How many employers effectively deal with the issue of mental health and well-being? Sadly, the answer is not many.
Mental illness is often shrouded in a veil of secrecy in workplaces across the country, yet few businesses are unaffected by its presence. According to the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, mental illness costs U.S. companies $79 billion each year - with about $63 billion due to lost productivity.
In a typical workplace, one out of five employees develops a mental illness each year. But companies seem to know surprisingly little about mental illness and are ill-prepared to deal with its effect on their overall success and bottom line.
I was proud to participate in the planning of a recent business symposium on mental health in the workplace. I represent Quad/Graphics as a business advisor for the Healthy Mind Connection. This is a collaborative effort between the Mental Health Association in Milwaukee County and the business community that provides education and resources for businesses to address mental health in the workplace.
I would like to thank the Mental Health Association in Milwaukee County for organizing this important symposium. I would also like to give credit to the other companies that brought this conference to Milwaukee: Aurora Health Care, Pfizer, and Eli Lilly & Company.
But most of all, I would like to thank each and every business that sent a representative to this informative event.
One of the highlights of the symposium was its keynote speaker, Philip Burguieres, vice chairman of the NFL Houston Texans. Burguieres, who has battled depression, delivered the compelling message that mental illness affects all levels of the workforce and, despite its prevalence, businesses aren't doing enough to address it.
Take depression as an example. In a recent study by the University of Michigan Depression Center, 40 percent of benefits managers admitted they know little or nothing about depression as an illness. And, while the majority of middle managers felt that assisting employees through mental health problems is part of their job, only 18 percent felt they have received the training and education they need to effectively address the issue.
I feel fortunate to work for a progressive company that is proactive with mental health issues in the workplace and has witnessed the benefits of those efforts.
Quad offers training and accommodations to its 12,000 employees to help them care for their mental health. Some examples include offering mental health screenings for health issues such as stress, depression and anxiety. We also engage in educational efforts such as offering stress management classes for employees throughout the year.
An important part of our efforts is to provide workplace wellness training for managers. This includes guidance on identifying performance issues that may be related to mental health issues and referring employees to the appropriate resources. We make special efforts to make resources and services available when work pressure is highest or during times of crisis.
We have been pleased with the results of our efforts. Our health and wellness initiatives, via Quad Med, have become a vital part of the Quad/Graphics culture.
Our model of health care has been so successful that we now offer it to other companies through on-site clinic management services and occupational health services.
We have clearly benefited from our efforts to ensure the mental well-being of our employees and, by participating in the November symposium on mental health in the workplace, we strived to send that message to the businesses that were present. There is plenty of information available for companies interested in establishing workplace mental health programs. The Healthy Mind Connection of the Mental Health Association (MHA) in Milwaukee County works with the business community to better address mental health issues. For more information, contact Cara Hansen at the MHA at (414) 276-3122.
Ensuring employee mental well-being makes good business sense. Last week's symposium on mental health was an important step in reinforcing that message. Clearly, however, much more needs to be done in addressing this important topic. Not only will companies see the results in their bottom line, they will have much happier and more productive employees.
Dan Bird is the employee assistance counselor at Quad/Graphics Inc., Sussex, and Quad Med.
November 12, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI
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