Employer Showcase: SAW Approaches to Mental Health-Related Requests

Jai Hooker@Work


Stay-At-Work Approaches to Increasing Mental Health-Related Accommodation Requests

By Aarin Harper, Leave and Disability Administrator, University of Iowa Health Care

Recent events, from pandemics to climate change to war, affect how people think and feel, and a steady stream of negative news can be detrimental to our health. In fact, the stress of managing these events is affecting peoples’ mental health. One study of human resources (HR) professionals found that 70% of 18- to 34-year-olds are just trying to make it through the week.1 And individuals with mental illness and physical conditions may have a more severe reaction to these events because on so-called “normal” days, they may be at capacity managing their illness along with daily responsibilities and deadline-oriented tasks.

Absence management professionals are seeing this play out with an increase in accommodation requests. The team at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics (UIHC) supports leave and accommodation requests for direct patient care staff and those who support business operations. Accommodation requests for medical conditions, including mental health conditions, are up 55%, and leave requests are up 11% from 2020 overall.

This data mirrors reports of declining mental health in the general population,2 a trend that is predicted to last anywhere from several years to almost a decade. As a result, more people recognize the need for better support to manage these events in a healthy way.

Environmental Stressors

After the pandemic was officially recognized in the U.S. in 2020, many people also experienced unprecedented floods, fires, and other natural disasters, as well as pandemic-related effects on finances and relationships. During the summer of 2020, the Midwest experienced the tropical storm Cristobal in June followed by a derecho, a devastating wind that some likened to an inland hurricane, in August.

The day after the derecho, I asked a co-worker how she was doing. Her reply: “You know, I thought I was pretty tough and could take just about anything. But this [derecho] is about to take me down.”

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