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How to Focus on Mental Health for Better Employee Benefits

Mental health is an expensive issue for business owners. Depression, the leading cause of disability worldwide, costs the U.S. economy $210.5 billion per year in absenteeism, reduced productivity and medical costs, affecting more than 16 million Americans, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Lost productivity accounts for $44 billion of the $210.5 billion.

May is designated as Mental Health Month, providing the opportunity to really put the focus on this important issue every employer needs to think about.

So, why is it so important for businesses to talk about mental health?

If you think about it, we spend a good chunk of our time—25 percent—at work – with a HuffPost Australia analysis suggesting that it clocks in at a whopping 13.2 years of our lifetime (or rather the 50-year eligibility window for employment), and less than a year (a mere 328 days) socializing with friends. Add another year and two months on for unpaid overtime.

Further, careers are often responsible for a huge chunk of employees’ stress that is leading them to spend seven years of their life tossing and turning trying to sleep.

Below, we outline eight of the most notable ways that mental health can be compromised and how you, plus the support of a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), can foster a work environment that best meets the mental health needs of your employees and their families.

Pay Your Way
One of the biggest obstacles to mental health is financial stress. By paying your employees a living wage – defined as an hourly rate that allows workers to adequately support themselves and/or their families – you can significantly cut down on the number of employees who have to take on additional jobs or seek employment elsewhere in order to make ends meet. Further, paying a wage that is fair also helps employees to feel appreciated and fosters engagement. Living wage calculators are available (based on your geographic location and other factors), but if you really want to look deeper into the issue, consider working with a PEO to review your current compensation strategy and see how it stacks up against your competition and location.

Get Them Covered
Providing financial stability also means managing – where possible – big expenses that may crop up due to health emergencies. In offering a comprehensive benefits package, you can make sure that your employees are not left open to financial liability should a medical crisis occur. In addition, providing a package that offers wellness perks – such as gym memberships, access to counseling services, or other wellness initiatives designed to promote mental wellbeing can pay off in a happier and healthier workforce that is more productive with less absenteeism. A PEO can help you to secure a benefits package that your employees will love, and you can feel proud of and afford by using our shared pool of clients to negotiate the best offerings at the lowest possible price.

Employee Assistance Program

In addition to these practices, one HR solution is to offer an Employee Assistance Program or EAP. An EAP is a resource for employees that can connect them with mental health professionals and other services they might need and is included in a comprehensive benefits package. EAP services can include many kinds of counseling, psychological assistance and other support services.

These EAP services are a benefit to employees that help with retention and productivity because they can get the help they need at little or no out-of-pocket cost, in most cases.  Every $1 invested in mental health gets a $4 return in better health and ability to work.

Make It Nice
Take steps to make your home – in this case, your office environment – welcoming, safe and stocked with what people need to work effectively. Specifically, spaces should be well lit, clean and free of hazards that could compromise safety. You can also go the extra mile, where appropriate, and encourage staff to bring in small mementos from home to personalize their space or otherwise make it more enjoyable to spend the next 8-10 hours there! If you’d like a review of your workspace, a safety officer from the PEO can come on site, conduct a safety review, and determine how you can make your space more safe, healthy and effective for staff.

Be Flexible
Another benefit that is also valuable to employees – and particularly those under a great deal of stress – is to offer a work environment that offers some degree of flexibility. While this is very much situational and cannot be offered by all industries, some businesses can consider work from home options, unconventional hour options, or other “flex-schedule” options that allow workers to chase that elusive work-life balance and a PEO can offer solutions that are tailored to your employees and their needs. In attempting to make accommodations, you show your workers that they are valued, which in turn drives investment in your business.

Ban Bullying
Abusive, toxic or even just strained relationships in the workplace are a huge problem in corporate America and can prove a major source of stress for workers. Having a clear policy in place that outlines what constitutes bullying in the workplace, how to report it, and what the ramifications are is crucial to nipping this behavior in the bud and fostering a safe space for all workers. The HR experts at a PEO can be an invaluable resource to help with this tricky aspect of managing your business. They will help you create – or update – your policies to reflect industry best practices for reducing this source of workplace stress.

Be Open
One of the biggest sources of stress for workers is feeling that their ideas – or, perhaps worse, their concerns – are not being heard. Fostering an environment that promotes open and honest communication between workers and up the chain of command helps everyone to feel informed about decisions regarding the direction of the company and in turn helps dismiss any notions of doubt or insecurity about job stability. Further, ensuring that workers have an outlet to air their concerns about their work also helps to validate their feelings and ensures that they don’t build up resentment for their managers or the job itself. In short, creating an environment where folks feel comfortable offering clear and honest feedback fosters buy-in because employees feel safe mentally investing in your company and know that their views are appreciated and accepted. A PEO offers a suite of training offerings designed to teach everyone – from managers to minions – how to best communicate and how to respond to feedback appropriately.

Force a Shut Down
The wonderful thing about having iPhones, blackberries and any number of other devices that can be synced to our work computer is that we can work anywhere at any time. The bad thing about this increased access to technology is that it can blur the line between work time and home time (and we all know what a bummer that can be for work-life balance!) Let your employees know that it is encouraged – and expected – that they shut off their various devices at the end of the work day and not respond to work emails, phone calls, smoke signals or any other communication from clients (except in case of emergency, of course!) until the next business day. In creating this policy, you are letting employees know that you recognize their need to have time away from the office and that their work should not be all consuming. Again, if you need help crafting such a policy, feel free to give outsourced human resources professionals a call for strategies and tips for crafting a fair and functional technology policy.

Encourage Time Off and Away From the Office

As part of your compensation package, offer paid time off and vacation opportunities that allow workers to take an appropriate amount of time off each year – and then encourage them to use it! Where possible, outline policies early for how many folks in each department or business site can take off at a time (because, let’s face it, you still have to run a business over here!) and then consider keeping a big work calendar so that employees can view when others plan to take time off and ration their breaks accordingly.

The HR experts at a PEO can help develop policies that outline expectations for how absences in the office can be handled, in terms of who picks up the slack and what they are capable of doing and what will have to wait. Again, the key here is not just to offer the time off, but also create an environment where folks feel confident taking that vacation!

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