Starbucks Unveils Mental Health Initiatives for Employees

Did you know: One in Five United States adults experiences mental illness. According to the World Health Organization, work is good for mental health but a negative environment can lead to physical and mental health issues. Starbucks has announced that they have launched an app for its employees to improve their mental health along with their anxiety and stress. Read this blog post to learn more about how Starbucks is creating mental health benefits for their employees.


Starbucks has launched an app to help its employees improve their mental health and deal with anxiety and stress.

The global coffee company also announced it will be retooling its employee assistance program based on feedback from employees and mental health experts. It plans to offer training to its U.S. and Canada store managers on how to support workers who experience a mental health issue, substance-abuse problem or other crisis.

Every year, one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness and one in 25 experience serious mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. And more people are killing themselves in the workplace, according to the Washington Post. The number of such suicides increased 11 percent between 2017 and 2018. Employers, the Post reported, "are struggling with how to respond."

Business Insider reported that some Starbucks employees it interviewed about the initiatives said much of their stress comes from the company cutting back on hours and relying on employees to work longer shifts with fewer people and no pay increase.

The World Health Organization points out that while work is good for mental health, a negative environment can lead to physical and mental health problems. Harassment and bullying at work, for example, can have "a substantial adverse impact on mental health," it said. There are things employers can do, though, to promote mental health in the workplace; such actions may also promote productivity.

SHRM Online has collected the following articles on this topic from its archives and other sources.

Starbucks Announcements Its Commitment to Supporting Employees' Mental Health 

The company released a statement Jan. 6 about additions to its employee benefits and resources that support mental wellness.

"Our work ahead will continue to be rooted in listening, learning and taking bold actions," it said. In the past, that has included tackling topics such as loneliness, vulnerability "and the power of small acts and conversation to strengthen human connection."
(Starbucks)

Mental Illness and the Workplace  

Companies are ramping up their efforts to navigate the mental health epidemic. Suicide rates nationally are climbing, workers' stress and depression levels are rising, and addiction—especially to opioids—continues to bedevil employers. Such conditions are driving up health care costs at double the rate of illnesses overall, according to Aetna Behavioral Health.

Starting workplace conversations about behavioral health is challenging because such conditions often are seen as a personal failing rather than a medical condition.
(SHRM Online)   

Research: People Want Their Employers to Talk About Mental Health 

Mental health is becoming the next frontier of diversity and inclusion, and employees want their companies to address it. Despite the fact that more than 200 million workdays are lost due to mental health conditions each year—$16.8 billion in employee productivity—mental health remains a taboo subject.
(Harvard Business Review)   

Viewpoint: Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace 

Companies are reassessing their behavioral health needs and are looking to their health care partners for creative, integrated and holistic solutions. Many are turning to employee assistance programs for help.
(Benefits Pro)  

4 Things to Know About Mental Health at Work 

Kelly Greenwood graduated summa cum laude from Duke University with degrees in psychology and Spanish. She holds a master's degree in business from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, contributes to Forbes magazine and is editor-at-large for Mental Health at Work, a blog on Thrive Global.

She also is someone who has managed generalized anxiety disorder since she was a young girl. It twice led to debilitating depression. She shared four things she wishes she had known earlier in her life about mental health.
(SHRM Online)   

Employers Urged to Find New Ways to Address Workers' Mental Health 

An estimated 8 in 10 workers with a mental health condition don't get treatment because of the shame and stigma associated with it, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. As a result, the pressure is growing on employers to adopt better strategies for dealing with mental health.
(Kaiser Health News)  

Mental Health 

Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and other mental health impairments can rise to the level of disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires employers to make accommodations for workers with such conditions.

This resource center can help employers understand their obligations and address their workers' mental health.
(SHRM Resource Spotlight)

SOURCE: Gurchiek, k. (14 January 2020) "Starbucks Unveils Mental Health Initiatives for Employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/starbucks-unveils-mental-health-initiatives-for-employees.aspx


New drug plan would curb exorbitant pharmaceutical costs

California Governor, Gavin Newsom has proposed a pharmaceutical plan to cut costs of pharmaceutical prescriptions. It was suggested that using low prices obtained by the state, could help other buyers. Read this blog to learn about how California Governor is purposing an attempt to lower costs for California residents.


California’s governor unveiled plans to establish a state-run generic-drug wholesaler, as part of a series of measures that together would constitute one of the furthest-reaching attempts to curb pharmaceutical costs in the U.S.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday also proposed creating a single market that would allow drug buyers to pool their bargaining power to drive down costs. And Newsom suggested using low prices obtained by the state’s Medicaid program to aid other buyers, among other steps.

The most populous U.S. state, California has a history of using its economic muscle to try to influence national policy on everything from auto emissions to health care. The drug-pricing proposals, which in some cases appear to require new law, are likely to be opposed by a pharmaceutical industry that has formidable economic and legal wherewithal of its own.

“These nation-leading reforms seek to put consumers back in the driver seat and lower health care costs for every Californian,” Newsom, a Democrat, said in a statement.

The plans, released as part of the state’s proposed 2020-2021 budget, are almost certain to face substantial practical, political and legal hurdles. For example, the proposal to create a state-run drug label would rely on drug companies to supply inventory on a contract basis.

Companies could balk at that notion if it stands to further compress their margins. Major generic manufacturers, including Mylan NV and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, have struggled to turn a profit on some widely used medications. For higher-cost generic drugs, there can be few competing manufacturers with the licenses to produce the pills for the U.S. market.

Creating a single buying pool could run into difficulties, as well. Newsom’s proposal says state programs, health insurers and private employers would band together as a sole buyer, and that drugmakers would have to offer their products at one price to the entire market.

But that could limit patient access to medications if pricing disputes lead drug companies to withhold their products. In Europe, negotiations between drugmakers and government health programs have resulted in some expensive drugs not being available, one of the trade-offs for the continent’s typically lower costs. It’s unclear if California could successfully hold together a large pool of independent buyers in the face of pressure from patients unable to access treatments.

SOURCE: Bloomberg News (09 January 2020) "New drug plan would curb exorbitant pharmaceutical costs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from benefitnews.com/articles/new-c-a-drug-plan-would-curb-exorbitant-pharmaceutical-costs


Improving your employee experience during open enrollment

Is your company open enrollment hosted on an online platform? Employers often struggle with employee participation during the open enrollment season. Hosting enrollments online is one way to increase employee participation this year. Read on for more tips to help ease this open enrollment season.d


For HR professionals, open enrollment is one of the most stressful and demanding times of the year. Many employers struggle with employee participation and expensive, time-consuming roll-outs. They also have to provide resources to help employees make the right plan selections for themselves and their families. As we head into another open enrollment season, consider these tips to ease the process.

Switch your open enrollments to online platforms.

If you’re still relying on paper enrollment forms, you are likely spending more money and time than you need to in pursuit of your manual work process and its many inconsistencies. Online platforms provide optimum efficiency, accuracy and convenience for your workforce, offering employee self-service options that encourage employees to take initiative in selecting the best plan for their situation. Not only will members of your workforce benefit from the convenience of being able to explore their options on their own time, but you’ll be able to offer them multi-lingual enrollment materials and have more time to assist them than ever before.

Prioritize and diversify communication.

One of the top ways to ensure a smooth open enrollment period is to use multiple communication channels, including frequent reminders regarding open enrollment deadlines. Without consistent outreach on the part of your HR officers and general managers, you will likely find yourself hunting people down to meet your enrollment and extension deadlines. Using an online self-service portal as well as traditional in-person meetings allow you to remind your employees of critical dates and changes as enrollment closes in.

The robust benefits administration system you choose should offer enrollment tracking and reporting features so you can see at a glance who still needs to begin open enrollment, who has left enrollment documents incomplete, who has made changes to their benefits (such as adding a dependent) and more. You can arrange for the system to send automatic reminders to signal the employee that further actions are needed. Providing multiple reminders will improve participation and the completion of on-time enrollments.

Help employees choose the best health plan for their situation.

In order to have the most successful open enrollment period possible, educating your employees on the different plan options available will go a long towards ensuring employee satisfaction. Studies have shown that most employees don’t have the necessary understanding of terms like “deductible” and “coinsurance,” let alone the tools to know which plan is best for their individual needs. Incorporating at-a-glance comparison tools and charts into your online or print enrollment materials can help employees make the most informed decision possible. It can also be helpful to provide educational materials like videos and simplified plan charts or cost calculators.

Keep Up with Benefit Trends and Voluntary Offerings.

Given the current labor shortage and competitive talent market, you’ll want to make sure your company is up to speed on which new benefits your competitors are looking to add, as well as which ones are appealing to specific roles, locations or generations within potential candidates from your hiring pool.

Voluntary benefits, for example, are playing an increasingly important role in employee benefits portfolios and they don’t cost you anything. Some of the most popular voluntary benefits right now include identity theft protection, pet insurance, long term care insurance and critical illness protection. If you aren’t currently offering these types of additional benefits, they could be a cost-effective way to boost employee morale, increase participation in enrollment and attract more workers to your business.

SOURCE: Smith, M. (2 December 2019) "Improving your employee experience during open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/improving-your-employee-experience-during-open-enrollment


4 Things to Know About Mental Health at Work

Did you know: 80 percent of workers will not seek help for mental health issues because of the associated shame and stigma. Read this blog post from SHRM for four things employees and employers should know about mental health in the workplace.


Kelly Greenwood graduated summa cum laude from Duke University with degrees in psychology and Spanish. She holds a master's degree in business from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, contributes to Forbes magazine and is editor-at-large for Mental Health at Work, a blog on Thrive Global.

She also is someone who has managed generalized anxiety disorder since she was a young girl. It twice led to debilitating depression. During a Smart Stage presentation at the recent Society for Human Resource Management Inclusion 2019 event in New Orleans, she discussed how someone can be a high-performing individual and still contend with mental health issues.

Greenwood had to take a leave of absence after experiencing a perfect storm at work—a new job in an understaffed, dysfunctional environment; an inflexible schedule that caused her to miss therapy sessions; and a change in her medication. When it became clear her performance had deteriorated, she was forced to disclose her condition to her manager.

She took a three-month leave, but that only fueled her anxiety. Still in her 30s, she worried about whether she would be able to return to work and feared her career was over. It wasn't. She went on to join the executive team of a nonprofit and in 2017 founded Mind Share Partners, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that offers corporate training and advising on mental health.

Greenwood shared the following four things she wishes she had known earlier in her life about mental health:

  1. Mental health is a spectrum. "Hardly anybody is 100 percent mentally healthy" all the time, she said. "We all go back and forth on this spectrum throughout the rest of our lives." The grief a person experiences over the loss of a loved one, for example, affects that person's mental health. "You can be successful and have a mental health condition," Greenwood said, noting that a study Mind Share Partner conducted with Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that mental health symptoms are equally prevalent across seniority levels within companies, all the way up to the C-suite.
  2. You cannot tell a person's mental condition by his or her behavior. "It's never your job," she told managers and other workplace leaders, "to diagnose or gather [information] or assume what's going on. Our goal at work is not to be clinicians, but to create a supportive environment."
  3. Mental health conditions and symptoms, including suicidal thoughts, are common. Greenwood said the Mind Share Partners/HBR study found that 60 percent of 1,500 people surveyed online in March and April said they had a mental health symptom: feeling anxious, sad or numb or experiencing a loss of interest or pleasure in most activities for at least two weeks. National Institutes of Health research suggests that up to 80 percent of people will manage a diagnosable mental health condition in their lifetime. "They may not know it," Greenwood said. "It may be a moment in time because of a job loss or grief over a death. That means mental health affects every conference call, every team meeting. It is the next frontier of diversity and inclusion."
  4. Workplace culture can reinforce the stigma around mental health issues. And so, 80 percent of workers will not seek help because of the associated shame and stigma. If they do, they cite a different reason, such as a headache or upset stomach, rather than admit they are taking time off because of stress. That is leading to what Greenwood calls a "huge retention issue," with 50 percent of Millennials and 75 percent of Generation Z saying they left a job—voluntarily and involuntarily—because of a mental health challenge. She advised leaders to have "courageous conversations" with those they work with. Even simply engaging in a discussion about having to deal with a child's tantrum can be powerful.

"There is so much research," she said, "about the power of vulnerability in leadership."

SOURCE: Gurchiek, K. (12 November 2019) "4 Things to Know About Mental Health at Work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/4-things-to-know-about-mental-health-at-work.aspx


Working on Wellness: 5 Tips to Help You Prioritize Your Health

When it comes to personal wellness, it doesn't have to be one or the other when choosing health versus work. Read this blog post for five tips on prioritizing personal health and wellness.


Wellness is such a buzzword these days. It seems like everyone is talking about it, and with good reason. Taking care of yourself needs to be a top priority in your life, but that doesn’t mean it's easy. I know that you may feel stressed and overwhelmed with work, family, friends, or other commitments, but at the end of the day, your health should be your most prized commodity. Most people understand the importance of caring for their health, but cite numerous reasons why they just don’t have the time – namely, work. However, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can prioritize your well-being and succeed in the office. In fact, my theory is that an individual's personal wellness must be a top priority in order to achieve one's major corporate goals. Not only do I teach this method, but I live it too. Every. Single. Day.

Here are my 5 tips that will help you prioritize your health while thriving in the corporate world.

Find Your Passion

Deciding that you are going to start focusing on wellness is usually not difficult. However, when you are dreading the time you have set aside to go to the gym, that’s when it gets hard. It’s challenging to motivate yourself to do an activity that you despise doing, and it's even harder to keep it up. This is why it is important to find a task that you enjoy doing within the realm of wellness possibilities. Do you like lifting weights or doing aerobic exercises? Maybe swimming, yoga, or hiking is a better fit for you. There are a multitude of possibilities and something for everyone.

Personally, I’m a runner. I participate in ongoing marathons and IRONMAN 70.3 competitions across the globe. Over the next few months, I will embark on several major races. In September, I will be running a Marathon in Capetown, South Africa. The following month, I am going back for my second year of running 55 Miles through the Serengeti in Africa. To keep the momentum going, in November, I will be running in the TCS New York City Marathon. And then in December, I will be completing an IRONMAN 70.3 Cartagena in Colombia. I did not always compete in these types of races, but I worked up to it through rigorous training sessions. Embracing the open terrain while enjoying some time alone with my thoughts as I run is incredible.

Be Mindful of Your Time

The best advice I can give to those who worry that they don’t have enough time to exercise is to be aware of how you are using your time. Are you using your time efficiently to the fullest potential? Is there anything you can cut or shorten the time you devote to? Get creative. For example, I actually develop many of my business strategies while working out. I am able to let my mind ruminate about work while my body focuses on my wellness. Make time to move. Even if it’s just a little bit every day. Try taking a ten-minute break and going on a walk. Afterward, you’ll feel great and will probably be more productive too. The email can wait; your health cannot.

Follow a Routine

Consciously making the effort to prioritize your wellness isn’t always easy. This is why it is important to follow your routine. Stopping for even a few days makes it hard to get back into it again, and restarting again after a break is always the hardest part. On the other hand, sticking to a routine helps working out feel natural. It becomes a part of your day, an activity that happens somewhere in between waking up in the morning and falling asleep at night. Schedule your fitness into your calendar. If it’s on the calendar, it is real – just like that phone call or meeting you have scheduled after your workout. Setting aside time for your health is like making a promise to yourself to care about your well-being. Honor that promise.

Transfer Your Skills

It’s important to remember that working out is not just good for your body. Exercise also helps develop valuable skills that you can transfer to the workplace. I have completed many races this year, all of which help me to stay focused in my personal life and in the office. Following a schedule and setting goals when training and competing fosters an organized and centered mind when I am at work. I can focus on what I want to execute and achieve. The cadence of training is very similar to the way that I operate in the corporate landscape. Similarly, I attribute many of my most prized leadership qualities – including motivation, perseverance, and a stellar ability to navigate the daily struggle of balance – to an active and healthy lifestyle that is the impetus for day-to-day accomplishment. I first learned how to motivate myself to prioritize my well-being and how to persevere when training becomes a challenge. I worked to find a balance that fits my lifestyle. Then I was able to transfer those skills that I learned to helping others. After all, if you cannot take care of yourself, you cannot take care of your team.

Reward Yourself

Choose a fitness goal and obtain it, whether it's running a 5K or something completely different. Every time you train, you'll become stronger. Then, reward yourself when you make progress, whether it’s with a new outfit, new running shoes, or a pedicure that you have been dying to have. You worked hard for a goal and accomplished it, so treat yourself! Likewise, don’t forget the little victories. Be proud of yourself for training each day and be content with what you achieved. You are setting yourself up to be a happier and healthier you—and that is no small thing. This translates to the business side of things as well, the sense of completion.

Prioritizing your health may seem like something that is out of reach for you, simply because it just doesn’t fit into your schedule. But that’s not necessarily the case. If you have the right mindset going in and make a conscious effort, you can focus on both your wellness and corporate life. And you'll be thankful you did!

SOURCE: Vetere, R. (Accessed 1 November 2019) "Working on Wellness: 5 Tips to Help You Prioritize Your Health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com/article/five-tips-to-prioritize-health


Employers can help employees catch some Z's with new wellness benefit

Employers are starting to offer employee benefits that are focused on a long-ignored but crucial aspect of employee health - sleep. Read this blog post to learn more about this new wellness benefit.


Employers are taking a greater interest in employees’ emotional and physical well-being by offering specialized programs focused on mental health, weight loss, financial health, and now one long-ignored yet crucial aspect of health — sleep.

Beddr, a sleep health technology company, has launched a comprehensive, personalized solution to identify and treat the root causes of chronic sleep issues, though a voluntary benefits platform. The program leverages clinical data captured from Beddr’s app that uses an optical sensor and accelerometer to measure blood oxygen levels, stopped breathing events, heart rate, sleep position and time in bed.

About 45% of the world’s population has chronic sleep issues, according to a study in the Journal of Sleep Research. Poor sleep costs U.S. employers an estimated $411 billion each year, according to a report from Rand.

Employees using the Beddr benefit will have access to an expert-led sleep coaching program and a nationwide network of sleep physicians to provide targeted treatment options to help employees improve their sleep health. The program has the potential to save an employer up to $5,700 per employee, per year in productivity improvements, lower healthcare costs and decrease accident rates, Beddr says.

“Sleep is the foundation to every employee’s mental and physical health. High quality sleep has been shown to both reduce healthcare costs as well as improve productivity, but most employers haven’t found a comprehensive program that addresses the primary root causes of sleep issues and that benefits their entire workforce,” says Michael Kisch, CEO of Beddr. “We have seen a dramatic increase among our users relative to the overall population in their understanding of their sleep health and how their choices impact their overall sleep quality.”

Beddr partners with benefits teams to design a customized program specific to each employer and their employees. The company developed a screening process that makes it easy for an employer to engage their employee base, while providing Beddr the ability to identify employees who are a good match for the program.

In some cases, the company heavily subsidizes the cost of the benefit to employees, while in others it is the full responsibility of the employee. In the latter instance, the company negotiates a discount that is passed on to all participating employees. That discounted price is less than what an employee would pay to purchase the program directly from Beddr.

“Beddr was founded on the belief that the most important thing a person can do to improve their physical and mental health is to get consistent, high-quality sleep,” Kisch says. “We see employers as natural partners in fulfilling this mission because the goals of a company and its management are highly aligned with the goals of our program — to improve the health and productivity of employees. ”

SOURCE: Shiavo, A. (23 October 2019) "Employers can help employees catch some Z's with new wellness benefit" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/beddr-app-helps-employees-get-more-sleep


Getting digital transformation in healthcare on the fast track

Outdated protocols, overextended workforces and hundreds of wasted hours in administrative tasks are just a few of the opportunities for a digital overhaul in the healthcare industry. There are tremendous opportunities for digital transformation in the healthcare industry. Read this blog post to learn more.


At first glance, the healthcare field seems to be a goldmine for digital innovation. An overextended workforce, outdated protocols, hundreds of wasted hours in administrative tasks, a patient population that is wide open to digital solutions, a multitude of inefficiencies and redundancies — the opportunities for digital overhaul in healthcare are myriad.

Yet every year the graveyard of digital health tools gets more crowded as innovators fail to overcome healthcare’s uniquely complex barriers to their adoption.

Goldmine and graveyard, the tremendous opportunities for digital transformation in healthcare and the seemingly insurmountable barriers to its adoption are two sides of a coin. They spring from the same root causes: the lack of financial incentives to implement digital solutions; the high stakes that necessitate a cautious approach; and most significantly, providers’ seeming unwillingness to abandon proven workflows or sunk costs to take a chance on a disruptive solution.

This last cause is often the greatest barrier to getting innovation through the door.

Clinicians are the primary end-users of digital health, and a clinical champion can make all the difference in whether a solution is adopted. But in the face of the physician shortage in the United States, doctors don’t have time to trade out their proven workflows to take a risk on a solution that may or may not be successful, and will almost certainly take time to learn and implement into their practice. The majority of providers are already at capacity — 80% have no time to see more patients or take on more duties. Thus what seems like an unwillingness to change is often an inability to find the time to change.

Many physicians agree that digital tools and solutions are worthwhile in theory, but with an average workload of 40-60 hours a week, they don’t have the space in their schedules to evaluate these solutions. As it is, the amount of patients that a physician sees in a day (the most rewarding part of their jobs, according to 80% of doctors) has been reduced in recent years to make time for the mountains of non-clinical paperwork and administrative duties that they are responsible for.

Because of their packed schedules, physicians often default to the status quo for sanity’s sake: 40% of physicians see up to 20 patients per day, with another 40% seeing more (anywhere from 21 to over 70); and all spend almost a quarter of their day on administrative duties like inputting data into EMRs. If physicians do have a chance to sit down with innovators, it’s in the margins of their day — instead of an exciting opportunity for change, a pitch-meeting with an innovator represents another 15 minutes they have to take from their family at the end of a long day, an extra 10 minutes of sleep lost in the morning to get into the office early, the interruption of the small respite of a lunch break.

It’s no surprise that in a 2018 survey conducted by the Physician’s Foundation, 89% of physicians polled felt that they had somewhat to very little influence on changes in healthcare — they have no time to research chances to optimize their practice, and thus essentially no voice in its improvement. Yet only a physician has the kind of intimate knowledge of his or her needs and workflow that can drive effective innovations. Perhaps digital innovations have failed to take hold because the people making decisions around tools to help doctors are not doctors.

If we are going to break the barriers to digital transformation in healthcare, we need to expect physicians to think critically about how their job needs to evolve. And no one can do this without time to reflect on and evaluate the status quo. In the corporate world, executives and other employees are encouraged to do research, to take time in their schedules for professional development. Many tech giants — most famously Google, but also Facebook, Linkedin, Apple, and others — employ the 20% time model, where roughly one-fifth of an employee’s schedule is focused on personal side projects (those side projects have turned into Gmail, Google Maps, Twitter, Slack, and Groupon, to name a few). This is the model that we need to embrace in the healthcare system.

We need to look past the excuse that “doctors are traditionally conservative” and that is why innovation is dead in the water. While that narrative may have explained why cutting edge technology is not more readily adopted by physicians, there are other problems that it doesn’t account for — like why rates of compliance for new protocols and best practices are abysmally low. Those symptoms should point us to a different solution, a solution we can do something about. Not “doctors need to get with the times” but doctors need to get some time.

One solution is to advocate for a higher price per consultation that can eliminate the existential need to pack daily schedules with patient appointments. Under the current model, doctors are incentivized to take as many appointments as possible, double — even triple — booking slots to squeeze as much productivity out of current rates of reimbursement. But with increased reimbursement per consultation, physicians can more easily cover the cost of their salaries for their employers, which can then allow providers to take more time out of the clinic and in the office, thinking critically about their roles and how to improve their delivery of care.

Of course, this begs the question — who pays? The ones who stand to benefit most, of course. Giving physicians more time to develop professionally and research solutions is in the best interest of those who take on the burden of health costs, health insurance providers and the government (ie, taxpayers). Patient outcomes are almost guaranteed to improve when physicians have the time to stay up to date on best practices, and this directly reduces the burden of cost on those stakeholders.

Physician salaries represent a very small part of healthcare costs, paling in comparison to drugs and diagnostic care. If more money was paid to the physician on the front end to develop and implement more preventative solutions — by payers or government subsidies — the cost savings would increase exponentially, making an increase in physician salary an astute business move as well as one that can have a dramatic impact on patients’ lives.

SOURCE: Pablo Segura, J. (11 October 2019) "Getting digital transformation in healthcare on the fast track" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/getting-digital-transformation-in-healthcare-on-the-fast-track


Why mental health in the workplace matters — and what you can do about it

Did you know: Nearly two-thirds of missed workdays can be attributed to mental health conditions. Workplace mental health issues are more prevalent than many may think. Read this blog post to learn more about mental health in the workplace and what you can do about it.


What keeps your employees from showing up for work every day: Flu? Bad back? Car trouble?

Not if your workforce is typical of U.S. employees. The fact is, nearly two-thirds of missed workdays can be attributed to mental health conditions.

Mental health issues in the workplace are much more prevalent — and more serious — than you might think — and Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 6–12) is a great time to think about it. Mental illness is one of the top causes of worker disability in this country, and another insurance company's recent research with employers and employees on mental health in the workplace showed 62% of employees felt mentally unwell at some time in the past year. Even more startling: Among those diagnosed with a mental health issue, 42% have come to work with suicidal feelings.

This type of presenteeism — where employees try to battle through despite their symptoms — can affect the productivity, work quality and morale of your entire team. Not only are those suffering less effective, their co-workers are likely confused and concerned about the behaviors they’re seeing.

The good news is there’s a lot you and your company can do to help.

Mental illness can cover a wide range of conditions. Anxiety disorders are the most common, affecting 40 million adults. They’re highly treatable, yet only 37% of those suffering receive treatment.

Depression — one of several mood disorders that also include seasonal affective disorder and bipolar disorder — is a leading cause of disability worldwide. About 16 million people live with major depression.

But mental health concerns aren’t limited to employees who’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness. Health, finances, personal family relationships, and job satisfaction are all triggers that affect workers’ mental well-being, according to another insurance company’s survey. Even supposedly “happy” events — getting married, having a baby — can cause tremendous stress.

Many employers — hopefully, your company is one — offer mental health resources to their employees to better handle illness and everyday stresses. These can include medical care, employee assistance programs, counseling referrals, and financial and legal counseling.

So far, so good. The problem, however, is a major gap between what HR professionals say they offer and what resources employees are aware of.

For example, 93% of employers in another insurance company’s survey say they offer an EAP — but only 38% of employees realize they have this benefit. Similarly, 90% of employers say their company medical plan includes mental health resources, but only 47% of employees know that. And a quarter of employees surveyed say they’re not aware of any mental health resources at all.

One reason for the lack of understanding about mental well-being resources is the social stigma attached to mental health, and it’s not just among workers: another insurance company’s survey showed 61% of employees feel there’s a stigma in workplace, and 51% of HR professionals agree. And nearly half of both groups say the stigma has stayed the same or gotten worse in the last five years, despite national public campaigns to normalize the conversation about mental wellness.

Most employees (81%) say the stigma associated with mental health issues prevents employees from seeking help. Many of those struggling keep their issues secret for fear of discrimination, reputational problems or job loss. Sadly, more than a quarter don’t disclose their mental issue to their employer because they’re ashamed.

What you can do to help
There are many ways you and your company can open the conversation about mental well-being and provide the resources your employees need to be productive and effective.

  • Communicate with your workforce regularly about mental health resources available to them. Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 6–12) and World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10) offer great opportunities to talk about the topic. Give these resources the same promotion as your other benefits.
  • Encourage senior leaders to participate in the conversation about mental well-being. Showing top-down support helps create a more open, accepting environment.
  • Educate managers about symptoms of mental health issues and how to accommodate employees who need help.
  • Consider the full range of your benefits, beyond health care. For example, financial stress is one of the top factors affecting mental well-being. If you don’t already, consider offering financial planning services or counseling to help employees better plan for their future needs. Benefits such as disability insurance and life insurance — even voluntary coverage that employees pay for themselves — can provide peace of mind and help ease a financial burden during a stressful time.
  • Offer flexible work schedules, including work-at-home arrangements to help employees create better work-life balance.
  • Learn more about mental health issues and solutions, including more tips and best practices for your workplace. Another insurance company’s recent Mental Health Report is a good place to start.

SOURCE: Jackson, M. (7 October 2019) "Why mental health in the workplace matters — and what you can do about it" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/why-mental-health-in-the-workplace-matters


The Open Enrollment Checklist: Are You Poised for a Successful Season

Are you prepared for open enrollment? According to a recent survey, 56 percent of U.S. adults with employer-sponsored health benefits said health coverage satisfaction is a key factor in deciding whether they should leave their current job. Read this blog post from Employee Benefit News to learn more. 


It’s here… the moment we’ve all been waiting for — or, in the case of HR, preparing for (at least we’d hope). That’s right, open enrollment season has arrived.

Open enrollment is a major opportunity for HR to contribute to their company’s performance — both in terms of healthcare savings and employee productivity. The better employees understand their benefits, the more likely they are to make cost-conscious decisions about their plan choices and their healthcare — saving themselves, and their employers, money. Not only that, but a recent survey found that 56% of U.S. adults with employer-sponsored health benefits said that whether or not they like their health coverage is a key factor in deciding to stay at their current job. And, interestingly, satisfaction with benefits and benefits communications have a tremendous impact on job satisfaction and engagement.

Not sure you’ve done everything you could to turn this annual necessity into a true financial, educational game-changer for your organizations? Ask yourself, did you:

Take stock of last year’s enrollment? Before diving into enrollment for 2020, employers should have taken stock of how the company fared last year. Post-mortem meetings with the enrollment team (along with key internal and external stakeholders) to assess what went well (or didn’t) can ensure the coming enrollment season runs smoothly.

In particular, identify the most time-consuming tasks and discuss how they could be streamlined in the future. Second, determine what questions employees asked the most about last year — and be prepared to answer them again this year. Third, consider whether the company achieved its overall open enrollment goals, and what contributed to those results. By addressing the peaks and pitfalls of last year’s season, HR should have a head start on planning for 2020.

Plan your communications strategy?With a defined approach to open enrollment in place, HR at this point should have developed an organized, well-communicated strategy to keep employees informed about their plan options at enrollment and throughout the year. Have you:

· Defined corporate objectives and how to measure success? · Assessed what messages to share with employees, especially anything that is changing — such as adding or eliminating plans or changing vendors? · Determined what information is best delivered in print (e.g. newsletters, posters, postcards, enrollment guides), online or in person through managers or one-on-one enrollment support? Adopting a multi-channel engagement strategy will ensure key messages reach the intended audience(s).

Make sure employees understand the deadline and process for enrolling — and the implications of missing the enrollment window. They must understand whether their existing coverage will roll over, if they’ll default to a specific plan and/or level of coverage (perhaps different from what they currently have), or end up with no coverage at all.

Take a pro-active approach to open enrollment? Ninety percent of employees report that they roll over their same health plan year over year — though this doesn’t indicate overwhelming plan satisfaction. More typically, it’s because they’re intimidated about what they don’t know, are confused about their choices or just don’t care. Employees don’t have the information they need, and aren’t likely to seek it out on their own.

Offering — or even requiring — one-on-one meetings with benefit experts during open enrollment provides a forum for employees to discuss their individual needs and ensure they are selecting the right coverage. These services — often available through brokers or outside engagement firms — provide employees with a safe space to ask specific questions about their health conditions, family history and potential life changes that could affect their insurance needs. This is the ideal time to remind employees that there is no one-size-fits-all plan, and that the least expensive plan on paper may not, ultimately, be the most cost-effective plan over time.

Revisit your SPD? The document we all love to hate, summary plan descriptions (SPDs) remain the best source for information about how each plan works, what it covers and the participant’s rights and responsibilities under that plan.

Having an SPD that is current, appealing (or at least not off-putting) and easy to access can answer many employee questions before they find their way to HR. Simple fixes like adding charts, callout boxes or icons can make your SPDs easier to navigate. Many employers are taking it a step further and offering interactive SPDs, which include robust search functionality and links to definitions, important forms, modeling tools and calculators, vendor sites and even short video clips. By making SPDs digital and interactive, employers can provide employees access to important information about their coverage 24/7 via any device. And, by adding a data analytics component, HR can track which sections employees visit most and pinpoint knowledge gaps about their benefit options to enhance understanding and drive increased benefits usage.

Account for all demographics? With all the focus on today’s multigenerational workforce, it’s important to remember that there’s more to “demographics” than age and gender. Worksite (office vs. shop floor vs. construction site vs. road warrior) can have a tremendous impact on the communications channels you use and when you use them.

And while some “generational generalizations” hold true — many older workers prefer paper, and most young people prefer mobile communication channels — it’s more important to look at employee cohorts from the perspective of differing priorities (planning for retirement vs. retiring student debt), different levels of education and healthcare literacy, and experience with choosing and using benefits. Employees just starting their careers are likely to need more support and different information than a more seasoned worker who’s had years of experience with the enrollment process. Consider the most effective ways to engage the different demographics of your population to gain their attention and interest in choosing the right plan for them.

Equip employees for smart healthcare choices year-round? For most employees, becoming an educated healthcare consumer is a work in progress — which is why many employers offer year-round resources to support smart healthcare choices. That said, these resources are often under-utilized because employees don’t know they exist.

Open enrollment is the perfect time to spread the word about these programs and address the key question for employees: “What’s in it for me?” For example, many employers offer transparency services, which enable employees to research the potential cost of care and compare prices across several providers in their area.

Other resources, such as benefits advocates, can answer questions from employees in real time — including where to get care, how to get a second opinion and what the doctor’s instructions really mean. When used in conjunction, transparency and advocacy services can lower out-of-pocket spending for the employee and reduce costs for the employer. Does your open enrollment communications strategy highlight that these resources exist, outline how they work and explain how they benefit the employee?

What if open enrollment is only a week away and you haven’t taken most, if any, of these steps? It’s not too early to start your to-do list for next year — perhaps by first tackling your SPD and drafting that communications plan. Most importantly, get that post-mortem meeting on the schedule now, while the lessons learned from this year’s open enrollment are still fresh.

SOURCE: Buckey, K. (3 October 2019) "The Open enrollment checklist: Are you Poised for a successful season" (Web Blog Post) https://www.benefitnews.com/list/the-employers-open-enrollment-checklist


‘Eye’ spy a savings opportunity for health and vision benefits

The National Eye Institute reported that 61 million adults are at high risk for serious vision loss. Conventionally, vision benefits were offered as an elective, with coverage is focusing on vision tests or discounts for corrective eyewear. Read the following blog post to learn more about vision benefits.


Sixty-one million adults are at high risk for serious vision loss, according to the National Eye Institute, but most U.S. employers don’t include eye care as part of their benefits package. Vision benefits have traditionally been offered as an elective, where coverage is focused on vision tests or discounts for corrective eyewear.

This often results in inadequate coverage for employees and dependents, which can result in unrecognized and untreated issues that impact employee health and productivity, as well as an employer’s bottom line.

Comprehensive eye exams are recommended for adults under the age of 65 at least every two years, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). These exams are the only way a doctor can detect signs and symptoms of serious conditions without cutting into or scanning body parts.

The total economic burden of eye disorders and vision loss in the U.S. was $139 billion in 2013, which includes $65 billion in direct medical costs strictly due to eye disorders and low vision. Loss of vision among workers results in $48 billion in lost productivity per year.

When it comes to benefit management priorities employers often focus more on chronic condition management. Yet, eye health is often linked to common chronic conditions including diabetes and hypertension. Without early detection of eye and vision health issues, employees cannot properly manage these conditions. Delaying medical treatment can lead to increased absenteeism and reduced productivity, eventually resulting in treatment that comes too late, and at a much higher price tag for employers, employees and family members.

About 68% of Americans with diabetes have been diagnosed with eye complications, many of which could have been prevented through a comprehensive eye exam. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adults, according to the National Institutes of Health. Its prevalence is increasing as one in 10 people worldwide may be affected by 2040, according to research from the International Diabetes Federation.

Nearly half of Americans don’t know that diabetic eye diseases have visible symptoms, according to a 2018 AOA survey. More than one-third of respondents didn’t know a comprehensive eye exam is the only way to determine if a person’s diabetes will cause blindness. These exams, considered the gold standard in clinical vision care, should be covered under the employees’ medical benefits.

Three years ago the Midwest Business Group on Health began a collaboration with the AOA to better understand how employers think about and implement eye health and vision benefits. As part of this partnership, a no-cost eye care benefits toolkit was developed to support employers in evaluating their current eye health and vision care benefits to:

  • Understand the importance of early detection so that employees can effectively manage chronic and more serious conditions
  • Recognize how to integrate primary and preventive eye care into an overall medical benefit design
  • Educate employees on the importance of periodic eye examinations

It’s important that employers better understand the impact of vision care benefits, including lower costs, better employee health, improved job satisfaction, better employee quality of life, and work productivity.

SOURCE: Larson, C. (20 September 2019) "‘Eye’ spy a savings opportunity for health and vision benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/vision-loss-resulting-in-billions-in-lost-productivity