If you don’t think financial worries or mental health issues could be the reason for employees taking sick days –think again. According to a study conducted by Rand Europe, 48 percent of employees surveyed said they have financial concerns. This financial stress affects productivity: On average, it leads to a loss of six days a year in absenteeism and presenteeism. Mental health issues are also to blame for less-than-productive days. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that mental illness like depression can result in approximately five missed work days and 11.5 days of reduced productivity every three months, per individual.
These statistics point to the importance of supporting your employees as people first. Companies can only be productive if they’re staffed with employees who are healthy – in every way (financially, mentally, emotionally and physically). And, as an employer, where people spend 35 percent (or more) of their awake time, you have a responsibility to help support employee well-being.
Many companies bring in an advisor when it comes time for open enrollment in health insurance or new sign-ups or changes to a 401(k) plan, but what about the rest of the year? You can offer anything from lunch-and-learns to one-on-one coaching when it comes to financial or mental wellness. While an outside speaker is a good option, you may even be able to ask your finance department or benefits administrator to put on a seminar for employees.
Support Work-Life Balance
Supporting a healthy work-life balance is a proactive way to ensure your employees’ wellness is considered, and it reduces absenteeism and presenteeism. Employees should feel like they’re able to disconnect on the weekends and on vacations. Give them the flexibility to take care of personal needs during business hours if needed, as long as they are hitting their goals and making their deadlines. Offer work from home opportunities if compatible with your business. Think about whatever the individual needs to feel balanced – in fact, ask them what they’d like to see.
Support Mental Health Insurance Coverage
It’s more commonplace for mental health care to be included in health insurance offerings these days. However, as you’re shopping for benefits to offer your employees, ensure mental health coverage is included and accessible. Tout this as part of the benefits plans in recruitment marketing materials and during open enrollment.
Offer An Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
An EAP will help employees deal with any personal stress they’re dealing with that is getting in the way of them doing their job. A professional employer organization (PEO) can offer an EAP as part of a benefits package to your employees. The EAP provides a variety of support, including confidential mental health assessments, substance abuse counseling and referrals for additional resources.
Offer An Employee Assistance Fund (EAF)
While an EAP focuses on the mental and emotional well-being of employees, an EAF supports employees’ financial welfare. EAFs consist of money donated by employees (and perhaps matched by the company) or raised through corporate philanthropic events. And they can pay out to employees in need (for example, an employee who lost his home to fire or a family who was struck with a grave illness). Guidelines should be put into place as to what is covered, and an application process will ensure the funds get used the way they were intended. Donations of vacation time are a spin-off of this type of support. Be sure to look at IRS requirements for EAFs before setting up yours to ensure you’re remaining within regulations.
Encourage Mental Health Days
Your “mental health days” don’t need to be time off separate from whatever you’re offering now – whether it’s sick time or personal days. The idea is that an employee shouldn’t have to fake a cough to take a day off. Encourage your employee to say, “I need to take a mental health day tomorrow.” If we help to break down the stigma associated with needing a mental pause, the result might be that employees feel more empowered and autonomous in determining the balance that is right for them.
Help Pay Back Loans
Some noteworthy companies are already doing it (e.g., Fidelity, PwC, Aetna, Penguin Randomhouse and Chegg), but pending legislation may allow more companies to offer student loan repayment assistance to employees. The proposed bill would extend the tax exclusion for tuition assistance to loan repayment. Currently, employers can pay up to $5,250 per year per employee and report it as a write-off; if the bill passes, the same will apply to student loan payments. Your employees certainly need the help: According to Federal Reserve data, Americans owe $1.5 trillion in student loans, which is more than auto loan debt ($1.1 trillion) and credit card debt ($977 billion). If helping employees pay back loans isn’t feasible for your company yet, consider offering student loan counseling services instead.
Taking stock in your employees’ financial and mental health will go a long way in reducing stress and ensuring employees feel more satisfaction working for you. When they feel good, they’ll report to work and be ready to perform.