Working in the healthcare arena has opened my eyes to the increased focus on mental health, and the importance of employee wellness. In years past, employers had the mindset that stress inducers were primarily emanating from personal or home-life situations. This thinking has evolved to acknowledge stress is also emerging from the workplace.
In response to rising levels of stress, employers are rising to the challenge. According to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) 90% of US employers are offering some component of mental health coverage in the form of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), mental-health coverage, substance abuse coverage / treatment, and/or mental-health educational / informational sessions at the workplace.
When I lived and worked in Chester, England from 2005 to 2008, I used to engage in meetings with the Chester City Council, as they were launching a workplace stress initiative. As an American, it was strange for me to take part in these discussions, as I found these meetings a little intrusive. Looking back, I suppose one could say the Chester City Council was progressive for those times, looking to combat a very real problem that was just beginning to bubble up to the surface. As part of this initiative, we were asked to survey our employees annually and ask their opinions about the work environment, relationship with management / peers, about the work they were performing, etc.; all with the goal of identifying areas workplace stressors could turn up. Once identified, we worked with organizational psychologists (from the Chester City Council) to determine those most impactful to eradicate. Today, many organizations are performing annual employee engagement surveys that are also serving this purpose, but indirectly.
With society as a whole becoming more aware of the prevalence of mental-health issues, that way of thinking is making its way into the workplace. “More organizations are making strides to provide better support systems for employees facing mental-health challenges and are including mental health as part of their overall workplace-wellness plan”, according to the IFEBP’s Julie Stich. The growing emphasis of mental-health coverage could be attributed to heightened levels of employee stress, as more employers are reporting stress as the top issue negatively impacting productivity.
Digging a little further into the data, financial stress is the top cause, impacting employees’ health, and can result in depression and anxiety, migraines, ulcers, and heart issues. Imagine all of the days of work missed to address these symptoms, and the subsequent cost associated. Investing in workplace wellness, and mental-health coverage may be worth the cost if it means a healthier, safer, and more productive workforce.
Although organizations have increased coverage to address mental-health issues, they have not found the exact solution for helping workers with stress levels. Most organizations report that their efforts have been somewhat effective in reducing work-related stress, but fewer than 5% report very effective results.
I’m confident that as organization see value in addressing all causes of stress for employees, there will be continued progress. Back to my days in the UK, it was easier to address workplace stress, and personal stress, as the occupational health nurse was able to openly share with leadership personal health information about employees. We were able to brainstorm ways for us to assist employees in a time of need, to the best of our abilities. We weren’t always successful, but with the added component of free-flowing health information, our ability to help certainly increased. It will be interesting to see how organizations address employee wellness in the future, and I hope to participate in the efforts towards a solution.
- Richard Finger has worked in Human Resources for over 20 years and has worked with small, private organizations, global corporations, and most currently, a healthcare organization. Richard has worked abroad a number of years in England as well as The Netherlands, where he acquired a great appreciation for cultural awareness. He currently holds three Human Resource Certifications (SHRM-SCP, SPHR, SPHRi), and is also teaching the SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP preparation course at Howard County Community College. Richard earned his Bachelor Degree in Psychology at University of Central Florida, and Master Degree in Human Resources Management & Labor Relations at New York Institute of Technology. Richard has been writing for Baltimore Outloud for a number of years, contributing articles about his Human Resources experiences, as well as moonlighting as the author of Finger's Food restaurant reviews. Richard has enjoyed writing for the paper, and looks forward to many more opportunities to do so.