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The Pillars of Leave Management: Assessing Exposure To Mental Illness Risk

This year, the Presagia team has been honored to contribute a column in each issue of the Disability Management Employer Coalition's (DMEC) publication, @Work Magazine. Our column, 'The Pillars of Leave Management,' has explored several core elements of a strong leave management strategy, which we're sharing in this blog series!

If you haven't already, we recommend that before reading this blog, you check out the first two pillars that we have already published:

Pillar 1: Extracting Data To Support Your Leave Management Efforts 

Pillar 2: The Intersection of the FMLA and the ADA

In this third column, we talk about what you need to do to assess your organization's exposure to mental health risk, and what steps you should be doing to ensure your workplace is conducive to those struggling with mental illness. 

Pillar 3: Assessing Exposure to Mental Illness Risk

Human Resources manager speaks to employee about the importance of mental health

Mental illness, a common workplace concern, is the leading cause of disability in the United States. Employees dealing with mental illness may find themselves unable to perform and often take leaves of absence to cope. One in five U.S. employees suffers from mental illness, leading to a loss of 217 million work days and up to $500 billion in productivity annually.

Mental illness can be difficult for employers to identify. Stigma surrounding mental illness may prevent employees from self-identifying, due to fear of losing their job, being isolated by coworkers, or other perceived repercussions. Although laws prevent employers from gathering sensitive health information from employees, data from your leave management effort can help you appropriately target interventions.

Begin by educating yourself on the various factors that drive workplace mental health problems. Stress is a risk factor in any workplace; physical and mental illnesses can develop from extended or excessive stressors. Stress can lead to excessive absences. In the 2017 Mental Health America’s Workplace Health Survey, 33% of respondents attributed workplace absences to stress. Key contributors to employee stress include workload, expectations, management, and team relationships.

Another key factor is difficult or frequent interactions with the public; an analysis of a medical claims database showed higher rates of depression among high-contact workers. Employers can investigate to identify stress, depression, and other risk factors within their organization so they can intervene before these manifest as mental health problems.

Next, establish goals for your investigation. For starters:

  1. Identify specific employees who could benefit from targeted interventions, such as a referral to an employee assistance program or health and wellness program.
  2. Identify high-risk jobs and business units needing focused interventions, or look for broader management issues that could be driving problems such as stress.
  3. Ensure consistent and continuous measurement of your absence data during interventions. Look for improvements and continue to adapt your strategy.

You’ll next want to take a look at your data on absences. While you’re limited in the specific mental health information you can collect about employees — when certifying a family and medical leave, the employer may only ask the minimum information required to determine that the leave is medically necessary — you can look for patterns of absence, which may allow you to associate certain trends with mental health and then focus interventions. For example:

  •  Absence days by week or month: Certain times of years such as holidays lead to more stress.
  • Absence days by location and job type: Do specific locations or jobs have more absences? Is this due to the nature of the work or other factors, including undue stress or management issues?
  • Intermittent leave cases for employees’ own serious health conditions (check continuous, too): Which areas of the business units have higher usage volumes?
  • Intermittent usage by employee (check continuous, too): Which employees are potentially at risk?

Readily available reports such as these can help connect absence rates and mental health risks. Information is crucial to building an effective mental health strategy that can help your employees stay healthy and reach their full potential. 


Read The Other Blog Posts In This Series: 

Pillar 1: Extracting Data To Support Your Leave Management Efforts 

Pillar 2: The Intersection of the FMLA and the ADA

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