June 12, 2018

How Behavioral Health Wellness Programs Can Help with Employee Retention

Employee retention is like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. It’s something everyone wants, but it sometimes seems like a matter of luck. Depending on your industry, demographics, office locations, and more, employee retention can be as overwhelming and scary as a tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Seriously, who would let their kids go on that tour?

Speaking of Mr. Wonka, his organization seems like a model for building happy, healthy, and loyal employees. The Oompa Loompas must have had great health and wellness benefits if they were willing to lead this terrifying search for a new CEO that involved blowing someone up like a blueberry, sucking someone through a tube in a chocolate river, and shrinking someone down to a fraction of their size. Through all these challenges, the Oompa Loompas never waver or complain.

Real-world employees aren’t quite so easy to satisfy. There are many factors that contribute to employee satisfaction and retention, and it’s difficult to identify which combination of benefits and perks will work for your staff. We’ll focus on just one benefit that’s sure to help: behavioral health coverage.

Experts estimate over 16 million American adults suffer from an major depressive episode each year. That’s over 6% of the population. Women are more likely than men to suffer from depression (8%), and many factors can contribute, such as bereavement, postpartum, and drug or alcohol use.

The most shocking fact of all from the National Institute of Mental Health is this: 37% of people who suffered a major depressive episode received no treatment at all. While undoubtedly some sufferers didn’t seek help, many others are limited in their care options. Some patients may not know where to start, how to find quality care, or how to navigate insurance networks or claims.

This is where great employers step in. Those who provide robust, accessible and quality behavioral health benefits will reap the rewards in employee retention. Here’s how.

Depression and disability.

According to the NIMH, depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. 64% of those who reported a major depressive episode said it caused severe impairment for them. That means missing work, being distracted, a downturn in productivity, and otherwise struggling with the functions of everyday life. It’s especially tough for sufferers in regards to their employment. They’re likely to quit or lose their jobs due to the lasting effects of their illness.

A recent scientific study highlights this trend:

“At the six-month follow-up, persons with depression had more new unemployment—14 percent for persons in the dysthymia group, 12 percent for persons in the major depression group, and 15 percent for persons in the group with both dysthymia and major depression, compared with 2 percent for persons in the control group and 3 percent for persons in the rheumatoid arthritis group. Among participants who were still employed, those with depression had significantly more job turnover, presenteeism, and absenteeism.”

These results were for participants who were diagnosed, insured and receiving treatment. Imagine how much higher turnover would be for those who aren’t able to access these resources.

Artemis did a recent analysis with a client on the relationship between absence hours and employees diagnosed with depression or anxiety. The results were very clear - those diagnosed with these mental illnesses were absent 1.3 to 1.7 times more than a control group. Their disability days absent were 9.7x and 12.3x more than others, too.

Reducing absenteeism and disability is on the radar of just about every benefits team, and mental health programs are just one tool helping them support and retain these employees.

EAPs and retention.

What percentage of your employees would you estimate need EAP services at some time in their tenure? 10%? 15%? If roughly 6% of the U.S. population needs care for depression, you can add in other EAP services or mental health diagnoses to get an estimate.

Unfortunately, studies have shown EAP utilization hovers around 3%! These benefits have expanded, improved, and transformed to keep up with changes in the workforce, but many employees aren’t aware or engaging with them. Some think they’re only aimed at suicide prevention or only focused on substance abuse, but EAPs can help with connecting members to care, offering over-the-phone counseling, and ensuring continuation of care.

Telemedicine is getting in on behavioral health care as well—some telemedicine vendors now offer cost-effective video or phone therapy.

Most employees only hear about EAP benefits once a year. Even then, it might be on the second-to-last page of the open enrollment booklet. Employers need to step up efforts to publicize EAPs to employees and ensure they understand the value of these benefits. Move them to the front of your booklet, produce additional communications materials, and bring them up with employees who report that they’re struggling. These efforts can make the difference between and employee quitting or coming back to work when they’re well.

Stress and turnover.

Raise your hand if you’ve quit a job because of the stress level. Who hasn’t?

54% of employees report high stress on the job, and that’s only counting work-related issues. Even in a low-stress role at work, many employees are facing stressors at home that impact their performance. This Forbes piece examines the major causes of absenteeism in the workplace, and they identify stress as a top cause right alongside illness, injury and job hunting.

A strategic mental health benefits package sends employees a clear signal that their employer cares about their stress level. So do fitness and wellness programs. After all, exercise and physical fitness are widely shown to relieve stress and improve mental health. We recommend considering both traditional mental health services and fitness/wellness programs as part of a comprehensive benefits strategy.

Are you looking to justify your behavioral health benefits strategy? Artemis can help with that.

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