Utah Company Finds On-Site Mental Health Services Pay for Themselves

Utah Company Finds On-Site Mental Health Services Pay for Themselves

The Utah-based company CHG Healthcare Services, which provides medical care in rural areas of the western US, regularly ranks on Fortune magazine’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. Deseret News reporter Jason Lee highlights the innovative way the company helps its employees manage their mental health, which factors into its high levels of employee satisfaction:

For the past six years, the health care staffing company has offered its employees and family members access to a free on-site health clinic. Over time, the clinic’s providers learned that 3 out of 5 patients were visiting the clinic for issues related to mental health, so the company decided to add mental health counselors to its on-site facility, giving employees access to those services while in the office. …

[Vice president of talent management Nicole] Thurman said providing the mental health clinic is less about the money and more about taking a holistic approach to providing for the overall health and well-being of employees. … She noted the mental health programs are breaking even at an approximate monthly cost of about $8,500.

“We estimate the amount we are spending is what we are saving when people go to our onsite clinic instead of going somewhere else,” Thurman said. “The benefit to our people seems very positive and long-term impact will need to be assessed.”

The holistic approach to employee wellbeing CHG embraces is precisely the best practice our research at CEB, now Gartner, recommends. Our recent work on wellbeing finds that a holistic program covering employees’ physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing has a 33 percent greater impact on engagement than one that covers only physical wellbeing.

Mental and emotional health issues, including stress, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, are a growing challenge for employers, though many don’t realize how big an impact they have on the workforce. Employers who do want to help employees address these problems don’t always know how. Others may be reluctant to make what looks like an expensive investment with uncertain returns, but our research and other studies have demonstrated a clear relationship between stress and mental illness and physical health, which in turn affects productivity and the bottom line.

CHG’s on-site clinic is an example of the most generous employee mental health services, but employers for whom that is impractical or unaffordable have other options available to them. “Telemental” health services, which allow patients to connect virtually with mental health providers, are one solution that could supplement or supplant the traditional Employee Assistance Program (which employees often distrust due to privacy concerns) at a limited cost. Some organizations are also training specialists in mental health “first aid” to identify people experiencing emotional distress and proactively approach them with help. High-tech approaches are also emerging that use virtual reality to treat anxiety disorders, PTSD, and stress.

Perhaps the most important first step employers can take is to break the enduring stigma that hinders conversations about mental health in the workplace. That starts with leaders setting a good example and communicating to employees that it’s OK for them to take care of themselves mentally and emotionally as well as physically.