We read about elaborate wellness programs including extensive health assessments, on-site fitness and daycare facilities, and supportive cafeteria programs. These are great programs, but may be way outside the capabilities of a small business. According to a report by the National Small Business Association and Humana, 93% of small businesses said that the health of their employees was important to their bottom lines, but just 22% offered a comprehensive wellness program. Many small businesses are wondering how they can have an impact on employee health and productivity when there are fewer people to help organize these programs and smaller budgets to work with.
Employees Are Overwhelmed And It’s Impacting Productivity
Just like larger businesses, stress is impacting small business employees. The Sun Life Financial Canadian Health Index Report, found that three-quarters of respondents reported experiencing excessive or uncomfortable levels of stress and the youngest age groups, in the prime of their working careers, were the hardest hit: 18-24 (90%) and 25-34 (80%). The APA Stress In America survey, also showed that Millennials were more stressed than their older counterparts and reported, not surprisingly, that their top stressors were work (76%), money (73%) and relationships (59%).
Nearly half of all employees reported that the stress from a personal problem negatively impacted their work performance, according to “Stressed at Work: What We Can Learn From EAP Utilization,” a study from Bensinger, DuPont and Associates (BDA). The study found that stress most often lead to difficulty concentrating, absenteeism and poor work quality.
Untreated mental health issues can impact the small business organization in a number of ways:
• Disability premiums, rising health and benefits costs and expenses
• Productivity and an increase absenteeism, ‘presenteeism’ and turnover
• Safety concerns around accidents, incidents and injuries
• Lowered workplace morale and increased conflict and grievances
Employees Need Information And Support
A Ceridian survey found that although 90% of Canadian organizations believe mental health is an important part of a health and wellness strategy, but only 22% of respondents believe the services they have in place are adequate. Next steps for employers of all sizes is to identify and implement appropriate preventative solutions to adequately support the mental health of their employees.
Employees can progress from feeling excessively stressed to experiencing a mental illness. 12% of current employees have a diagnoseable mental illness. Mental illness is the fastest-growing reason for short and long-term disability claims, accounting for about 30% in Canada. In the APA Stress in America report, 31% of people who categorized themselves as suffering from high stress never discussed stress management with their health care provider. Moreover, 32% of believed it is very or extremely important to talk with their health care providers about stress management, but only 17% reported that these conversations were happening often or always. 17% of people with a mental illness delayed taking action because they were afraid of the reaction they may get from family and friends. (Conference Board Leger National Survey on Depression).
Management Education Is Key
For small businesses, awareness training of managers is very important in supporting the health and wellness of the employees within their company. Partners For Mental Health found that 2/3rds of Canadians said that they would not have an open discussion with their boss about their mental illness. The fear and stigma that still exists around mental health and mental illness prevents employees from seeking help from professionals or their workplace supporters. So, managers need to watch changes that may be occurring among their workers such as:
• disorganized thinking
• difficulty expressing themselves
• decreased attention and/or concentration
• lack of personal hygiene
• aggression toward themselves or others
• strained interpersonal relationships
• repeated short-term absences
• frequent tardiness, frequent breaks
• requests for days off for unusual reasons
• decreased interest in work
• inferior quality of work or decreased quantity of work compared to usual performance
• discussions about a new situation or multiple life changes in a short period of time
Any significant change in the person’s verbal and/or non-verbal behaviour, attitude or performance warrants attention, as does any change involving persistent, specific and uncharacteristic signs that last more than two weeks.
Addressing Stress Is A Priority
90% of Ceridian respondents cited “addressing stress” as their organization’s most significant mental health concern. Yet, an Ipsos-Reid survey found that only 1 out of 3 managers have been trained to identify and help their employees deal with mental health issues like depression. The Ceridian survey found that the top three priorities for mental health programs were employee training on the issues, wellness programs to promote self-care and education to managers in understanding mental health issues. Small businesses need to be laser-focused on these three priorities, especially around training and education.
Psychological Health and Safety
For small business, additional information and support can be found in the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, which was prepared by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and the Bureau de normalisation du Québec, with funding from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the federal government, Bell Canada and the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace. It calls upon employers to do the following:
• draft a Psychological Health and Safety policy
• develop and implement a system to implement that policy
• identify, assess and reduce the risk of Psychological Health and Safety hazards
• investigate Psychological Health and Safety incidents
• monitor, audit and improve the Psychological Health and Safety system
Canadian companies, from 10 to 10,000 employees, can now use this free, standardized tool to help them tackle the issue, by creating workplaces that promote mental health, reduce stress and support employees dealing with mental illness.
A Virgin Health Miles survey, of almost 10,000 people, shows that regardless of effectiveness, most employees said that wellness programs were an overall positive influence on the office culture (70%) and that participating in the programs helped their relationships both inside and outside of the workplace (57.5%).
Employees are experiencing the impact of stress on their lives and they are turning to their workplaces to find support and strategies. As a small business, it is easy to feel frustrated when trying to develop a comprehensive wellness plan, as both financial and human resources are limited. Understanding the impact that stress plays in your workplace and helping your team leaders understand how they can support their employees, are important first steps in developing a psychologically healthy workplace. Make use of the free tools that are available, like the Psychological Health and Safety standard. Start conversations around how to support and reduce the stigma of mental health and mental illness. Communicate what supports and programs are available and add programs that are going to enhance the employee’s need for information and support. Small business can be very effective in developing wellness programs that target the specific needs of their unique workplaces if they become laser-focused in their offerings.
If you have some strategies to share – comment on this posting!