Research shows a strong correlation between worker productivity and mental well-being. Rising stress levels among workers can hurt the company bottom line too.
Over the last several years, employees have faced a number of obstacles. They experienced a stressful transition as they moved from office to virtual work. While the change has had some benefits, employees face new challenges as companies ask them to return to the office, at least part-time. Employees may feel unprepared to change their newly adopted routines and may also have a strong sense of disconnection from the office environment.
A group of Chicago’s top business executives and a mental health professional recently gathered for a business breakfast, sponsored by Cigna, to address why behavioral health is critical for a future-ready workforce. The discussion included suggestions and program ideas to help support the mental health of employees.
The thought-provoking, salon-style conversation was led by Crain’s Chicago Business’ Publisher and Executive Editor, Jim Kirk. “Obviously, today’s discussion about mental health is top of the mind for every employer or employee, especially coming out of the pandemic,” Kirk said, adding that companies want to help their workers to stay healthy to ensure a more productive workforce.
Many factors are contributing to rising mental health concerns in today’s workforce. While each situation is unique, overall, employees across companies and industries feel “burned out.”
Prior to the pandemic, worker stress levels were reported to be just above 30%. But now that number is much higher. “The healthcare world was stressed even before this (pandemic),” John Erwin, MD, Chair of Medicine at Northshore University Health Systems said. “That burnout rate has increased in many specialties to about 65-70% since the pandemic.”
The executives agreed that deteriorating mental health among employees can likewise affect the manager’s ability to delegate tasks and set goals.
PROGRAMS FOR MENTAL HEALTH RESPONSE
Amid rising worker anxiety, companies are leveraging innovative programs and employment benefits to address the emotional well-being of their workforce. Employees, especially millennials, also expect employers to provide more mental health resources. Younger workers are open to behavioral care and coaching, which can be an important incentive for job applicants. The use of virtual health apps and telehealth visits are now more widespread.
A concern raised during the discussion was the difficulty to reach out to the workers because of potential legal boundaries. “It has not been a lack of interest or commitment of wanting to help, but rather how best to do so,” noted Tracy Billows, Co-Managing Partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
How can employers help without causing more rift between the workers and the company? Billows shared a plan Seyfarth Shaw will soon be launching called Mental Health First Aid Response Training. This program aims to train certain employees to deal with mental health emergencies in the office. A pilot session received an overwhelming response, and a second pilot session will be scheduled soon.
Gail Smith, MS, LMFT, Behavioral Clinical Strategy Team Lead at Cigna emphasized the importance of companies investing in the resources and programs necessary to support their workers. Cigna provides mental health education and training for employers to offer to their managers to support the workforce. Smith also recommended an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as a great resource for companies. EAPs are not only beneficial for employees but also provide a great return on investment for the company.