April 2013


Employers struggle to battle mental illness

Twelve percent of current employees have a diagnosed mental issues and 17% delay taking action because they are afraid of the reaction they may get from family and friends.

These are the saddening numbers that Paula Allen, vice-president, research and integrative solutions with HR consultancy Morneau Shepell, cited from a Conference Board study and a 2010 Leger National Survey on Depression, at Benefits Canada’s 2012 Mental Health Summit.

Allen said the most prevalent workplace mental health conditions are depression, anxiety and substance abuse. “All are very manageable and need not result in long-term productivity loss, nor disability.”

Plenty of resources, little action

Fewer disability claims and a speedy return-to-work schedule for employees who are getting help with mental health issues—employers want these to be a reality. But while there’s no shortage of resources available to employers on how to create healthy workplaces, the problem lies in actually taking action. Workplaces have been saddled with a “do more with less” philosophy since 2008, and continuing economic challenges have left few able to buck that trend. Employees face increased workloads and they may also worry about impending layoffs, which can increase their stress levels and pave the way for mental health issues.

Since companies can do little to alleviate the global economic pressures that compel them to lay off or pile the work on, the best way to manage mental illness is through early detection. Unfortunately, few plan sponsors have the luxury of on-site medical staff.

Sean Slater is vice-president, business development, with Solareh, a consultancy that specializes in helping companies create healthy workplaces. He described warning signs for mental health conditions—signs that don’t require a medical degree to spot.

Managers need to watch for the following traits among workers:

• disorganized thinking;

• difficulty expressing themselves;

• decreased attention and/or concentration;

• lack of personal hygiene;

• aggression toward themselves or others;

• strained interpersonal relationships;

• repeated short-term absences;

• frequent tardiness, frequent breaks;

• requests for days off for unusual reasons;

• decreased interest in work; inferior quality of work or decreased quantity of work compared to usual performance; or discussions about a new situation or multiple life changes in a short period of time.

Slater added that any significant change in the person’s verbal and/or non-verbal behaviour, attitude or performance warrants attention, as does any change involving persistent, specific and uncharacteristic signs that last more than two weeks.

“Managers don’t need to solve the problems; they just need to be a facilitator toward help,” he said. “People don’t get sick overnight. There’s a process that predisposes us to it.”

As a first step, employers should offer training and education for managers and employees on how to recognize signs of mental distress. Managers should also be able to point employees to appropriate resources.

Plenty of resources, little action

Hard to find qualified people for jobs overseas? According to a recent Mercer survey, many multinational companies indicated that finding qualified candidates for global assignments and managing the costs (compensations, benefits, housing) that go with that are a major concern.

Here are 10 areas to think about to manage a globally mobile workforce in 2013.

1. Make sure your global mobility program meets your talent and business needs. Use focus groups, interviews and market research to evaluate the program.

2. Look at how you select, recruit, enroll, compensate, house and manage expatriates. Some software tools can help to document and streamline the administration process.

3. Housing can be costly, so look at neighbourhood-specific housing cost data for “host” cities. Communicate your rental guidelines to expatriates and relocation firms before they begin a housing search.

4. Match the expatriate program to the talent management strategy. Define specific competencies for global leaders and make sure the global mobility program builds that strength to fill future leadership spaces.

5. Measure what needs to be managed. Make sure you are pursuing goals that support your overall corporate strategy. You may need new analytics and metrics in 2013.

6. Look critically at your vendors’ recent performance and re-evaluate. You may need to outsource, in-source or “re-source” some of the special services that expatriates need.

7. Review your mobility healthcare and wellness options. Healthcare rates can be higher in other countries.

8. Look critically at why expatriates are working abroad. If employees are locally hired foreigners, for example, a more localized” compensation package may be better than a traditional expatriate package based on maintaining ties to a home country.

9. Depending on the country, the expatriate’s role and the availability of talent, it may make sense to hire locally rather than to send an expatriate from a home country.

10. Re-examine assumptions made when calculating cost-of-living allowances and hardship premiums based on differences between home and host locations. You may want to adjust cost-of-living differences in host countries.

excerpts provided by: Benefits Canada –  January 2013


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