Can you share a win your company has had with addressing mental health?
Ishaug: While it might seem like a strictly “physical health” decision, Thresholds required COVID vaccinations and the booster for all 1,200 of our people. It was a huge lift, but worth creating a safer environment for each other, our clients and our communities. The vaccination policy provides mental health value with added peace of mind. I’m also proud of the culture we’ve created where supervisors regularly check in with their staff. It is something that is both routine and valued. No one should go through what we have gone through alone, and I think our staff know they always have someone to talk to.
Ciha: Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, our behavioral health team has offered regular virtual peer support groups for all our associates and physicians. Recently, we heard from two of our associates who have participated in these groups since they launched more than two years ago. They reported honestly and candidly that these groups and other resources we offered kept them alive. The power of that feedback has redoubled our efforts to bring our message of mental health and healing to our associates as they face the difficult challenges they do, day in and day out. We’re proud to be a faith-based organization that cares for the whole person, mind, body and spirit.
What are the short- and long-term benefits of investing in employee mental health?
Ciha: There are incredible benefits to investing in the mental health of our staff, including happier customers or patients who will be more likely to return for additional services, increased engagement with one another, a better sense of belonging and purpose and overall satisfaction on the job. There will be fewer possible disciplinary issues and friction among staff members. By investing in the whole person, mentally and physically, associates will feel they’re a vital part of the organization.
Ishaug: Our staff is our number one resource, hands down. When they’re happy and safe, it translates to better service for our clients and their lives to grow and prosper. It means our workforce is more likely to stay with us, even though the work is often difficult. It means Thresholds is more likely to recruit top talent in the future, reach more people who need care, and create a better, thriving place to work. Good mental health helps everybody. Research by Deloitte, the National Safety Council, the University of Chicago and others have shown that investing in preventative mental health programs at work generates an ROI of $2 to $4 for every dollar spent. For example, Thresholds invested in employees with gas bonuses when gas prices started to spike and a paid holiday honoring Juneteenth.
Allen: Our primary short-term benefit is safety. The nature of our work is community facing, in the education and children space, so we want to ensure that those students, school personnel and partners we interact with feel safe and productive in our interactions. We won’t achieve that if our team members are upset, anxious, depressed and not operating with a clear mind and spirit towards our common end goal. Longer-term, the benefit of doing this work is better staff retention and ensuring staff know they are cared for as employees. That is always the bedrock goal.
Can you talk about a few ways that leaders can identify when their employees need help for mental health concerns?
Ishaug: There are definitely signs when someone’s mental health is starting to suffer. It’s the classic signs — changes in physical appearance, behavior and performance. They might be more pessimistic. They may call out sick more. At Thresholds, we are very fortunate to have a culture that promotes co-workers looking out for each other. We’ve offered training on mental health, such as Mental Health for Leaders. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois just rolled out a virtual, self-directed program called “Learn to Live,” which addresses problems like depression, anxiety, and insomnia. And we’re looking forward to offering those programs and more to our staff as well.
Allen: Leaders can identify when their employees need help by engaging with them and getting to know them. If you don’t have a relationship or interaction history with someone, it’s hard to tell when behaviors or attitudes shift from “normal” or baseline behavior to something more serious. It’s hard for us in leadership to not be dismissive or to not lean on our own biases about staff, based on history, productivity, rumor or other biases. So training on how to separate from all that is helpful. CIS of Chicago is a certified Mental Health First Aid training site. This six-hour, nationally recognized training (from the National Office of Behavioral Health) has a tailored curriculum for both youth and adults, which helps attendees recognize, acknowledge and address mental health issues including signs and symptoms, approach, who to call. We have found this to be extremely helpful for leadership and direct staff support to know how to use compassionate and professional methods to triage a situation before it becomes a crisis.