Data analysis, education and early intervention are the key components of First West Credit Union’s Live Well employee health program, according to Liz Bailey-Connor, the organization’s chief people and culture officer, speaking during a session at Benefits Canada’s 2023 Mental Health Summit.

“We were hearing from employees that they felt overwhelmed and, in some cases, anxious, about the changing landscape [due to the coronavirus pandemic] and they didn’t know where to go for support. Through individual conversations and roundtables, we heard there was a lack of clarity about available tools and resources.”

The company’s annual pulse check survey also found employees’ mental-health scores were declining. She noted the data revealed an increase in mental-health disability claims, both short and long term, with a specific rise in anxiety, mood disorders and adjustment disorders.

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Also speaking during the session, Kabir Bhagaria, the credit union’s manager of employee health and safety, said that, after analyzing the survey findings, First West decided to look at wellness from a holistic perspective and focus on the connection between physical and mental health.

“The idea behind this is if you’re not feeling physically well, your mental health will likely suffer and vice versa. We developed a three-year vision for the program and set targets to meet each year. Using our plan and survey data, we created initiatives and bucketed them into three areas: education and awareness, tools and resources and early intervention strategies.”

The organization also introduced Live Well champions to help spread awareness and educate colleagues about the program. “This is a voluntary position to help promote mental and physical health through direction from the health and safety team,” noted Bhagaria. “When we advertised for the position, we had an overwhelming response and we currently have one champion in every location. Our goal was for them to serve as a point of contact for employees who may be struggling.”

Read: Employers taking holistic approach to mental health as coronavirus pandemic wanes: expert

In terms of tools and resources, First West used data from its wellness app to target topics that were being frequently accessed, including sleep and anxiety. More than half (56 per cent) of employees have registered for the app, which has an engagement rate of more than 80 per cent. The credit union also offers loans to employees for expenses related to mental or physical health and established a compassion fund that supports employees who are experiencing severe financial stress.

Research has shown early intervention is key to reducing the onset of mental-health issues, said Bhagaria, noting First West proactively connects workers with its employee assistance program.

“This is what we call a warm transfer — having our EAP directly reach out to a struggling employee. Employees don’t always seek out assistance, so we arranged for a counsellor to connect with them and offer support, [to hopefully] allow them to remain at work. It’s important we aren’t trying to minimize the need for [short- or long-term disability], rather our goal is to support as early as possible as part of the treatment process.”

Read: EAPs increasing virtual delivery, taking proactive approach to meet employees’ shifting needs

Since implementing the Live Well program, the credit union has seen a roughly 40 per cent reduction in mental-health claims, a 70 per cent reduction in claims going to long-term disability and a reduction in the duration of claims.

“As we know, both the number of clients and duration [of claims] are important factors when renewing our contracts, so all this resulted in a reduction in our latest contract,” said Bailey-Connor. “We also set targets for our [wellness app] usage and we’re well above the benchmark rate and performance leaders have reported feeling more supported.”

Read more coverage of the 2023 Mental Health Summit.