Use these Innovative Strategies to Improve Mental Health

Addressing mental health in the workplace needs to be compassionate and proactive, experts said at HBLC.
By: | April 29, 2019 • 5 min read

A landmark longitudinal study out of New Zealand revealed a startling statistic about mental health: Over a period of 45 years, 97% of study participants reported at least one instance of depression.

“It is actually the norm to have experienced depression on some level or another at some point,” health and employee benefits consultant Carol Harnett told the audience at a general session during last week’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference in Las Vegas. The panel discussion, moderated by Harnett, who is also HRE’s benefits columnist, focused not on the universality of mental-health challenges—but, rather, universal approaches companies can take to remedy them.

Making the Most of Your EAP

Chief among the ways organizations often tackle mental health in the workplace is through the employee-assistance program. However, many aren’t taking full advantage of their EAP—which could be leading to poorer employee performance and hits to the company’s bottom line.


For instance, Harnett said, companies with a 10% or higher EAP utilization rate reported lower short-term and long-term-disability claims. She polled the audience, with no one reporting a utilization rate of 10% or higher and a few attendees volunteering that their rates were between 1-9%—but the vast majority responded that they didn’t know their utilization levels.

While HR and benefits leaders should dig deep into those numbers, it’s also imperative for them to raise awareness among employees about the components of the EAP, and how to access services, said panelist Jaclyn Wainwright, CEO of AiR Healthcare Solutions.

“There’s great value in providing EAP services, and that value increases when people know what the EAP is, who provides it and how to access it—and when that’s all enforced from the top down,” she said. “It’s hard to really get people behind utilizing the EAP when senior leadership has no idea what it is or how to utilize it.”

Beyond getting leadership on board, benefits managers should ensure EAPs don’t function in a silo, said David Ballard, assistant executive director for organizational excellence at the American Psychological Association. Integrate the EAP with other benefits that tap into mental health, such as insurance plans and disability programs.

“There’s a warm hand-off when that occurs,” he said. Likewise, the program should have a diverse set of offerings—avoiding the traditional conceptions employees have that an EAP is solely for mental-health crises or those with substance-abuse issues.

“Take more of a comprehensive approach,” Ballard said, suggesting organizations focus on the full “occupational health and safety of the organization.”

What’s New at Microsoft?

That has been an aim of Microsoft, said panelist Julie Krause, benefits manager of U.S. wellness at the tech giant.