workforce models, ERGs continue to be a priority to ensure all who want to can participate.

Access to care has been a long-standing challenge for those seeking mental health care. Reimbursement rates, timely appointments and limited provider options are some of the issues the industry is working to solve. Previously, while telehealth visits were growing for triage of minor medical and follow-up appointments, there was slow adoption for teletherapy and telepsychiatry. Fortunately, telemedicine was a saving grace for many aspects of healthcare during the pandemic, and mental health care saw a boon. Employers and network partners are now offering multiple options for telemedicine and improved coordination between employee assistance programs (EAPs) and online therapy platforms for mental health care. Phone calls, video conferencing and texting are becoming an integral part of the therapist-patient relationship. With less social connection, this has found success for many in the workforce — and their families. Organizations are now offering various programs, including adult, family and teen counseling.

The Center for Workplace Mental Health is an important resource for all employers. The entirety of its work focuses on helping employers create a more supportive work environment and advance health policies at their organization. They have created a mental health toolkit for Mental Health Awareness Month, which includes topics such as promoting resiliency for people and the organization; promoting self-care; and addressing isolation and loneliness. These programs (and others) can be easily integrated into your company culture to reduce stigma, promote well-being and provide an environment where employees and leaders both care and thrive.

See also: The Long Haul for Mental Health at Work

From a workers’ compensation claims perspective, mental health has always been a complication lurking in the background. The industry tended to ignore the issue because of a combination of stigma and outright resistance. Claims where the injured workers never fully recovered probably had a significant untreated mental health component. Thankfully, that is changing; it is now widely recognized that all chronic pain has a significant mental health component, and, if you fail to address this, it will increase claims cost and lead to poorer outcomes. Multidisciplinary pain management programs now spend as much time on mental health as they do physical health. 

Laws are also changing to make it easier to pursue psychological injuries under workers’ compensation. More states are allowing “mental-mental” claims, which are psychological injuries with no physical injuries. In addition, one of the leading workers’ compensation legislative initiatives for several years has been the expansion of first responder presumption laws, which are primarily focused on post-traumatic stress. In the past, the threshold for a mental health injury was a “usual and extraordinary” experience. That threshold was used to deny very real traumatic situations that first responders encounter because the situations were “usual” aspects of their job. While these traumatic situations may have been expected, there is nothing ordinary about responding to severe accident scenes, seeing your partner shot or having someone die in your arms. In certain ways, public entities created the path to these presumption laws by denying such claims rather than focusing on getting the injured worker the treatment they needed. Public entity employers are now reporting that they are seeing an increasing number of PTSD claims with no corresponding physical injuries being filed under workers’ compensation.

Mental Health Even More Critical Now

Mental health is in the forefront as an impact of the coronavirus pandemic. A new article in The Atlantic discusses widespread increases of anxiety, depression and substance abuse since the onset of COVID-19. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that this public health crisis has hurt the mental health of 56% of adults. The manifestations of post-traumatic stress – from spontaneous conflicts in retail stores to healthcare workers taking their own lives – have become common on the daily news.

Now, more than ever, the mental health of employees in the workplace is an immediate concern for employers. The impacts on productivity, quality control and business continuity are there alongside the health and safety of all workers. Financial insecurity and lost jobs raise concerns over workplace violence. For many workers, their home has become their new workplace, and adverse impacts of domestic and child abuse are emerging with disturbing frequency.

A variety of mental illness factors cost American employers more than half a trillion dollars annually. Investment in improving employee mental health and alleviating some of the stresses causing anxiety and depression yield valuable human and economic returns. Employers can take concrete actions to help their employees get the assistance they need.

Remove the Stigma of Mental Illness — Although it has been almost 25 years since passage of the Mental Health Parity Act, which considers mental illness on the same basis as any other illness, the stigma of mental health hangs on. Mental illness is too often viewed as a weakness, those who suffer from it characterized as “disturbed,” or worse, and the troubles it causes as “all being in your head.” The truth is that mental illness is real illness and requires treatment in the same way that cancer, diabetes or pneumonia does. By communicating supportively and offering real help for employees’ mental health, employers can break down the stigma and encourage early treatment before mental health issues become a crisis.

See also: 6 Life, Health Trends in the Pandemic

Communication That Educates — Employers that deal with workplace mental health realistically are doing more than just eliminating negative attitudes about mental illness. They are educating employees on how mental health affects their work, teaching them valuable skills for managing stress and resolving the kind of issues that lead to depression, anxiety or burnout. Resources for educating the workforce in stress reduction, conflict management and personal resiliency are among the training available through Keenan SafeSchools/Keenan SafeColleges/Keenan SafePersonnel platforms.

Supervisors Who Are On Board — Your supervisory and management team are the front line who work directly with the most employees. Just as important as general employee education on mental health, educating supervisors about mental health and supporting their employees helps mitigate the impact of mental illness in the workplace. An empathetic relationship between supervisors and their employees is a key success factor in addressing potential mental health issues early and encouraging the use of available mental health resources.

Professional Assistance Through Employee Benefits — Mental health benefits are vital to employees getting the treatment they need for mental health conditions. As one of the Essential Health Benefits provided under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), employer-sponsored health plans generally provide the range of treatments to address workplace mental health. In addition, an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is effective for intervention for many immediate issues and response to major crises. These benefits make a real difference in people getting help without creating a financial burden or forgoing treatment altogether.

Employers bear a significant amount of the impacts of mental health. Confronting the challenges of workplace mental health compassionately and realistically, employers can also go a long way to reduce those impacts. While improving the vitality and safety of their facilities, they are also enriching the lives of their employees.

Crucial Needs on Mental Health

As the U.S. experiences a sudden rise in remote work self-isolation and health-related anxiety, there has been a general sense of unease for many people and exacerbated existing mental health issues for many more. Following a surge in anxiety caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, managing and supporting mental health at work has never been more crucial as research by Pews Research Center shows 73% of Americans reported feeling anxious at least a few days a week.

How Businesses Can Support Employee Mental Health Right Now 

With some team members working remotely and others off ill, quarantined or self-isolating, it is more important than ever for businesses to retain talent, reduce presenteeism and maintain morale. 

Break the Culture of Silence: There is still a stigma around mental illness that makes employees more likely to suffer in silence than share information with their managers or bosses. Around 82% of employees with a diagnosed mental health condition do not confide in management, and 40% of employees have given a false reason when taking time off for mental health. 

Now is an ideal time for leaders within businesses to talk more openly about mental health and create a culture that encourages conversations around these issues. Taking a mental health day or asking for support should never affect an employee’s reputation or how the employee is perceived. 

Keep Socializing With Your Teams: Remote working has its perks, but a lot of people are feeling isolated right now. Office banter is missed most about work since lockdown, with a recent study by Vodafone showing that 41% say they miss the daily jokes. 

See also: 15 Keys to Mental Health Safety Net  

Environmental psychologist and wellbeing trainer Lee Chambers says dealing with a lack of social connections during the outbreak is a massive challenge for a lot of people: “In these turbulent times, social connection is vital to our wellbeing. Without the ability to go out and socialize in the way we usually would, we have to be more creative and have more intention in our connection with others during this lockdown scenario. In some ways, the enforcement of rules around movement have caused us to slow down. This actually gives us the chance to connect on a deeper level.” 

Lead By Example: With many employees working remotely, managers need to be more conscious of the challenges that different households are facing. Encouraging flexibility, self-care and regular check-ins is key to reducing presenteeism and stress and ensuring that employees facing any issues can be identified and supported. Encourage transparent conversations and put action plans in place for team members who need help. 

Introduce Team Activity and Training Sessions: With employees using tools like Zoom to connect with the office remotely, now is a great time for businesses to encourage morning catch-ups, remote Friday drinks, yoga sessions or even company training sessions. Encourage team members to take a class they’ve always wanted to try, or to attend industry-related webinars. This is a great way to support employees looking to upskill themselves and stay busy. 

More work needs to be done to ensure businesses take care of their most valuable assets – their employees. Encourage employees to self-advocate and seek early intervention before their mental health requires more stringent measures, like having to take stress leave or resign.

The Opportunity for Employee Well-Being

Companies that want a fulfilled, resilient workforce are making well-being a comprehensive part of their culture. The line between professional and personal lives continues to blur, and companies can use this as an opportunity to differentiate by moving beyond the traditional benefits package.

Well-Being Trends

According to a recent study conducted by the National Business Group on Health, midsize and large employers are expected to spend an average of $3.6 million on well-being programs in 2019. Well-being is expanding and evolving, driven by trends that include:

  • A focus on financial wellness and the adverse impact that debt, low savings and a lack of planning can have on productivity, engagement and health
  • A realization that mental health requires increased attention after the prolonged silence, and in some cases stigmatization, that have made it difficult to connect needs with treatment

Financial Wellness

Financial wellness is one of the most popular well-being initiatives. According to Wellable’s 2019 Employee Wellness Trends Report, more than 68% of employers say they will be investing more into financial wellness. Employees are looking to employers to provide financial wellness tools that will increase their overall well-being.

The Wellable report also finds that over 70% of millennials say they’ve delayed major life decisions due to their student loan debt, indicating the value of student loan assistance programs. Globally, over the past two years, 27% of workers report suffering from stress, anxiety or depression due to their finances, which diminishes employee productivity, engagement and health. With education costs skyrocketing, this issue isn’t going away. Expect participation in financial wellness programs – that address debt management, budgeting and financial planning – to grow considerably in years to come.

See also: Why Financial Wellness Is Elusive    

Mental Well-Being and Mental Health

In recent years, the spotlight on mental health and mental well-being has intensified. According to a 2017 national survey by the APA, the workplace was the third-leading cause of stress (61%), after money (62%) and the future of the nation (63%). Supporting mental resilience by reducing stress needs to be a key focus for well-being in the workplace.

Mental well-being is all about prevention and skill-building. Most of us never learned how the brain works or about the importance of training our brain for ultimate vitality. Instead, we are conditioning our brains to be distracted and overstimulated. The good news is that the latest neuroscience research proves that we can train our brain to perform more optimally. While adoption within the employer population remains slow, brain training apps are increasingly commonplace.

Solutions like Total Brain apply the latest brain optimization research to help employees learn skills, but the responsibility rests on employers to offer these types of solutions for mental fitness and mental optimization training to help employees improve brain health. There are also hundreds of apps, websites and online courses designed to enhance mental well-being.

In addition to providing mental well-being training to your employees, it is critical to focus on mental health benefits and interventions. Millions of Americans need additional support and resources for the mental health disorders that continue to plague our society.

The good news is that, like other chronic diseases, mental health disorders are treatable, and employers have a unique opportunity to improve the mental health of the 157 million U.S. adults who spend more time working than doing any other activity apart from sleeping. The key is that employers must take a comprehensive approach, including:

  • Access to care: No matter how much we do to create a culture of mental well-being, employees have to be able to access and afford treatment. To prevent higher co-pays and out-of-pocket costs, employers need to ensure that employees aren’t forced to access out-of-network providers for mental health care.
  • Comprehensive coverage: Employers must view a high frequency of claims in behavioral health as favorable instead of trying to mitigate these visits like with ER or specialist visits. Weekly therapy can be a very effective treatment for many, and employers should not be concerned about the number of visits an employee has if the employee is seeing qualified specialists.

The Way Forward

If organizations want to thrive in the next decade, they need to invest in the well-being of their employees. There is an opportunity to innovate, set yourself apart with a commitment to the health of employees and create a culture that talented individuals want to be part of for many years to come.

See also: Employee Wellness Plans’ Code of Conduct  

Take time to evaluate your ecosystem – culture, leadership, management, benefits, employee resources, third-party solutions, workplace environment and communications – then devise a plan, execute and make refinements when data exposes gaps. The result will be a safer, higher-performing workplace driven by empowered individuals who are committed to the well-being of the company that employs them.