Over my head and about to drown. Thats how one Wall Street associate felt a few weeks ago when he called his companys employee assistance program (EAP) to ask for help. I was so anxious that I could hardly sleep, and when I could I dreamed about work, says the 23-year-old Chinatown resident.
The good news was that the EAP was able to hook him up with a therapist. The bad news was that the first available appointment was 26 days away.
The typical wait time between asking for help and getting an appointment is four to six weeks, says Sandra Kuhn, behavioral health consulting leader at Mercer Consulting, one of the oldest human resources consulting practices in the world.
With the additional strain on employees dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and all the fear and uncertainty that entails, the solutions most employers have in place simply arent going to work, says Russell Glass, CEO of Ginger, an on-demand mental health company. His company is working to create a world where access to mental-health care is never an obstacle, he says.
Ginger and other providers such as Big Health, Modern Health and Talkspace, among many others, offer employer-paid, mostly digital mental-health services that are available 24/7 and have wait times as short as one minute. While in some cases they start out with texting a counselor or coach, at other times workers might choose to access online guided meditations, flashcards or breathing techniques. When more intensive work is needed, we can escalate beyond a coach, says Glass. This could include access to virtual therapy and psychiatry sessions within days.
Tigran Hako, a software engineer who works for Buffer, a social media management platform-maker, accesses services from Modern Health frequently. I need help controlling my monkey brain, says the 30-year-old Jersey City, NJ, resident. For him, the therapy includes meditation and breathing exercises, in which he varies the pace of his inhales and exhales. It helps me focus my mind on the present so that I can also sleep better and be fully present with my family, he says.
Hakos co-workers are open with each other about where they are and what they experience in their mental-health journeys. That includes the companys CEO and co-founder Joel Gascoigne, who in 2017 told his team that he was burned out and was taking some time off. He then left the company for over a month. We were fully supportive of him. We wanted to give him the space and time he needed, says Courtney Seiter, director of people at Buffer.
Though the company already had a culture of transparency, Buffers employees are assured that its fine to talk about what is going on inside your mind and how its affecting you without being judged. The company also has a dedicated Slack channel specifically for those purposes. Taking care of your mental health is like getting a flu shot, says Seiter, adding that managing it is better for you, your co-workers and the company.
Thats a smart move, says Bruce Daisley, a former Twitter vice president and author of Eat Sleep Repeat: 30 Hacks to Bringing Joy to Your Job (HarperOne). He explains that the boss defines how openly certain matters can be discussed. This is true especially now when people are working from home, he says. According to the World Health Organization, individuals who work from home have stress levels that are up to 70 percent higher. Thats because they are not seeing reassuring nods and smiles from their boss.
Daisleys comment isnt a baseless opinion. A survey by Mind Share Partners, SAP and Qualtrics found that 50 percent of millennials and 75 percent of Gen Z-ers have left their jobs for mental-health reasons, both voluntarily and involuntarily. Their most common diagnoses are anxiety, depression and eating disorders. These manifest on the job through difficulty concentrating, avoiding social activities, difficulty thinking, reasoning, or deciding, taking longer to do tasks and being less responsive to e-mail and other communications.
Not only that, but every year, 217 million days are lost due to absenteeism and underperforming at a cost of $16.8 billion in lost productivity, according to a report from Mind Share Partners.
The solution to the problem isnt as simple as providing assistance to employees in need. Workers need to be made aware of how mental health problems might manifest themselves, understand that having them is not unusual, and that confidential treatment is increasingly available in short order.
At Buffer, the leadership team has openly offered up its own experiences to illustrate that needing help isnt unusual or a sign of weakness. Its about adult self-care from which everyone benefits, says Seiter. After all, we all work here and were in this together.
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