Workplace Mental Health, Disability, and RTW

DMEC StaffAnnual Conference

Workplace Mental Health, Disability, and RTW

By Darcy Gruttadaro, JD

Director, Center for Workplace Mental Health
American Psychiatric Association Foundation

By Michael Klachefsky

Principal
Absence, Productivity & HR Consulting

Why do employers continue to launch mental health initiatives in their organizations? It’s because they play a key role in the overall health and well-being of their employees, including their mental health and emotional wellness. Ignoring mental health issues is costly in direct healthcare costs, lost productivity (presenteeism and absenteeism), employee turnover, short-term disability (STD), and long-term disability LTD — especially associated with depression and anxiety. In our session at the 2019 DMEC Annual Conference, Mental Health at Work: Costs and Benefits, we will break down the innovative practices in this space and positive results that come with investing in employees’ mental health.

An essential component of investing in employee mental health is to ensure that the one in five people experiencing a mental health condition have access to care. Yet, less than half of people with depression receive treatment, increasing the likelihood of a condition worsening and employees going out on STD, LTD, or even leaving the workforce altogether. In an economy experiencing record-low unemployment rates, employees permanently leaving the workforce creates added hardship for employers, in addition to personal ramifications for the individual.

Employers recognize that addressing mental health is the right thing to do for the individual while they also see the positive impact on their bottom line. They are now addressing workplace mental health in multiple ways, such as:

  • Raising awareness and educating the workforce about mental health: Helping employees better understand how to stay mentally healthy, how to recognize the signs of mental health conditions, and more.
  • Creating a mentally healthy organizational culture: Making it safe for employees to come forward to seek help when it’s needed and not fear judgment or negative consequences.
  • Improving access to services and supports: Implementing innovative approaches to employee assistance program services and in connecting employees with effective, affordable, and timely mental healthcare.

However, when employees are away from work on STD because of a mental health condition, it can be challenging for employers to help them transition back to work. There is a tendency for both employers and the claim administrators to step back and wait, often due to the fear of exacerbating the claimant’s condition and thinking the claimant is too fragile to think about return to work (RTW). This “hands off” approach usually leads to lengthy absence/disability durations, higher costs, and in some cases, job loss.

Research and case studies have demonstrated that proactively helping these claimants RTW quickly is not only possible, but also reduces direct and indirect costs of absence, protects the claimant’s job, and safeguards workplace productivity.

Some innovative RTW methods include:

  • Quickly arranging independent medical exams or other in-person medical/psychological consults.
  • Using disability case management vendors to actively interact with the claimant to develop an RTW plan.
  • Using the EAP to provide counseling during the RTW process.
  • Developing written RTW plans initiated by the carrier or vendor.

These issues and more will be covered in greater detail at the upcoming 2019 DMEC Annual Conference. Please join us to learn more during our session on Mental Health at Work: Costs and Benefits.