Is ‘Telemental’ Technology the Right Approach to Employee Mental Health Care?

Is ‘Telemental’ Technology the Right Approach to Employee Mental Health Care?

“Telemedicine” is a big new thing for employers these days and only getting bigger, no matter what the skeptics tell you. Some organizations are exploring its potential for mental health services as well; Mark McGraw at HRE takes a look at the emerging field of “telemental health”:

Healthcare law firm Epstein Becker Green recently conducted a state-by-state analysis of legal issues related to telemental health, finding that new interactive audio and video platforms, computer programs and mobile applications are “driving [a] boom” in telemental health, with a “significant increase” in mobile applications related to mental health. The Epstein Becker Green report cites recent estimates suggesting that 6 percent of all mobile health applications developed are focused on providing mental health services to users, with another 11 percent devoted to offering stress management services.

The remote nature of telemental health makes it ideal for many workplaces, says Rene Quashie, senior counsel in Epstein Becker Green’s healthcare and life sciences practice, and one of the study’s authors. …Still, it’s fair to say that a stigma still exists around those dealing with such issues.

Telemental health, however, may provide needed encouragement to employees who are hesitant to seek help from their employers in confronting those issues, says Amy Bergner, the Washington-based senior director of healthcare and benefits at PwC. “I think it’s probably a question of comfort for some, because maybe a person is more comfortable [addressing mental health issues] with a remote provider,” says Bergner.

Wall Street Journal reporter Rachel Emma Silverman highlights some examples of employers that have already adopted this technology:

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Wage Stagnation Should Worry Employers, Not Just Governments

Wage Stagnation Should Worry Employers, Not Just Governments

Between 65 and 70 percent of people in 25 of the world’s largest economies—over 500 million people in total—saw their earnings plateau or decline between 2005 and 2014, according to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute, marking a period of wage stagnation unlike anything the world has seen in recent history. The Guardian’s Larry Elliott sums up the report’s troubling findings:

The report found there had been a dramatic increase in the number of households affected by flat or falling incomes and that today’s younger generation was at risk of ending up poorer than their parents. Only 2% of households, 10 million people, lived through the period from 1993 to 2005 – a time of strong growth and falling unemployment – without seeing their incomes rise. The MGI said governments had mitigated the impact of the squeeze on incomes through tax cuts and welfare spending, but that even when these were taken into account 20-25% of households were no better off in 2014 than they were in 2005.…

The research organisation said the deep slump and the weak recovery after the 2008 financial crisis were the main causes of the phenomenon, but that a decline in the number of people available for work, more part-time and temporary working, and a decline in the influence of trade unions had also played a part. It warned that should the “slow growth” conditions of the past decade persist, up to 80% of income segments could face flat or falling incomes over the next decade. There was a possibility that increased automation would result in 30-40% of households seeing no advance in their incomes even if growth accelerated.

The study looked at six countries in depth and 19 others more broadly, finding some dramatic differences that seemed to depend largely on government policies:

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Shifting to Tiered Health Coverage Creates Winners and Losers

Shifting to Tiered Health Coverage Creates Winners and Losers

As part of a series of changes announced on Monday, including the promise of 5 to 15 percent pay raises for all store employees and managers this fall, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said the company was “evolving our benefits program and online benefits platform so partners may shop, compare and choose health coverage with the similar convenience and personalization people experience when they shop, compare and choose airlines and airfare.” David Lazarus at the Los Angeles Times criticizes this change, arguing that it only helps those employees who don’t need much health care:

What it represents is the ongoing trend of tiered healthcare in this country – strong coverage for those who can afford it and high-deductible, primarily catastrophic coverage for most others. “This is great for Starbucks’ healthier workers and for shareholders,” said Peter Hilsenrath, a healthcare economist at University of the Pacific. “But sicker workers likely will have to pay more.” The problem, he said, is that without healthier employees helping to subsidize the company’s more comprehensive health plans, rates will go up for those desiring (or requiring) more coverage. “You could say Starbucks is exacerbating a problem that we’re also seeing on the insurance exchanges” under the Affordable Care Act, Hilsenrath said. “Costs keep rising for people who need more coverage because the healthier people choose cheaper, high-deductible plans.” …

Starbucks estimates that the lower-cost, less-comprehensive insurance plans will save individual workers up to $800 a year, or $2,600 for those with family coverage. That sounds good in theory. In reality, however, it undercuts the basic premise of health insurance – that the potentially huge costs of healthcare can be minimized on an individual basis by spreading risk evenly among as many people as possible, healthy and sick.

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Investing in Employees’ Mental Health Pays Off

Investing in Employees’ Mental Health Pays Off

At the Harvard Business Review, Influence & Co. president Kelsey Meyer discusses how her organization overhauled its mental health policy to reflect a genuine commitment to employee wellbeing:

First, I partnered with our director of human resources to discuss the most important elements for this policy to include. Above all, we wanted to acknowledge that mental illness affects everyone differently, to use inclusive language, and to ensure all employees feel supported by the new plan. To do that, invite employees to directly communicate with you their ideas for a mental health policy. Members of my team started sharing their ideas with me last year after we returned from our company retreat, where my discussing my family’s history of mental illness during a short team exercise opened the door for discussions on the topic. Including some of your employees in this process, whether through an activity at your next retreat or during a private meeting, can give you valuable insight into exactly how you can reach the goals you define.

With goals and employee feedback in mind, your HR director should gain a frame of reference by researching the language and accommodations other companies’ policies include. From there, she should dig into what mental health organizations recommend for supporting people living with mental illnesses. This step is especially important if, like my company, you’ve never had a comprehensive mental health policy on record. Even if you do, regular research keeps you up-to-date on the latest from mental health experts and leading organizations to ensure that the policy’s language and accommodations best support your employees.

Our own research here at CEB, as well as research from our partner firm The Advisory Board, reinforces just how important mental health care really is.

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Pokémon Go Back to Work

First world problems. #Pokémon #Pokemon #PokemonGo #gottacatchemall #Lol #pokeball

A photo posted by Kevin Gonzáles (@ape_dos_mil) on

Chris Morris at Time explains why HR might be concerned about the augmented reality game that’s taking the world by storm:

For the uninitiated, here’s Pokemon Go in a nutshell: It’s a virtual scavenger hunt, letting players hunt for 151 different characters on their phones using augmented reality. In other words, rather than sitting on the couch and collecting the characters, players now explore the real world with smart phones and find them at coffee shops, grocery stores – and even their jobs. And while no one expects the game to cause a breakdown in the work scene, human resource managers could be facing some headaches over the next few weeks, say workplace experts. …

Like Words With Friends, Pokemon Go is a game that encourages obsessive behavior. And avid players are spending a LOT of time with the app. (One Twitter user said their typical 30-minute walk to work took 90 minutes today.) Despite the large number of time-sucking mobile games that have come up over the years, though, there hasn’t been any hard research into their financial impact on the workplace. (March Madness, for comparison, results in a work slowdown that works out to $1.3 billion per hour, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Cyber Monday losses are a much smaller $450 million.)

But, as with anything, say experts, the real impact for workers will depend on their will power. “It’s personality based, but people get addicted to some of those games,” says Lynne Sarikas, workplace expert and director of the MBA Career Center at D’Amore McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. “It’s amazing the compulsive way in which some people play them. … Like most things in the workplace, if it’s that healthy mental break, who’s going to argue with that? But for some people, it’s hard to know where to draw that line.”

The game also collects a lot of user data, raising concerns over privacy and information security—though at least some of these fears have turned out to be overblown. More troubling incidents involving Pokémon Go include one player stumbling upon a dead body while playing and a group of teenagers using the game to lure victims into armed robberies. The game has also sent players searching for Pokémon in inappropriate places, such as an Australian police station and the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

What should employers be worried about here? The two questions that probably come to mind for organizations specifically are about productivity risks and access risks. Let’s break those down:

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Best Practices Aren’t Always Best

Best Practices Aren’t Always Best

At the Harvard Business Review, Stanford professor Pamela Hinds explains why “best practices” are often more effective in some cultures than in others:

Leaders … often assume that if a practice worked in one place, it will in another—and they want to reap the benefits of sharing common practices across locations. But they aren’t always successful. Many of us know this intuitively: best practices are optimized for a particular place and time and don’t necessarily transfer well between cultures. They’re like a shoe that doesn’t always fit. You can put the shoe on, and it may even look nice, but it will likely create blisters if the fit isn’t exactly right. That’s how it is with practices that don’t quite fit another cultural context. It isn’t that workers in other countries … are doing anything wrong—they’re not the cause of the blisters.

In one study she conducted with several of her colleagues, Hinds observed what happened when a US company tried to introduce the same innovation practices in its offices in the US, China, and India:

What we saw, and what I’ve seen happen elsewhere, is that despite the fact that these employees were all part of the same company and even doing the same type of work, the practices weren’t interpreted or implemented the same ways across cultural contexts.

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The Under-Vacationed Nation

The Under-Vacationed Nation

Andrew Soergel at US News and World Report outlines the troubling findings of a new study into Americans’ vacation habits:

The average American worker took about 16 days of vacation in 2015 – relatively unchanged from the year before but down notably from the 20-day average seen between the late 1970s and 2000, according to a new report from Project: Time Off, an initiative launched by the U.S. Travel Association. What’s more, more than half of U.S. workers – 55 percent – left at least some vacation time on the table in 2015. All told, the report – which involved a survey of more than 5,600 employed Americans – estimates a whopping 658 million vacation days went unused. Collectively, that’s more than 1.8 million days that could have been spent on a beach. …

All told, the study estimates 55 percent of U.S. employers allow their workers to roll over unused vacation time into the next calendar year. Another 19 percent pay workers for time they didn’t use on a retreat from the office. And about 27 percent have a “use it or lose it” policy.

Still, though, it’s estimated that 222 million would-be vacation days essentially were forfeited in 2015, meaning they could not be banked, rolled over or used for some other benefit. About 37 percent of respondents said returning to “a mountain of work” was at least one of the reasons why they couldn’t take more time off. Another 35 percent said they couldn’t leave because “no one else can do the job,” and 33 percent said they couldn’t afford to go on a trip.

The dollars-and-cents impact of this lost vacation time is significant, according to the report, which calculates the value of the vacation benefits American employees left on the table last year at $61.4 billion. Had they used those vacation days, the report adds, this would have resulted in $223 billion of spending, which would have created 1.6 million jobs and $65 billion in additional income.

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