Building the Business Case for Mental Health
At the 2106 DMEC Annual Conference, a panel discussed strategies to build the business case needed to evolve mental health and well being and a culture of health in the workplace. The panel was:
- Debra Lerner – Director, Program on Health, Work and Productivity – Tufts Medical Center
- Harry Spencer – VP Compensation, Benefits & Corporate Social Responsibility – JetBlue Airways
- Ron Loeppke – Vice Chairman – US Preventive Medicine, Inc.
- Thomas Parry – President – Integrated Benefits Institute
With the large amount of data now available for analysis, employers looking to build a business case for changing their employee benefits are not just focusing on cost, they are also focused on the benefit to the workforce that any changes would provide. Now more than ever before, decisions are very data driven.
Depression is one of the leading causes of workplace absenteeism and stress can have a significant impact on performance in the workplace. Where the mind goes, the body follows. If you are not focused on mental health, it will ultimately impact the physical health of your workforce.
There are stressors in every business and every workplace. As an employer, the mental well being of your employees will impact not only job performance, but safety, and your customer’s perceptions of your company.
Healthcare costs represent less than half of the economic impact that employee wellness has on a company. Last year the Integrated Benefits Institute conducted a study of how CFOs were viewing employee benefits in a post-Affordable Care Act world. Fewer than half said the goal of their healthcare program was to control costs. They were also very interested in attracting and retaining employees and the impact health would have on the productivity of their workforce. CFOs also feel that employees need to have “skin in the game” with regard to their overall wellness, which means larger employee contributions in terms of co-payments and deductibles and premium payments. Finally, the CFOs surveyed understood the correlation between wellness and absenteeism and the impact that had on overall productivity.
The business case from an employee standpoint is based on four areas:
- Mental health issues are fairly commonplace. Federal sources of data will show you how common these issues are across different industries.
- Mental health issues are very costly to employers. The actual treatment cost is relatively small compared to the impact on performance and productivity. There is no way to leave mental health issues at home when you come to work.
- There are options for both diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues. Many people suffer from chronic issues dating back many years, but treatment options have evolved significantly over time, so what was appropriate treatment 20 years ago may not be appropriate now.
- There are barriers and gaps to implementing a good mental wellness program. Stigma is a huge issue as is reallocation of work for those employees who need assistance.
According to a recent study, for every dollar in pharmacy costs, there were three dollars in associated absence costs. For depression the ratio was 5-1. The prevalence of mental health issues in executives is much higher than people realize. Many executives have little balance in their lives and they end up working frequently in the evenings and weekends leading to burnout. Also, people with depression have a two and a half greater chance of suffering an injury at work.
Another study showed that average costs of workers’ compensation claims increased significantly if co-morbid conditions were present. The more co-morbid conditions, the greater the costs of the claims.
A study by MGM showed that if they could reduce their average days away from work from by just one day, the increased productivity would generate several million dollars in additional profits for the company. A healthy workforce is a more productive workforce.
According to healthcare providers, the biggest single challenge in getting people appropriate treatment for mental health issues is getting people to show up for the appointment. Employees often do not engage in their own health and this is especially true in the area of mental health. There is a stigma associated with mental health issues and often times employees do not seek treatment because of this stigma.
There is a difference between symptom relief programs and functional improvement programs. Things like medications may provide symptom relief, but they may not improve functioning. Training on things like coping skills, resiliency and mindfulness can lead to improved function.
Measuring outcomes is very important in showing the benefit to the c-suite. Increased participation in wellness programs simply increases costs. If the wellness program ultimately does not result in a healthier workforce, then it does not meet business goals.