What to Do When Scared Workers Don’t Report to Work Due to COVID-19

Throughout the globe, many are terrified of contracting the communicable disease, the coronavirus. With this being said, many essential workers are refusing to go to work with that fear in their minds. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


Some essential workers are refusing to come to work out of fear of contracting the coronavirus. Their employers must weigh the employees' legal rights and understandable health concerns with the organizations' business needs. It can be a tough balancing act.

"A good first step for an employer to respond to an essential worker who's expressing fears of returning to work is to actively listen to the employee and have a conversation," said Brian McGinnis, an attorney with Fox Rothschild in Philadelphia. "What are their specific concerns? Are they reasonable?"

McGinnis said that employers should consider whether it already has addressed those concerns or if additional steps are needed. Often, having a conversation with the employee "will avoid an unneeded escalation," he said.

Employees' Legal Rights

What if that doesn't work? Tread cautiously, as employees have many legal protections.

An employer usually can discipline workers for violating its attendance policy. But there are exceptions to that rule, noted Robin Samuel, an attorney with Baker McKenzie in Los Angeles. Putting hesitant employees on leave may be a better choice than firing them.

Christine Snyder, an attorney with Tucker Ellis in Cleveland, cautioned, "If an employer permits employees to use vacation or PTO [paid time off] for leave, it may soon find itself without a workforce sufficient to maintain operations. Therefore, an employer may want to rely upon the terms of its existing time-off policy, which typically requires approval to use vacation or PTO, to require that leave for this reason be unpaid."

OSH Act

Employees can refuse to work if they reasonably believe they are in imminent danger, according to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. They must have a reasonable belief that there is a threat of death or serious physical harm likely to occur immediately or within a short period for this protection to apply.

Samuel explained that an employee can refuse to come to work if:

  • The employee has a specific fear of infection that is based on fact—not just a generalized fear of contracting COVID-19 infection in the workplace.
  • The employer cannot address the employee's specific fear in a manner designed to ensure a safe working environment.

NLRA

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) grants employees at unionized and nonunionized employers the right to join together to engage in protected concerted activity. Employees who assert such rights, including by joining together to refuse to work in unsafe conditions, are generally protected from discipline, Samuel noted.

"That said, the refusal must be reasonable and based on a good-faith belief that working conditions are unsafe," said Bret Cohen, an attorney with Nelson Mullins in Boston.

ADA

Employers should accommodate employees who request altered worksite arrangements, remote work or time off from work due to underlying medical conditions that may put them at greater risk from COVID-19, Samuel said.

The EEOC's guidance on COVID-19 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) notes that accommodations may include changes to the work environment to reduce contact with others, such as using Plexiglas separators or other barriers between workstations.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, unlike the ADA, does not have a reasonable-accommodation requirement, pointed out Isaac Mamaysky, an attorney with Potomac Law Group in New York City. Nonetheless, he "would encourage employers to be flexible in response to leave requests from vulnerable employees," such as older essential workers, as the right thing to do and to bolster employee relations.

FFCRA

If a health care provider advises an employee to self-quarantine because the employee is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the employee may be eligible for paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), Cohen noted. The FFCRA applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees, and the quarantine must prevent the employee from working or teleworking.

FFCRA regulations permit employers to require documentation for paid sick leave, noted John Hargrove, an attorney with Bradley in Birmingham, Ala.

Employers may relax documentation requirements due to the difficulty some employees could have obtaining access to medical providers during the pandemic and to encourage ill employees to stay away from work, said Pankit Doshi, an attorney with McDermott Will & Emery in San Francisco.

Hazard Pay

Although not currently mandated by federal law, hazard pay—extra pay for doing dangerous work—might be appropriate for an employer to offer to essential workers, McGinnis said.

If hazard pay is offered, similarly situated employees should be treated the same, he said. Otherwise, the employer risks facing a discrimination claim.

Andrew Turnbull, an attorney with Morrison & Foerster in McLean, Va., noted that companies with multistate operations may have legitimate reasons for offering hazard pay to employees working at locations with a high risk of exposure and not where the risk is minimal.

Hazard pay might be a good choice for public-facing jobs, where employees may not be able to observe social distancing, said Román Hernández, an attorney with Troutman Sanders in Portland, Ore.

Some localities require hazard pay in some circumstances, Doshi noted. These localities include Augusta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., and Kanawha County, W.Va.

Inform and Protect Workers

Lindsay Ryan, an attorney with Polsinelli in Los Angeles, said that employers should keep employees apprised of all measures the employer is taking to maintain a safe workplace, consistent with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and local health authorities.

If employers have the means to do so, they should screen employees each day by taking their temperatures and send workers who have fevers home, Snyder said. Alternatively, employers can require employees to take their own temperatures before reporting to work, she added.

"Finally, in light of recent CDC guidance regarding the use of cloth masks to prevent infection, employers should allow employees to wear masks in the workplace and consider providing employees with cloth masks if they are able to acquire them," she said.

SOURCE: Smith, A. (20 April 2020) "What to Do When Scared Workers Don’t Report to Work Due to COVID-19" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/coronavirus-when-scared-workers-do-not-report-to-work.aspx

4 Sick-Leave Practices to Avoid During the Coronavirus Pandemic

While the spread of the coronavirus continuously increases, employees are urged to stay at home if they feel any symptoms that could be related to the virus. As employers begin to risk lost productivity due to sick leave, they may be tempted to adopt inflexible standards. Continue reading this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


Government officials are urging sick workers to stay home and employers to have flexible leave policies during the coronavirus pandemic. Don't let business pressures and reliance on past practices lead you to make bad decisions about attendance and leave policies during the public health emergency. Here are four mistakes employment law attorneys said businesses should avoid.

1. Being Inflexible

Many employers are understandably worried about the business impact of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. They might be tempted to adopt inflexible sick time or general attendance policies to keep people coming to the workplace in an effort to maximize productivity, said Marissa Mastroianni, an attorney with Cole Schotz in Hackensack, N.J. "But it's a mistake to adopt an inflexible policy that would pressure a sick worker to come to the office," she noted.

Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, employers have a duty to protect employees against known hazards in the workplace. "If one does not already exist, develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan that can help guide protective actions against COVID-19," OSHA said in its Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.

The guidance noted that workers might be absent because they are sick or caring for sick family members, need to care for children whose schools or day care centers are closed, have at-risk people at home, or are afraid to come to work because they think they'll be exposed to the virus.

"Don't make employees feel pressured to come in when they shouldn't," Mastroianni said. If employees feel sick or think they have been exposed, they should be told to stay home. "We don't want to wait until someone is actually diagnosed."

Under OSHA rules, employees who reasonably believe they are in imminent danger can't be fired for refusing to come to the worksite. But what if an employee just doesn't feel comfortable reporting to work?

"Be more flexible with existing policies," said Susan Kline, an attorney with Faegre Drinker in Indianapolis. Employers should also consider providing additional sick time for instances of actual illness. If someone can't work from home, decide if offering paid time off is possible.

Some employees may take advantage of a flexible leave policy, Mastroianni said, but the employer's potential for liability is significant if employees are required to report to the workplace when they should stay home.

The analysis could be very fact-specific, and employers may want to contact a lawyer before denying time off.

"For a lot of companies, it's a challenge," Kline said, "because they want to be supportive but also don't know how big this is going to get."

2. Applying Policies Inconsistently

"Employers may choose to relax certain procedures set forth in sick-leave policies under extenuating circumstances, such as the current outbreak," said Jason Habinsky, an attorney with Haynes and Boone in New York City. "However, it is critical that employers apply any such modifications uniformly in order to avoid any claims of discrimination or unfair treatment."

For example, if an employer chooses to excuse absences for or to advance paid time off or vacation time to employees as a result of a COVID-19-related illness, the employer must be certain to do the same for all employees who are absent under similar circumstances.

"This requires employers to ensure that all decision-makers are aware of any temporary or permanent modifications to sick-leave policies to maintain consistency," Habinsky said.

3. Ignoring Leave Laws

All sick-leave policies must comply with applicable state and local paid-sick-leave laws, and these laws may require employers to provide leave for COVID-19-related absences. Although employers may be required to provide leave, they should note that many laws allow employees to decide when to use it.

Employers must also avoid forcing a sick employee to perform services while out on leave, Habinsky noted, as this may constitute interference or retaliation under certain leave laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In fact, employers must avoid taking any actions against employees that could be construed as retaliation in violation of the FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and applicable state and local paid-sick-leave laws.

"This could include any form of discipline in response to an employee's use of sick time or request to use sick-leave time," Habinsky said. "Likewise, to the extent employees are performing services while working remotely from home, they must be paid for time worked in accordance with applicable federal and state wage laws consistent with their classification as exempt or nonexempt."

Laura Pasqualone, an attorney with Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie in Phoenix, noted that many paid-sick-leave laws prohibit employers from requiring a doctor's note unless the absence is for at least three days. But requiring a medical certification at all could further burden emergency rooms and urgent care facilities and could expose employees to more germs, she said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged employers not to require employees to provide a doctor's note to verify their COVID-19-related illness or to return to work.

4. Failing to Actively Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home

According to the CDC, employers should actively encourage sick employees to stay home by:

  • Telling employees to stay home if they have symptoms of acute respiratory illness, a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, or signs of a fever. Employees should be fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication before returning to work.
  • Urging employees to notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick for any reason.
  • Ensuring that the company's sick-leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of the policies.
  • Making sure contractors and staffing agencies inform their employees about the importance of staying home when ill and urging business partners not to reprimand workers who need to take sick leave.
  • Not requiring employees with acute respiratory illness to provide a doctor's note to verify their illness or to return to work, since health care providers may be overwhelmed with requests.
  • Maintaining flexible policies that allow employees to stay home to care for a sick relative.

"Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual," the CDC said.

[Visit SHRM's resource page on coronavirus and COVID-19.]

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L. (18 March 2020) "4 Sick-Leave Practices to Avoid During the Coronavirus Pandemic" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/4-Sick-Leave-Practices-to-Avoid-During-the-Coronavirus-Pandemic.aspx


Are You Pushing Yourself Too Hard at Work?

Different seasons can bring in long hours, extensive work, and multiple deadlines that require a lot of attention. Are you pushing yourself too hard? It is important to know the difference between a temporary work crunch and an everyday "norm". Read this blog post for a few key signs of pushing too hard at work.


We all have intense periods at work where multiple deadlines converge, an important deal is closing, or a busy season lasts for a few months. During these times, we may work more intensely or longer hours, but we know that the situation is temporary, and we are able to keep work in perspective. Conversely, approximately 10% of Americans are considered workaholics, defined as having a “stable tendency to compulsively and excessively work.” Whether you are in the midst of a temporary work crunch, or if working all the time is your version of “normal,” there are some key signs that you are pushing yourself too hard. These include:

You aren’t taking time off.  Consistently putting off vacations (including working over major holidays), regularly working all weekend, or dismissing the idea of an occasional day off is a sign that you are burning the candle from both ends. While only 23% of Americans take their full vacation time allotted, studies of elite athletes show that rest periods are precisely what helps them to perform at full throttle when needed, and the same is true for the rest of us. While extended vacations are helpful, smaller breaks, such as taking the weekend to recharge, carving out personal time in the evening, or having an occasional day off can also be an important part of having sufficient downtime to restore your energy and counter the drain of being “always on.”

You deprioritize personal relationships. When we focus exclusively on work for extended periods, it often comes at the expense of our personal relationships. During 2018, 76% of US workers said that workplace stress affected their personal relationships, with workaholics being twice as likely to get divorced. Not taking time to connect with friends and family can also be detrimental to our health. Research shows that strong social relationships are positively correlated to lifespan and that a lack of social relationships has the same effect as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. If you are not taking time outside of work to connect socially with others and have become increasingly isolated, such that social invitations have dried up because others assume you are not available, chances are you are too focused on work.

You’re unable to be fully present outside of work. Another sign you are pushing yourself too hard is that when you do leave the office and take time to be with the people you care about, you are not able to mentally turn work off and be present with them. In 2017, 66% of Americans reported working while on vacation. Jeff, a former client of mine who is a senior partner at his law firm, has never gone on vacation without his laptop. In addition, after making a point to spend time on the weekends to connect with his daughter, he confessed to constantly thinking about work and admitted that he couldn’t help but compulsively check email on his phone every few minutes. While it’s normal to think about work periodically, it becomes a problem when we’re not able to manage our urge to give into work-related distractions, slowly eroding our most important relationships. In his book, Indistractable, author Nir Eyal points out that these distractions make the people we care about “residual beneficiaries” of our attention, meaning they get what is left over, which typically not very much.

You’re neglecting personal care. This is not the occasional skipping a shower when working from home in your sweatpants. Failing to get sufficient sleep, missing meals or existing on a diet of coffee and energy bars, or abandoning exercise or personal hygiene for extended periods are all indications that you are in an unhealthy pattern of behavior. In particular, when we sacrifice sleep for work, we are effectively working against ourselves, as sleep deprivation is shown to impair higher-level cognitive functions including judgment, critical thinking, decision making, and organization. Likewise, skipping exercise puts us at a further disadvantage. Exercise has been shown to lower stress, improve mood and energy levels, and enhance cognitive function, such as memory, concentration, learning, mental stamina, and creativity. As a former investment banker who worked 80- to 100-hour weeks during more intense periods, taking breaks to exercise, eat, and even nap in one of the sleeping rooms provided onsite was critical to maintaining my health, stamina, and productivity.

You see your value as a person completely defined by work. Failure to see a broader perspective, both in terms of how you see your value as a person as well as how you see the importance of work relative to the rest of your life, can be a sign that you are pushing yourself too hard. This myopia is usually driven by deeply held limiting beliefs that create a contracted worldview. Elisa, the head of engineering at a tech company, pushed herself and her team incredibly hard. Her behavior was driven by a belief that “My value is what I produce.” To broaden her perspective, she asked others she respected about what they valued about her, as well as how they valued themselves. She was able to see not only that people valued her for other things like being a good friend, parent, or thought partner, but also that they defined their own value more broadly than their work. Sometimes, it takes a big life event, like the birth of a child or the death of a colleague or loved one, to shake someone out of this restricted perspective. Another way to broaden your perspective in the absence of these events is to have interests outside of work, which can be a good reminder that work isn’t everything.

While we all need to shift into high gear from time to time, keeping work in perspective with the rest of our lives, and taking care of ourselves and our relationships are key to achieving long-term success, both personally and professionally.

SOURCE: Zucker, R. (03 January 2020) "Are You Pushing Yourself Too Hard at Work?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/01/are-you-pushing-yourself-too-hard-at-work


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


Strategies to promote emotional well-being in the workplace

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in five adults experiences some form of mental illness during the year. Research has shown that 90 percent of employees perform better when they address mental health. Read the following article to learn more about how to promote emotional well-being at work.


Employers are taking a greater interest in their employees’ well-being by promoting emotional wellness at work.

Wellness programs are offered by 58% of employers, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management. There are mutual benefits to be reaped by the employer and employees when an organization looks to support its workers’ emotional wellness.

About 90% of employees perform better when they address mental health, but only 41% feel comfortable bringing it up during a check-in, according to data from 15Five, a software company that specializes in gathering employee feedback.

One in five American adults experiences some form of mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. Additionally, one in every 25 adults is living with a serious mental health condition such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or long-term recurrent major depression.

Employees are demanding better mental health benefits from their employers and some of them are listening. In September, coffee giant Starbucks announced that it is taking steps to improve its employees’ mental health with a new long-term initiative that includes an enhanced employee assistance program and mental health training for store managers.

Only 25% of U.S.-based managers, across a variety of industries, have been trained to refer employees to mental health resources, according to SHRM. Employers including PNC and Ocean Spray are also investing in benefits to address mental health.

See Also: 5 reasons employers should offer student loan repayment benefits

By investing in emotional and mental wellness benefits, employers are creating a human-centric workforce that drives retention, productivity and engagement, says Heidi Collins, vice president of people operations at 15Five. A key part in achieving this to create a culture that normalizes conversations about mental health.

Collins spoke with Employee Benefit News about how organizations can provide management with stronger training and more open check-ins that enable them to build trusting relationships with their employees to promote productivity.

How is 15Five creating a culture that is more understanding of employees’ mental health needs?

In so many different practices with our employees, both in our manager and direct report programs, but also as a company as a whole. We are normalizing emotions and emotional wellness in the workplace. What it all has, to begin with, is the strategy behind it and your company’s values. It can’t just be a program that HR is sponsoring and promoting but that’s not really attached to the overall company values.

How can an employer create a more mental-health and wellness-focused workplace?

We do automated weekly check-ins between managers and their direct reports. We have a recognition feature called High5, so that people throughout the organization can highlight their peers, express gratitude and also highlight someone for how they may have impacted their day or a project that went really well. There’s a recognition feature, there’s a review feature, there’s a weekly check-in feature. In the weekly check in we have a poll rating and every week we ask our employees: on a scale of one to five, how did you feel at work this week? So we build into our product the practice of managers checking in with their employees about their feelings and about their emotional and mental well-being. We attempt to create enough psychological safety, trust and openness to vulnerability that employees feel comfortable that if they are having a two out of five weeks, it can be okay to share that with a manager and be able to back it up with the reason why. So for example, an employee might say: This week was a two out of five for me because three projects blew up in our faces and at home my kid is sick and I didn’t get any sleep. The employee can just lay it all out there.

How can employers and employees become more comfortable normalizing the conversation around mental health?

It has to be very intentional, deliberate and explicit. It’s the kind of stuff employers may talk about or advertise or promote on their employer branding website...it should be very clear that promoting emotional well-being and mental wellness is part of the employer’s culture and something they value. The executive team and all of the leadership needs to be totally brought into that and that’s challenging because there are many people out there in the world who aren’t comfortable yet with talking about or bringing up those kinds of things at work. That’s the big challenge we’re facing right now, yet so many employees are coming to expect [support for mental health issues].

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

Is there a generational disconnect when it comes to promoting emotional wellness in the workplace?

I would say that those of us who don’t have our heads stuck in the sand, we get it. We realize that there’s a reason this mindset of addressing employees’ mental health is so popular. It’s because it’s way more effective. This is how we want to work. I’m generation X and I have a lot of friends who work in big corporate environments who still think you leave your emotions at the door. But I would say those of us who want to have a more progressive approach are so on board with it. HR professionals and potential employees who follow those old school ways, they won’t even get hired at a company like ours and I bet a lot of our customer’s companies. That’s because we know that doesn’t work anymore.

What specifically has 15Five done to promote this initiative among its employees?

It all starts from our hiring process and what we communicate about our values and what it’s like to work at 15Five. Not only are we assessing candidates on their skills, but we’re also assessing them on their willingness to go to that very vulnerable place in their day to day with their manager or direct report. We have question in our interviews that ask “would you be comfortable talking about emotions at work?” and “if you were a two out of five on the emotion poll for the week, would you be able to share that with your manager and how would you go about doing that?” We will ask questions to make sure candidates we are bringing in are okay with this way of doing things. If somebody is going into a manager position internally, we have just implemented a manager assessment interview to make sure this person really has the skills to be a 15Five manager. A manager in our eyes is not just a taskmaster or somebody who approves your time off. They need to be employees’ coach, cheerleader and champion and they need to be comfortable supporting employees when things aren’t going well. It’s almost like having the skill set of a therapist.

SOURCE: Shiavo, A. (23 October 2019) "Strategies to promote emotional well-being in the workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/strategies-to-promote-emotional-well-being-in-the-workplace


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


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


Why 24/7 Work Culture is Causing Workers to Burn Out

According to Dr. Michael Klein, workplace cultures that encourage employees to be available 24/7 may be causing burnout and other mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Read this blog post from Employee Benefit Advisor to learn more.


Workplace culture that encourages employees to be available 24/7 may be causing burnout and other mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

That’s according to business psychologist and workplace adviser Dr. Michael Klein, who says companies that encourage employees to work anytime and anywhere is making it more likely that burnout will occur.

“The problem now is when you have the ability to work from wherever you want,” he says. “It’s so important for general wellness to make time to exercise, time for family and to not check work email.”

In May, the World Health Organization classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” that is characterized by chronic work stress that is not successfully managed. Research shows that continued stress at work can lead to more serious mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

As a result, Klein predicts the next few years will see an increased need for on-site mental healthcare which could be offered through employee assistance programs. Offering EAPs, flexible work options and family-friendly benefits like onsite childcare are just some of the ways employers can reduce stress for workers.

And HR may need to take the lead. Misty Guinn, director of benefits and wellness at Benefitfocus, says finding HR professionals that can handle difficult conversations around mental health may be key to addressing the problem. But many are not comfortable enough to have those kinds of conversations.

“Most have yet to achieve that level of comfort with conversations around mental health,” she says, noting that younger generations are often more comfortable talking about mental health issues. “We’ve got to enable people, especially within HR, benefits, and management to have those conversations and be comfortable with them.”

Guinn also says that EAPs alone may not be enough to address mental health issues for workers because these programs are often scarcely utilized. Subsidizing mental health co-pays, work-life balance and PTO policies are benefit options for employers to create a meaningful difference for worker's mental health, she adds.

“Too often employers make the mistake of believing that offering an employee assistance program sufficiently checks off the mental health box in a complete benefits package,” she says. “In reality, these programs generally have low utilization because employees don’t have confidence in how confidential they are.”

Klein and Guinn agree that employers should consider more ways to support the total well-being of employees. Companies who prioritize their people will do better in the long term, Guinn adds.

“Employers need to take purposeful actions within their policies and programs to reinforce their support of total well-being for employees and their families,” she says.

SOURCE: Hroncich, Caroline. (10 June 2019) "Why 24/7 Work Culture is Causing Workers to Burn Out" (Web Blog Post) https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/24-7-work-culture-is-causing-workers-to-burn-out


Putting Humanity into HR Compliance: Stop Tolerating Toxicity

HR departments who have a detox mission and address toxic workplace relationships can prove incredibly valuable to their organizations. Not only are employees and their well-being impacted by toxic workplace relationships, but also the organizational success and the well-being of employees' family members. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


In my prior career as an employment attorney and in my current one as an organizational consultant and coach, I have encountered numerous toxic workplace relationships. The cost of these relationships—to organizational success, employee well-being and the well-being of employees' family members—is astronomical.

And the greatest tragedy is this: Almost all of this loss, pain and suffering is preventable.

Why are toxic workplace relationships so common? And why are they tolerated?

The answer to the first question is that good people make bad decisions. Typically, employee relationships start out fine. Employees cooperate and collaborate in their relationships with their bosses and peers.

But then something goes awry. A trust gap opens. The employee does not address the problem promptly, directly and constructively, but the employees' avoidance instinct kicks in. Nothing constructive is done to close the trust gap. As a result, the problem festers and grows. Eventually, any remaining trust evaporates, and the relationship degenerates into aggression, passive aggression or both.

Note that I'm not talking about the incorrigible "work jerk," whose behavior should never be tolerated. Rather, I'm talking about people stuck in toxic work relationships producing jerkish and other negative behavior.

Managers and HR practitioners succumb to the avoidance instinct, too. Although aware of the toxicity, they don't intervene and are wary of wading into others' dysfunctional relationships.

What are the costs of tolerating toxicity?

  • Personal suffering. The immediate parties may think they have nothing in common, but they do: They're equally disengaged and miserable.
  • Work loss. Toxic relationships do nothing to improve the quantity or quality of work, customer service or on-the-job innovation. There is increased absenteeism and what Colleen McManus, SHRM-SCP, an HR executive with the state of Arizona, calls "presenteeism," in which people are at work but not focused on work, dwelling on negativity instead of doing their jobs properly.
  • Secondhand anxiety. Co-workers who witness the toxic behavior suffer, as does their contribution to the organization. They are the truly innocent victims.
  • Collateral damage. Employees affected by workplace toxicity typically bring their stress home. This doesn't reduce their stress; rather, it elevates their loved ones' stress. "So true! In the most serious situations," McManus said, "I have seen greater instances of alcoholism and domestic violence due to problems at work."

How HR Can Help

HR departments with a detox mission can prove incredibly valuable to their organizations and the people in them. It's not hard to identify toxic relationships. The challenge is taking action.

I can say with confidence that intervention is always better than tolerating toxicity. You'd be surprised how easily many toxic relationships can be reset when a skilled third party steps in. HR professionals are ideally positioned to help employees stuck in toxic relationships get back on track. Or, if there's too much baggage, HR professionals can facilitate a respectful relocation of the parties to different positions in the organization. This method is a good way to start.

Many times, a toxic relationship is rooted in an unwitting and unaddressed offense one employee gave the other. As a result, the offended party started behaving differently toward the offender, which produced more offensive behavior, and so on. "I'm always surprised," McManus said, "when I ask the parties to the conflict what a resolution looks like. Often, it's simply an opportunity to be heard."

She adds that a sincere apology goes a long way toward rebuilding trust. "They feel validated, which is important to them."

Sometimes there's a structural misfit in the workers' roles that needs to be clarified, or how the jobs interact needs to be modified. HR can help figure out how the jobs can function without recurrent friction. "This is our profession's bread and butter!" McManus said.

There may be a personality conflict, in which case the parties need better understanding of how to interact with people whose styles differ from theirs. If that can't be achieved, though, there can be an agreement to disagree and respectfully move on—whether to a different position inside or outside the organization.

An HR team that makes a commitment to identify and resolve toxic relationships is empowered by the CEO, and is supported by the leadership team will prove to be incredibly valuable to its organization and the people in it. HR team members can directly coach others to resolve conflicts and show managers how to coach their employees who are stuck in toxic relationships.

There's also a risk management, compliance and claim-prevention component. In my employment lawyer days, most of my billable hours arose from conflict caused by toxic workplace relationships. An HR profession with a detox mission will become painfully costly to my former profession.

SOURCE: Janove, J. (Sept 06, 2019) "Putting Humanity into HR Compliance: Stop Tolerating Toxicity" (Web Blog Post) Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/putting-humanity-into-hr-compliance-stop-tolerating-toxicity-.aspx