Six reasons you can’t ignore mental health in workers’ comp

Compensability of mental injuries in workers’ compensation is complex and varies widely by state. Some states allow compensability for physical-mental injuries, where a workplace injury leads to a mental condition, such as depression. Less common are allowances for mental-physical claims, where a psychological condition arising out of the worker’s employment causes a physical illness, such as stress leading to a heart attack.

Mental-mental injuries involve a psychological occurrence at work, which leads to a psychological injury or condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They’re controversial, limited, and have gotten a lot of attention lately as states have considered new laws, especially for first responders.

Similar to physical injuries, in order to be compensable, the mental injury or condition must arise out of and occur during the course of employment. Given the subjective nature of mental health claims, pre-existing conditions, and the time it takes for conditions to manifest, they can be contentious and difficult to prove under this standard.

However, the issue is not just compensability. Whether or not these injuries are compensable, they can greatly impact the cost of the claim, productivity, and morale.

Here’s how:

  1. They can have a significant impact on the duration of a claim. An expert commentary on IRMI notes that more than 50 percent of injured workers experience clinically-related depressive symptoms at some point, especially during the first month after the injury. Unresolved chronic pain, lack of coping skills, fear of job loss, are just some of the factors that lead to “disability syndrome” – the failure to return to work when it is medically possible, with claim costs spirally out of control. When physical treatments aren’t making progress, it’s time to start thinking about psychological factors.
  2. Mental health conditions are some of the costliest health issues to treat and result in harder-to-quantify costs such as lost productivity and absenteeism. Untreated, employees have the potential to become an unsafe worker, which can affect other employees.
  3. While mental workers’ compensation claims represent a small percentage of all claims, many experts note they are growing. Greater awareness of these injuries by all stakeholders, efforts to reduce the stigma associated with mental health, attorneys advertising on TV, poor work-life balance, the modern 24/7 workplace, successful court cases, all contribute to rising frequency.
  4. According to a recent article in Business Insurance, Reviews of psych claims in comp increase, “requests for independent medical examinations for workers compensation claims with a psychological condition are rising, in part due to greater awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and an increase in workers seeking treatment for depression and anxiety in conjunction with a physical injury.” Psych IMEs often are costlier than physical exams, driving comp costs higher.
  5. PTSD is increasingly a common condition in claims, but often it’s added later. This makes it difficult to determine if the claim is legitimate or malingering, an attempt to prolong the claim.
  6. Although mental health remains a taboo subject in many workplaces, changing workplace demographics reflect a generational shift in awareness. More and more employees feel a company’s culture should support mental health. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 62% of Millennials say they’re comfortable discussing their mental health issues, compared to 32% of Baby Boomers. Providing employees with the support they need improves not only engagement but also recruitment and retention.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Seven ways to bolster employee participation in wellness programs

Planning ahead for a new plan year is a good time to evaluate current program performance. If employee engagement in your wellness program is a concern, you’re not alone. Here are seven ways to evaluate and bolster employee participation:

  1. Evaluate your messagingAs wellness programs have evolved, successful efforts have moved away from one-size-fits-all strategies to custom outreach plans for employees. The message needs to focus on and resonate with employees – how the program benefits their health, family, and future. Employer-focused messaging such as less absenteeism, lower healthcare costs, and increased productivity may fall on deaf ears.
  2. Understand that motivation and interests differ widelyIt frustrates many employers that employees most eager to participate are the healthier employees. Others may want to improve their health, but don’t want to be singled out and are afraid of failure. Some may not recognize that they have poor health habits and others don’t consider it a priority.Employees who feel that their wellness program is designed for their needs and level of fitness are more likely to participate. One way to customize is to offer support for a variety of wellness activities. Traditional wellness programs focusing on physical health are morphing into integrated programs, including everything from nutrition, exercise, and sleep-health to mental health, stress management, and even a financial wellness.
  3. Recognize the barriers to participationA recent study in the Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health looked at six factors most likely to improve participation. Job control, which refers to the freedom to choose when and how to complete work, topped the list. With “not enough time” a common objection, flexible working hours is a primary motivator for participation.Second to job control was the employees’ relationship with their supervisors. Employees highlighted not only the role of a supportive supervisor, but also the importance of all employees benefiting from it.

    Study the participation and look for uneven involvement. Positive results may be distributed highly unevenly across the workforce. Who benefits and who doesn’t? Educating employees and wellness options may not be enough for some employees. You may have to more broadly help employees understand that set backs are inevitable and develop steps to control failure.

  4. Promote stress managementIn its latest survey report, A Closer Look: 2018 Workplace Wellness Trends, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans identified two practices that are more popular in successful wellness programs when compared to programs finding less success. Those organizations that have involvement and support from organizational leadership and offer stress management programs yielded more successful results across the board – from a positive impact on health care costs to higher employee participation rates.
  5. Incorporate wearablesFitness trackers, smart watches, and other wearable technology are the number one fitness trend for 2019, according to an annual survey of health and fitness professionals. The popularity of technology can invigorate and sustain participation. Employers can utilize the wearables employees own or, if feasible, provide the wearable device. This overcomes one participation hurdle for employees, ensures equal access, and sends a strong message of commitment.
  6. Be creative – keep it interestingChallenges, competitions, gaming, social media…develop a pulse for what motivates your workforce. And don’t let it get stale. It’s normal for employees to lose interest.
  7. Evaluate incentivesIf you offer incentives, they should be evaluated annually. Employers have struggled with getting this right and some have concerns about the future legality of the plans. The incentives must be meaningful to the employees and provide value to the employer.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

HR Tip: Report: why employers are getting wellbeing wrong

A new report from the Campbell Institute, A Systems Approach to Worker Health and Wellbeing indicates not all employers are getting worker wellbeing right, and it could be affecting the sustainability of their business. While many organizations today are focused on wellbeing programs that tackle smoking cessation, weight loss or nutrition, the Campbell Institute report indicates a more multifaceted approach to worker wellbeing focused on improving the areas of highest risk to their employees can have the most benefit.

Recognizing there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to worker wellbeing, the Institute proposes a systematic approach to assessing and addressing total worker wellbeing, such as the “Plan Do Check Act” model. It’s designed to identify top problem areas, develop intervention strategies at an organizational level to address those risks, and ensure that the improvements are maintained.

The report includes a 35-item questionnaire that addresses six primary stress areas on the job.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com