Share By Sachin Shenolikar
It’s 5 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, and the conference room in midtown Manhattan has been reserved for an hour. Employees stroll in wearing shorts and T-shirts, tights, or other workout clothes. They take their shoes off and place them in a row against a wall.
Other employees walk by the room and peek in before heading back to their desks. It dawns on them that this is not a regular business meeting or a new dawn of casual workplace attire. It’s a company-subsidized yoga class.
On-site yoga, meditation, and massage are some things that companies are doing to get inside their employees’ heads — in a good way. Recent findings have revealed that mental health — including stress on the job and at home, plus work-life balance — has a big impact on employees’ productivity. Eight in 10 Americans report being stressed out about their job. The good news is, companies are taking action. According to a 2012 study by Buck Consultants, stress is the number 1 corporate wellness program objective and 61 percent of companies surveyed now offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).
This is a new frontier for corporate America. As recently as a decade ago, it was rare for mental health issues to be a part of the workplace discussion. “It was pretty much taboo to speak about that,” says Paula Anderson, director of National Clinical Practice at Buck.
The stigma still remains for some. “People think of [EAPs] as being for troubled individuals in regards to drug and alcohol abuse, and that’s simply not the case,” says Anderson. “You can make contact with your EAP for work-life services such as help with moving, if you’re pregnant, or if you need a pet-sitter or elder care. There’s a multitude of resources available in those programs, and that’s coming more to light.”
While health benefits have long been a part of the corporate compensation package, the focus used to be on doctor’s visits and surgeries. The rise of the wellness movement has shifted attention to the overall health of the individual and how being mentally sound can boost productivity. After all, a fresh mind that’s free of outside distractions will help workers focus more closely on their tasks.
The key change has been that companies are now treating employees’ health holistically — weaving in mental health and lifestyle management to complement physical health needs. For example, if an employee is diagnosed with diabetes, there likely will be stress in addition to dietary and exercise lifestyle changes and more frequent doctor visits. “It’s about addressing all of your needs and not just your disease condition,” says Anderson. “All of those things that impact our daily living can also impact our work life.”
Mental health initiatives are a work in progress as employer groups continue to gain a better understanding of how they impact their bottom lines. Figuring out how to compile metrics will be one of the next steps, as many companies are still searching for clear financial ROI on mental health initiatives. “That’s challenging to arrive at, and sometimes tangible results aren’t seen for a few years,” says Anderson.
Corporate participation in various types of programs will also be contingent on evolving government healthcare reform in the years ahead. For now, there’s no doubt that a growing number of companies are embracing a progressive way of thinking: Take care of your employees’ bodies and minds, and they’ll be better at their jobs.
“The most forward-thinking companies understand that addressing the overall health and wellness of the individual is simply the right thing to do,” says Anderson, “and that there is a definite trickle-down impact to productivity or their bottom line.”
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