Integrated programs key to successful workplace mental-health strategies

How can employers implement a strategic wellness program to make a difference to employees’ mental health?

Eric Pfeiffer, senior health management consultant at Manulife, presented four of the top findings of the Salveo study at the Mental Health Summit in Toronto. The study looked at more than 2,000 employees in 63 different companies, specifically focusing on psychological distress, depression and burnout.

The first finding from the study indicated that while there are other causes of mental-health issues besides work, the workplace factors can contribute to them or even be a protective factor.

For example, if an employee’s skills are a good match for his or her job, the workplace might be a protective factor from burnout or depression, said Pfeiffer. Conversely, if the psychological demands of an employee’s job are high (due, for example, to high workloads or conflicting demands, the workplace can increase an employee’s chances of suffering from burnout.

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The second finding was that investing in management practices can make a significant difference in reducing the cost of mental-health claims. The Salveo researchers looked at 63 different management practices on stress and health and wellness and found many of them were effective in helping to reduce mental-health claims. The top five were job design (direct involvement by employees in how they do their job), work-life balance (flexible schedules), rewards (ability to secure internal promotions), physical activities (promotion of physical activities in the workplace) and demands (workload and work hours).

However, Pfeiffer cautioned those practices can’t be one-off efforts. “It’s not a pick and choose,” he said. “It’s in an integrated program where we’re going to see these results.”

The third finding was that companies that do adopt an integrated approach to mental health will have a much better chance of seeing a reduction in absenteeism.

Read: Linking financial, physical wellness to mental health

The researchers found that if a company’s management practices target both stressful workplace conditions and employee health, the organization is almost three times more likely to experience lower mental-health claims and costs. However, they found that result only with an integrated program.

In addition, mental-health programs resulted in the same benefit for small, medium-sized and larger organizations. Five of the six Salveo case studies showed small- and medium-sized companies were able to implement organizational change at the same rate or higher than most larger organizations.

“We can put things into practice within our organizations and have a very positive impact,” said Pfeiffer. “We can actually reduce the number of claims we’re seeing around mental health.”

Read more articles from the Mental Health Summit