With the results of the 2013 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey newly released, I was interested to learn what plan sponsors had to say about personal health in the workplace. With 82 percent of employers indicating that their organization plans to invest more into health and wellness activities primarily because they feel it will improve employee health and productivity, I'm encouraged by this more prevention oriented approach.
Disabilities related to mental illness, depression and stress are on the rise in Canada. Increasingly, employees are reporting feeling more stress and dealing with issues related to mental health. A grey paper titled, New Workplace of the 21st Century - Toward a Productivity Revolution Through Mental Health & Innovation, noted that "there is much that is physical about mental disorders and much that is mental about physical disorders where historically, health has been described as 'physical'." How do employers help prevent disabilities related to mental health issues and what role can an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) play?
It isn't uncommon for plan sponsors to have EAPs embedded in the structure of their group benefits plan. An EAP offers low cost, confidential and easily accessible services that employers can provide to promote a healthy workplace culture. EAPs address both the physical and mental aspects of issues covered through their multi-faceted service offering.
These days, EAP providers have moved well beyond the days of offering just counselling and addiction services. With the rise in popularity of smartphone usage and mobile applications, we're seeing EAP providers such as Morneau Shepell and Homewood Human Solutions launch comprehensive EAP apps that help employees get help anytime from anywhere worldwide. These apps provide the ability for employees to register for e-counselling and offer tools to measure stress and even to evaluate relationships. Some EAP apps offer videos and podcasts on relaxation, reducing stress, and anger management.
One of the challenges with an EAP relates specifically to low utilization rates by employees. EAP utilization ranges between 8 to 12 percent. Many employees simply don't realize what tools and short-term resources are available to them on a voluntary basis. What can employers do to raise awareness and confidence in the EAP? Here are some tips for plan sponsors to keep top of mind:
EAPs offer great support for those who use the services, but also offer an important element of prevention as employers move toward promoting the health and well-being of their staff. Not everyone will need or want the services of an EAP, but like the security of carrying around an umbrella in the event of a rainy day, it is a great way to help employees know that help is simply a quick call or an email away.
Let us help you ensure that your EAP plan doesn't remain a hidden gem. Contact us to discuss ways to effectively communicate about the value in your EAP plan. We're here to help so you can focus on what you do best.
Based on 2011/2012 results from the Pathway to Health and Productivity report produced by TowersWatson, the affect of current economic times, increasing workplace stress and the challenge of changing unhealthy employee lifestyles, it is no wonder that we are seeing an increase in direct medical costs as well as indirect costs related to absenteeism, overtime and replacement workers.
In 2010, a report by Healthx.com indicated that indirect costs related to complex chronic diseases including cancer represent $58 billion dollars annual in lost productivity and premature mortality. These are staggering large numbers and will be difficult to economically sustain as the demographic shift of an aging population sees Baby Boomers fully hit their 'greying' years.
Part 1 of this series indicated that 40 percent of Canadians will develop some for cancer in their lifetime and that research shows that almost half of all cancers are preventable. For companies that have a strategic focus to address effective wellness strategies, the Pathway to Health and Productivity report notes that benefit plans may result in 30 percent savings.
With cancer being the leader in premature death in Canada, it is a chronic disease that employers need to take note of. When faced with employees who disclosure their cancer diagnosis, employers are encouraged to consider engaging them directly to discuss and determine important considerations.
Options for time off: ask the employee how to best to support his needs; particularly as it relates to appointments for treatment or days when he may be too ill to come to work. During treatment, the employee may not feel well enough to come into work and the ability for flexible work arrangements will help him feel more fully supported and perhaps even positively impact his recovery time.
Where possible, work with employee so he can be guided toward evidence-based treatment. Some treatment plans are costly and the outcomes are disappointing. Encourage the employee to connect with specialized oncology centres and look to the various community services for additional support.
Ask the employee how he wants the news of his diagnosis to be managed. Does he wish to keep it confidential? Regardless of the response, the employer needs to be mindful of privacy guidelines and the need to honour the employee's wishes.
Keep in touch. If it is comfortable for the employee, discuss arrangements to keep in touch. Determine upfront how he'd like to receive information and if he wants to connect with coworkers including frequency of contact. Cancer treatment can be physically and mentally draining. It will be important to check it and validate if the contact arrangement still holds.
Employers demonstrate the best support by determining and validating the employee's wishes. Help educate the employee about return to work options. The employee's direct leader plays an important role in the process. She should understand company policies related to privacy issues, sick time, duty to accommodate, and the importance of supporting the employee at every stage of the process.
There is much to know when it comes to dealing with cancer in the workplace. Please feel free to contact us to discuss employer resources and tools. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.