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A Holistic Approach: How Employers Are Supporting Employee Mental Health (Part 1 of 2)

Due to a plethora of issues—including the COVID-19 pandemic, the civil unrest in the country, and uncertainties about the road ahead—many employees are experiencing a higher than normal level of emotional turmoil and stress. If people ignore these feelings or try to push them down, they may suffer even more severe and debilitating mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, burnout, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Unum conducted a survey of employers in August 2020. Among the 409 employers polled, 67% anticipated employees’ use of existing mental health or wellness benefits would increase in the coming months. In another study by Willis Towers Watson, 84% of employers acknowledged that access to high-quality mental health solutions is a top priority.

May was National Mental Health Awareness month. While HealthComp participated in last month’s national movement to increase awareness about mental health concerns, we didn’t want the conversation to end there. This subject is important to us and something we want to discuss openly and honestly.

Within the past year, we’ve all carried a heavy weight—albeit in different ways. Many had to adjust to new work-life situations, the loss of jobs, or even—tragically—the loss of loved ones. Remote work helped to keep people safe from the virus, but it also brought isolation and loneliness. It’s natural that such circumstances would lead to a rise in mental health issues. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder increased from 11% during the period of January to June 2019 to 41.5% during the two-week period of January 20, 2021 to February 1, 2021.

Many employers understand that fostering mental health during these trying times is not only beneficial for employees—it’s also the right thing to do. When workers receive treatment for psychosocial issues, it helps lower overall healthcare costs, increases productivity, and reduces absenteeism and disability. In this series, we’ll talk through some of the strategies that we’ve seen employers implement to promote mental health awareness.

A Focus on Behavioral Health

Behavioral health describes the connection between behaviors and the health and well-being of a person’s body, mind, and spirit. This includes such behaviors as eating right, drinking sufficient fluids throughout the day, or getting regular exercise—and how these activities impact physical and mental health.

Modifying behaviors or changing how we think can help people cope with difficult circumstances. Experts touted self-care practices as an important way to make it through the pandemic one day at a time. Even small practices could have a big impact on perspective.

That’s why many health plans provided members with access to digital behavioral health solutions, including mobile mindfulness apps. These digital tools provided remote workers with gentle reminders to practice healthy behaviors, such as taking time out to focus on breathing, expressing gratitude for something in their lives, keeping regular sleeping hours, and engaging in other forms of stress reduction, such as meditation.

Other employers provided reimbursement for home-based fitness programs This helped employees get the stress-reducing benefits of exercise, especially as gyms and yoga studios shut down. But even as fitness centers start to reopen, home-based exercise is still a great way for employees to sneak in fitness throughout their day.

Open Communication

A significant barrier to addressing mental illness is the shame and stigma associated with it. Oftentimes, those suffering from these disorders feel they’ll be met with “get over it” or “buck up.” This can lead to a reluctance to talk about their issues, and in some cases, people won’t admit they need help and treatment.

The silver lining of the pandemic is that it has helped normalize mental health concerns. Almost everyone in the past year has experienced some form of stress and emotional upset. This universality has helped reduce negative associations with mental illness.

Many companies and their leaders also fostered an open-door approach—inviting people to talk about what they’re going through. At the corporate level, companies have conveyed support for mental health, and managers modeled healthy behaviors. For example, they might talk about going for a walk after lunch, setting up counseling to discuss work/life balance, or scheduling a stay-at-home vacation to prevent burnout.

Even as vaccines are broadly administered in the U.S., companies are still prioritizing mental health training for managers. This way, managers can continue to be cognizant of employee well-being, especially as folks return to the office. Managers will know how to spot signs of distress and how to talk to employees without overstepping boundaries.

Education on EAPs and Other Benefits

During the pandemic, employers circulated information about Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), and other mental health benefits offered through their health plans, such as digital programs for virtual therapy or meditation.

Prior to COVID-19, employees were less likely to use these services and may not have been aware that they had access to them as part of their health plan. Employers reminded them about these services and that they could use them to discuss a variety of topics affecting mental and emotional wellbeing, including work-related stress, grief, or family problems. In communications, employers included all relevant websites and phone numbers, so employees could reach out to their EAP or health plan if they required help.

While the pandemic is hopefully coming to an end, the ramifications of the past 14 months make it clear that we cannot continue to sweep mental health under the rug. As employers and as human beings, we all have a responsibility to support one another as best as we can, especially during these trying and unusual times.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll talk about some additional strategies that employers can use to promote better mental health in the workplace, such as increasing coverage for mental health services and supporting employees as they return to the office.

Thomas Martel is the Chief Growth Officer at HealthComp. He has worked in the healthcare industry for over 20 years and is based in Boston. For more information on HealthComp’s benefits solutions, please contact us at marketing@healthcomp.com.

Chad Harris

Chief Executive Officer

 

Chad Harris serves as the CEO of HealthComp and is a value-driven healthcare leader with over twenty years of experience running business process and information technology businesses as a senior executive. Chad has a reputation for creating and controlling rapid growth by focusing on the intersection of customers, market dynamics, and the new digital world.

 

Chad has held many senior executive positions and led global teams of more than 10,000 people across dozens of counties. Chad has grown both large and small businesses, from those with less than $100M of revenue to those producing multiple billions of revenue, focusing on delivery, customer satisfaction, and innovation to create market leadership.

 

Chad's philosophy is to inspire change by doing what comes naturally, putting the needs of others before his own, working incredibly hard, and focusing on "how" to accomplish things, never "if they can be accomplished."

Thomas Martel

Chief Growth Officer

 

Tom serves as the Chief Growth Officer at HealthComp. In this role, Tom focuses on strategic initiatives aimed at accelerating HealthComp’s growth nationwide. His passion lies in assessing market and enterprise structures and creating efficiencies that enable teams to deliver best-in-class performance.

 

Previously, Tom led Cigna’s largest employer segment, largest region which was comprised of several health plans including the two largest health plans. He worked closely with Market Presidents and their leadership teams to develop and execute local market strategy and deliver growth for the enterprise. Tom earned his degree from Saint Anselm College and holds certifications from The Wharton School and the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. In his spare time, he enjoys sailing and holds a Master Captain’s license with the U.S. Coast Guard. He is also active in community outreach programs including local food bank and shelter services.

Sanoj Balakrishnan

Chief Technology Officer

 

Sanoj Balakrishnan serves as the Chief Technology Officer at HealthComp. In this role, he oversees the company’s overall technology strategy and architecture, building secure and highly scalable distributed systems.

 

Most recently, Sanoj served as Head of Healthcare Digital Business and Technology at Cognizant, working with payers and providers in developing solutions that reduced healthcare costs and provided a best-in-class experience for members. Earlier in his career, he worked at technology organizations in a variety of software engineering and architecture roles. Sanoj earned his B.S. from University of Mumbai and Computer Systems Management from National Institute of Information Technology.

Justin Tran

Executive Vice President, Product

 

Justin serves as the Executive Vice President of Product at HealthComp. He has 8 years of experience in developing and delivering solutions that reduce health care costs, improve quality, and provide a best-in-class experience for members. Most recently, Justin was an Associate Partner and business unit leader at McKinsey & Company where he helped large carriers and healthcare technology companies build new clinical services and solutions for fraud, waste, and abuse. Justin earned his B.S. in Accounting and Data Informatics from Indiana University, Bloomington.

Tucker Stein

Chief Financial Officer

 

Tucker serves as the Chief Financial Officer of HealthComp. Tucker previously worked for The Boeing Company in a number of finance and strategy roles, most recently as a finance lead for the Transactions and New Business Development group. In this role, Tucker led investments and strategic partnerships for Boeing’s Space and Communications portfolio. Tucker earned his MBA at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and his Bachelors of Science at the University of Redlands.

Tom Georgouses

General Counsel

 

Tom is involved in multiple areas of HealthComp including Operations, Compliance and Legal Affairs. Tom was admitted to the California Bar in 1990 and started his legal career with Stammer, McKnight, Barnum and Bailey, LLP. When he left the firm to join HealthComp in 2014, he was the Managing Partner (he had represented HealthComp since 2003). In private practice, Tom’s areas of focus included healthcare and transactional work. Tom holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration-Finance from California State University Fresno and received his Juris Doctorate from San Joaquin College of Law.

Rishab Bansal

Chief Transformation & Operations Officer

 

Rishab serves as the Chief Transformation & Operating Officer at HealthComp. Rishab focuses on transforming and modernizing HealthComp’s operations to provide delightful and distinctive experiences to its members, providers, and clients. His agenda includes integrating all entities towards a One HealthComp vision, driving profitable growth, and delivering value and business outcomes.

 

In his former work over the last 2 decades, he has helped clients across industries to transform themselves by bringing industry-leading practices and digital and data-led disruption. As the trusted advisor to the C-suite, Rishab helped his clients leapfrog on their transformation journey to accelerate business outcomes and helped them unlock new opportunities to drive profitable growth, profitability, and enhanced experience for their employees and clients.


Elaine Davis

Chief Human Resources Officer

 

Elaine Davis serves as CHRO for HealthComp. Elaine previously served as CHRO for Continuum Global Solutions and has served in executive leadership positions for Xerox and GlaxoSmithKline. Elaine holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of California at Berkeley.