Mental Health Awareness Fills an HR Knowledge Gap

One in five adults experiences a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. That’s the equivalent of 45.6 million people. A large proportion of them are in the workforce, leading to more than $60 billion in lost productivity annually. Clearly, mental illness is more than a public health issue—it’s also a business issue.

One in five adults experiences a mental health disorder each year.
One in five adults experiences a mental health disorder each year.

You can do the math to estimate the impact to the business in which you work. If 20 percent of adults could be experiencing a mental health disorder in any given year, approximately how many employees does that equate to in your company? If those employees aren’t seeking help for their conditions, what is the potential impact to them, their co-workers, the workforce, and the bottom line?

Most businesses today have first aid kits readily available to treat physical conditions at work. Many of us keep first aid kits in our cars, purses, briefcases or desks. We take CPR courses every few years to be prepared to help someone who may experience a heart attack. But few businesses are taking action to improve the mental well-being of employees.

As a first line of defense against threats to employees’ well-being and productivity, HR professionals should be positioned to identify and respond early to employees’ mental health disorders. Yet most HR professionals are woefully unprepared to identify or help someone with a mental health condition—even though mental health problems in the U.S. are more common than heart, lung, and cancer diseases combined.

One of the first and most important things HR can, and should, do is to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. That stigma often arises from a lack of knowledge. We would never think of referring to someone as “a cancer” or “a broken leg,” yet we frequently hear people called “a manic depressive” or “bi-polar.” As with other cultural changes, HR can lead the way to shift the way people think about mental disorders.

Training increases knowledge and reduces the stigma associated with mental illness.
Training increases knowledge and reduces the stigma associated with mental illness.

When stigma is eliminated, people are less afraid to seek treatment for their condition. Despite the current prevalence of mental illness, only a third of those afflicted receives treatment, according to estimates.  And mental illness is treatable.  With the right training and knowledge, HR professionals can provide leadership in reducing stigma and encouraging treatment.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve attended several educational courses dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues and training people to identify and respond to mental disorders. All the courses I attended are excellent programs designed to accomplish specific outcomes. For example, the LivingWorks’ SafeTalk program focuses on suicide prevention. Another program, Emotional CPR (eCPR), trains people to assist others through an emotional crisis. Both programs were designed and are facilitated by dedicated mental health professionals.

Among the many courses I’ve investigated so far, I found the eight-hour Mental Health First Aid course to be applicable to an HR practitioner’s role. Managed by the National Council for Behavioral Health, the course focuses on improving mental health knowledge and skills. It’s designed to teach lay people methods of assisting someone who may be in the early stage of developing a mental health problem or in a mental health crisis. As with CPR training, the trainee is not expected to respond as a physician, but rather as an early responder. The course teaches participants:Mental Health First Aid

  • The signs of addictions and mental illness
  • Impact of mental and substance use disorders
  • A five-step action plan to assess a situation and help
  • Resources and where to turn for help.

The program is designed for all people and organizations that make up a community—and a workplace certainly meets the definition of a community. People who interact regularly with a lot of people, such as police officers, HR professionals, and health care workers, are encouraged to attend a Mental Health First Aid course.

Lead by Example: Rosa Parks Set the Bar

Albert Schweitzer, philosopher and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, said,

Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.

The most important action a leader can take is to set an example.  A successful business cannot sustain itself by standing still.  Today’s leaders regularly are called upon to lead employees through projects that change the way they do business.  Change is scary.  Whether implementing a new technology, improving a process, reorganizing the company or handling a management shakeup, a leader must model the change with authenticity and courage before employees will follow and adapt to the new way of doing things.

Rosa Parks refused to obey segregation laws and give up her seat on a bus in 1955.  The time had come forrosa-parks_with-montgomery-bus a change.  With passive resistance, Rosa Parks led by example.  Her action on a bus that day resulted in a civil rights movement that ultimately changed the culture of a nation.  Rosa Parks knew she would have to face the consequences of her resistance.  Her act of deviance was courageous because she overcame her fear of those unknown consequences and chose to act regardless.

Financial Sector Sees No Job Growth in September

Financial ServicesThere were no job gains in the Financial Activities sector in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report released on Friday.  Financial Activities, which includes the banking, securities, insurance and real estate sub-sectors, has added 147,000 jobs to the economy over the last twelve months.

In September, a small number of job gains occurred in insurance (+2,000) and real estate (+1,000) that were offset by job losses in banking (-2,000) and securities (-1,000).

Over the last twelve months, insurance added 72,000 jobs, real estate grew by 42,000 and securities gained 18,000 jobs.  During the same period, commercial banking lost 17,000 jobs.

Healthcare Leaders: Is Your BHAG as Humbling as El Capitan?

David Covington, CEO & President of Recovery Innovations, Inc., has written a great article comparing the Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG) of overcoming smallpox, polio and HIV to the goal of eliminating death by suicide.

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At the recent Healthcare Analytics conference in Salt Lake City, Good to Great author and leadership guru Jim Collins, who coined the term Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), inspired us with an amazing story of grit and determination. He recounted how seven years earlier, big wall rock climber Tommy Caldwell asked him, “What if your BHAG is not actually attainable?”

Labor Day Report: Financial Sector Adds 19,000 Jobs in August

Total Financial Activities sector employment rose by 19,000 in August and has risen by 170,000 (2.1%) over the past twelve months.  This compares to an average monthly gain of 15,000 jobs year-to-date.  In August, job gains occurred in Credit Intermediation, Insurance, Securities and Real Estate.

Take 5 to Save Lives During Suicide Prevention Week

In support of Suicide Prevention Week, The National Council for Suicide Prevention’s Take 5 campaign encourages everyone to take 5 minutes out of their day and complete five action items: Learn the warning signs, Join the movement, Spread the word, Support a friend, and Reach out.

The annual National Suicide Prevention Week campaign encourages everyone to take a closer look at the role we can all play in preventing suicide. Simply asking, “Are you ok?” may make all the difference to someone who is struggling with depression or other depressive illnesses.

10 Things HR Can Do During Suicide Prevention Week

Banker in DistressChances are good you know someone who has died by suicide or someone whose life has been affected by suicide. In the US, more than 40,000 people died by suicide in 2013, the last year for which data is available, and suicide is the 10th leading cause of death. Worldwide, the number of lives lost each year to suicide exceeds those lost to homicide and war combined. The human tragedy of these lives lost is immeasurable.

Why is this issue important to business leaders and Human Resources departments? Because suicide rates are highest among those in the prime of their working lives—those 25 to 64 years old. The financial and economic burden is estimated at $44 billion annually, driven almost entirely by lost wages and productivity.

The Truth About Pay and Performance Ratings

Performance EvaluationA trend is emerging as businesses eliminate ratings from their performance management processes.  Adobe Systems and Deloitte are among several major companies to drop ratings as they re-engineer their performance management programs while retaining those components that are more productive, most notably one-on-one feedback and coaching with employees. Firms are abandoning numerical ratings of people and forced distributions because study after study has shown those practices to be detrimental to teamwork.

Performance ratings have long been a factor in compensation, promotion, employee development, and termination decisions, and their elimination creates a challenge for HR professionals.  As this trend gains traction, HR will be called upon to ensure employee-related decisions are delivered in a fair and legally defensible way without the use of traditional performance ratings.