How do You Handle Mental Health Issues at Work?

Older Employees: Remember Your Required Minimum Distributions

Mental illness affects more of your workforce than you may realize. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 43.8 million U.S. adults—or approximately one in five—experiences a mental illness in a given year. For 10 million of them, the mental illness is serious enough to substantially interfere with or limit one or more of their major life activities.

While depression and anxiety disorders—including posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias—are the most common, your employees may also be dealing with other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. It is estimated that serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings every year.

Most of your employees who suffer from mental illnesses will do their best to never have to tell you about them. However, it’s up to employers to be proactive and establish ways to handle employee mental health issues at work when they arise. Experts advise addressing them on a case-by-case basis using the following steps.

  1. Acknowledge the issue. Whether an employee comes to you directly or you notice signs and symptoms that seem to point to a possible mental illness, the first step is to acknowledge the issue and speak candidly yet sensitively with the employee.
  1. Gather the facts. Evaluate the effect of the mental health issue on your employee’s job performance. You should discuss this with the employee as well as his or her supervisors and managers. Consider reasonable accommodations you may be able to make to help the employee continue functioning productively.
  1. Learn more about the mental illness itself. Consider speaking with a healthcare provider as well as a lawyer to learn more about reasonable expectations, possible accommodations and any legal requirements associated with the particular mental health issue. Legal obligations in regards to mental health accommodations may vary from state to state. Many mental illnesses are considered disabilities and protected accordingly under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  1. Make any necessary changes. Based on your conversations, legal obligations and what you’ve learned about the nature of the mental health issue your employee is dealing with, adjust job duties and/or expectations. Continue to check in with your employee to make sure the changes are working for them and progress is being made.

Managing mental health issues in the workplace can be challenging. In addition to the steps above, adding an employee assistance program (EAP) to your benefits package may help. EAPs are voluntary, confidential programs that benefit any employee with a personal or work-related problem—not just those suffering from mental illness. Short-term counseling and assessments can help workers deal with alcohol and substance abuse problems, stress, grief and family difficulties as well as psychological disorders. To learn more about your EAP options, contact us today.

Student Loan Repayment: The Next Big Benefit

Hand writing Benefits with white marker on transparent wipe board.
Hand writing Benefits with white marker on transparent wipe board.

Americans are struggling with student loan repayment. Given the hardships this very common debt can cause, consider these reasons a student loan repayment assistance program could be a powerful addition to your company’s benefits arsenal.

It will help you attract more job candidates. According to 2015 data from the Society for Human Resource Management, only 3 percent of employers are currently offering student loan repayment assistance as a benefit—despite the fact that the majority of American workers would find it attractive.  A recent survey of more than 1,700 employees conducted by Student Loan Hero, a financial education website, found that 77 percent of respondents rank student loan repayment assistance benefits as slightly to very important. Only 23 percent were uninterested in this benefit. When asked if they’d prefer student loan repayment assistance or additional vacation/paid time off, 53 percent chose the former.

It will keep you keep your employees engaged. Engaged employees are actively invested in their work and committed to their employer. Unfortunately, financial distractions—such as student loan repayment struggles—can interfere with that engagement. According to the results of a survey conducted by American Student Assistance, 62 percent of respondents with student debt report it poses a hardship on their budget when combined with other household spending. Thirty-five percent say student loan payments make it difficult for them to purchase daily necessities. And more than half say student loan debt has affected their decision or ability to make larger purchases such as a car or a home.

It requires little sales effort or benefits education

Unlike 401(k) plans, health savings accounts and life insurance, you don’t have to convince your employees that they need student loan repayment assistance. They’re already dealing with the immediate reality that debt every day. Additionally, a repayment assistance program is much easier to administer. There’s no complex terminology to understand, and no need to spend hours educating your team about options or how the program functions.

It appeals to all employee demographics

Student loan repayment assistance doesn’t just appeal to workers in the Millennial Generation (currently between the ages of 18 and 34). Those from Generation X (ages 35 to 50) are equally burdened by education debt. A Gallup poll found 20 percent of Americans have student loans, including 35 percent of Millennials and 25 percent of Gen Xers. Those from Generation X actually have the largest average loan balances (more than $30,000) outstanding. Six percent of Baby Boomers are also paying off student loans.

It will improve the use of your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan

Many workers postpone contributions to a retirement account until they have their student loan debt under control (50 percent according to one survey). If your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan is underutilized, adding a student loan repayment assistance benefit may help.

If you’d like to explore enhancing your company’s employee benefits package with a student loan repayment assistance program, contact your benefits advisor today.