At the 2016 DMEC Annual Conference Patricia Purdy from Pacific Resources and Kimberly George from Sedgwick talked about why mental health is important to the workforce today and into the future.
According to a recent Gallop poll, employees are working more hours than ever before but 70% report they are disengaged from their employment. The stress associated with working long hours is having an impact on the workforce and behavioral health issues are common. At any given time, at least 20% of employees report symptoms of depression, chronic fatigue, anxiety or sleep problems. The majority of these conditions are untreated. According to Integrated Benefits Institute studies, mental health issues are one of the top three causes of long-term disability claims and mental health costs are third highest behind heart disease and cancer.
There is significant research out there which indicates focusing on mental health issues impacts not a company’s bottom line, but also the top line. Companies that focus on a culture of health for their employees actually perform better on the stock market. Employers are slowly evolving their emphasis from a focus on sick care to a focus on well care. If you can prevent physical and mental health problems from developing in the first place you will have a tremendous impact on your workforce wellbeing and productivity.
There has never been more generations in the workforce than there are today. When you are designing your culture of health program you need to keep in mind the different needs that each generation presents. Employees are finding that approaching their benefits program from the viewpoint of their workforce with a focus on the patient experience is increasing employee satisfaction which impacts talent attraction and retention.
More than any other health condition, mental wellbeing is influenced by our environment. In order to build a culture of health that focuses on mental wellbeing employers need to pay attention several areas:
- Having the resources needed to do your job is an important factor in reducing workplace stress.
- Communication to employees so that they understand the goals of the organization and how each employee contributes to those goals.
- Giving workers a sense of control over their workday including where they focus and how they sequence their activities. Also having a degree of decision making authority helps aid in reducing workplace stress.
- A balanced workload is something many organizations struggle with. When the workplace significantly conflicts with your personal life it increases stress.
- Job security is an important element in reducing workplace stress. If people are constantly worried about whether they will still have a job it is very difficult for them to focus on the actual job itself.
- Work relationships including those with co-workers and supervisors will greatly contribute to employee satisfaction.
- People enjoy working someplace that is comfortable. The conditions of the workplace impact how employees perceive the job.
Employers report that if the primary diagnosis is a behavioral health issue, the length of disability tends to be 2-3 times what is seen for a physical diagnosis. But too often, employer benefit programs focus almost entirely on the physical aspect of wellness. While a great number of employers have wellness programs focused on physical conditions such as blood pressure, body mass index or blood glucose levels, very few have wellness programs that focus on things like stress and balance in the employees life.
Unfortunately, the stigma associated with mental health conditions often keeps people from seeking treatment. Approximately one third of people with mental health issues never seek treatment. People don’t want to admit they are having mental health issues because they fear of how they will be viewed by others. This is unfortunate because behavioral health treatment helps people recover over 90% of the time. Reducing stigma is important for many reasons but in particular because the quicker a person seeks treatment the faster they will recover.
Peer support groups can be an important element in overcoming stigma. Knowing others who have dealt with the same issues and overcome them can help people recognize that they have a problem to begin with and know that there are solutions. Peer support groups have been an important element of addiction recovery programs for years, but these can also be helpful for behavioral health issues.
Part of stress management is helping your employees develop more resilience so that they can adapt and bounce back from adversity. Many mental health programs specifically focus on helping people become more resilient. Mindfulness is an important element of resilience. Mindfulness means paying attention to the moment you are in and how people are reacting to it.
The time to act on developing a mental health wellness program is now. There are numerous studies highlighting how a workforce that is more physically and mentally healthy improves employee satisfaction, productivity, and the top and bottom line of companies.