Why behavioral health programs need the ‘muscle’ of HR to improve

The clinical workforce at behavioral health service provider Lucet is 78% women, with the average age in the mid-40s, meaning the workforce is full of working mothers. Earlier this year, recognizing the added responsibilities many in this population have during the summer months when schools are out, Lucet launched a summer hours program, enabling all workers to have more flexible schedules.

The move was a direct response to employee feedback, something that Chief People Officer Amy Kazmierczak has made a priority since joining the company in September 2022.

- Advertisement -

Giving employees more of a voice—such as in designing their schedules—has been a boon for employee engagement and experience.

The summer hours, for instance, she says, “were hugely appreciated because it gave [employees] the flexibility to do the things they needed to do in their personal life.” Importantly, the approach wasn’t “one-size-fits-all,” with workdays across the board starting and ending at a specific time—instead, teams were given the discretion to make schedules that work for them.

“If they’re saying they want flexibility, that’s a different meaning for most people—so, finding ways to do that for everyone can go a long way,” Kazmierczak says.

Employee listening has been a key to the culture work Kazmierczak has led, as the organization seeks to bring employees along on the cultural journey jumpstarted by acquisition and rebranding in 2021. She recently spoke with HRE about that objective and her broader HR goals, particularly around improving the health of employees, which she urges all HR leaders to make a priority.

HRE: Given the space that you work in, where are you focusing when it comes to supporting the mental health of your own workforce?

Amy Kazmierczak
Amy Kazmierczak

Kazmierczak: As a company, our mission is to impact our members’ lives by connecting them to the right care. That’s one of our biggest priorities. It’s hard to navigate behavioral health, it’s hard to know what your issue is, there aren’t enough diverse providers available, there’s still some stigma. Our employees are no different, even though this is what they do for a living.

I read a survey that only 20% of employees say they actually use their behavioral health benefits. So, very small usage, across the board. Again, the same is true in our organization.

What we’ve tried to do over the last two years, in particular, is really focus on listening to our employees’ needs because behavioral health can mean a whole lot of things, especially when you talk about health and wellness—not just the clinical side. It’s really important to know what your employees need and want.

That’s where we’re placing emphasis: listening sessions, surveying, talking to them because you can’t assume just because you have a set of benefits like EAP, behavioral health support—that’s just not enough, and the 20% utilization shows that.

The good news of the pandemic would be that it’s becoming a bigger conversation. Now, the listening is really the key piece and then creating solutions that are diverse in nature—not just a one-size-fits-all because that’s not working.

See also: 4 must-haves for an effective mental health strategy

HRE: What kind of value have you found employees derive from being included in this design process?

Kazmierczak: We’ve really seen an uptick in our employees from an engagement perspective because of our listening and transparency.

- Advertisement -

We went through an acquisition two years ago and rebranded our company as Lucet. As part of that, we have committed to cultivating a highly engaged, inclusive culture and bringing employees along on that journey. We also committed to being way more transparent.

I do things like Coffee with Kaz; I meet weekly with a random group of employees on Teams, talking about how’s it going. We are a fully remote workforce and it’s very difficult to check in on employees. So, we’ve been intentional, and that matters because, otherwise, you’re just really engaging in something formal with employees like a meeting or a session, and you need some of that informality to make that connection.

That’s been a big positive, and they’ve really appreciated it and have been very free with their feedback and opinions. It’s a way to also let them know, “Hey, we’re listening.” Then we use regular surveying as well because that definitely helps; little pulse surveys with a few questions seem to be things that employees are more quick to respond to than your once-a-year, very large engagement survey.

HRE: When it comes to employee health, what’s coming down the pike that HR leaders need to pay attention to?

Kazmierczak: Increasing costs will be a challenge. We all face it. You want to do more for your employees, but with the current programs increasing in cost, that just eats away at that availability. So, there’s creativity there that we all continue to look for. Nontraditional benefits are a way to supplement it—like our summer hours or flexibility in schedules—and that can add to the overall wellness of an employee.

Also, things like pharmacy are hitting many of us really hard this year; pharmacy costs are just going through the roof. It’s hard to strike the right balance, but there are ways to do it, especially from a nontraditional benefit perspective, that employees would appreciate.

And the second piece is the way we’re all trying to manage those increased costs by looking at specialized programs that may be more cost-effective for our employees—like a focused diabetes program or separate RX discounts or wellness programs that wrap around your healthcare plan. Navigating multiple programs, which are delivered by different providers, can really make it complicated for the employee—and when it’s complicated, those programs can go unused because employees just give up on them.

HRE: What skill sets do HR leaders need to hone to tackle those challenges?

Kazmierczak: It’s definitely different today. When I grew up in HR, it was about knowing the business cold and having defined policies and procedures to guide employees. Yes, you still need to know your business cold because the financials are very important; that’s always going to be step No. 1. But HR needs to also know the diverse employee needs more granularly and connect an array of offerings to the financial picture, many of which can be preventative in nature.

The more you can be in tune with your employees’ wellness needs, and have behavioral healthcare options for them, the more likely you can possibly offset some higher-cost services down the line. HR needs to understand the scope of possibilities and put that puzzle together for your employees, then encourage usage through communication and monitoring.

One of my former colleagues at my last behavioral health company always said, “If you take care of the mind, the mind does take care of the body.” If you can help employees with solutions to reduce their stress, anxiety and other mental health needs, it can lead to reducing high-cost physical health issues as well.

Read more Insights from a CHRO here.

HRE: Has your own approach to being an HR leader shifted throughout your career?

Kazmierczak: It’s definitely shifted. I’m a lifelong learner; if I’m not learning, then I’m probably obsolete. So, it continues to grow and evolve.

It’s becoming more incumbent on the HR leader to have more of a point of view on not just the business situation or the traditional HR policy and procedure piece, but the whole environment, and to be more in tune with what employees are going through. You have to know the stressors of your community. Social issues bleed into the workplace. You have to have your eyes and ears and radar up to those triggers and what that does to your employees that will translate into business performance, productivity and the bottom line.

HRE: Outside of this work, what are you passionate about?

Kazmierczak: I have been a big advocate and an aggressive learner on women’s health. It stems all the way back to my mother passing away when I was in high school. She was in her early 40s and died of a massive heart attack from heart disease, which was undiagnosed. Back then, women weren’t expected to have heart disease at an early age; it was considered more of a male disease and, obviously, we know now that’s not true. It’s the No. 1 killer of women, even today.

I have been part of organizations like Go Red for Women to advocate, educate, understand these things and help us have the conversation around taking care of your own health, listening to your body, knowing your numbers. And that has translated into my role in my advocacy and listening to employees and their needs. Health carries over into work, and the physical health and wellness components really go together for women.

Outside of heredity, a lot of the triggers [of health challenges] are diet, exercise, stress—and as women take on caregiving, working, parenting, they don’t listen to some of those signals. Take the time, listen, use your resources—medical benefits, well checks—get your key indicators measured on a regular basis. That stuff really does matter.

HRE: What responsibility does HR have in improving the health of employees?

Kazmierczak: We have an opportunity to continue to influence the healthcare community on offerings. It’s a very complicated system, as we all know and experience. Healthcare is one of the things everybody probably rolls their eyes at because it’s challenging, it’s expensive, it’s hard. And behavioral health is probably 20 years or more behind physical healthcare in terms of integrating data, managing care and cost effectively.

The HR community needs to use its muscle to demand better offerings that integrate information, so it’s easier to navigate for our employees. And the behavioral health space needs to catch up in terms of increasing provider availability, pricing options and support—just like the medical side has evolved over the last 20 years.

The time is now. The energy is there. Employees are demanding it, and they’re making [job] choices based on their benefits. So, we need to be making it easier to connect people to quality, affordable care. Because it saves lives. And the HR community is in a place where they can help champion that.

Avatar photo
Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].