CB’s Mental Health Benefits Qs

Compiled by Thora Madden

 Cal Broker reached out to a couple of carriers in the know for our first mental health benefits questionnaire. It was quick and painless this yet, but with your help we can expand the survey and info. Please tell us what you want to know when it comes to these important benefits. Use the subject line “mental health” and drop us a line at thora@calbrokermag.com.

  1. Can you describe the behavioral health plans you offer?

Judy Buczek, director, group life and disability, Guardian:

Guardian offers several plans that provide assistance to employees who need it. Our WorkLifeMatters Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a value-added service that provides employees and their family members resources to address a number of wellness issues.The program provides confidential, personal and web-based support for: stress management, dependent/elder care, emotional wellbeing, nutrition, fitness, as well as legal and financial issues.

We also offer employers Guardian AbsenceWorks®, which is a robust leave management program for employers, that includes EAP services for employees should they need it. When mental health causes an employee absence, Guardian has a team of behavioral health and vocational rehabilitation specialists who understand the importance of providing support to employees during their difficult time and make themselves accessible to employees throughout the process. Guardian also incorporates health management program referrals for employees (e.g. employee assistance programs) as part of the program.

Finally, we offer several disability insurance plans for employers that include EAP giving employees access to programs focused on mental health, financial wellness and community services/support groups. We understand that mental health and disability leave go hand in hand, so Guardian’s plans focus on returning employees back to work by using the right resources such as behavioral health professionals.

Pam Jenkins, assistant vice president of product and market development at Colonial Life:

Colonial Life provides an Employee Assistance Program with our Group Term Life product. This provides free access to confidential counseling and resources via phone, in-person or online chat for a variety of personal and work issues. In most states, employers may choose to offer our disability plans with psychiatric or psychological condition benefits due to disability.

  1. Are you seeing an uptick in interest in behavioral health benefits? Have there been any significant changes in recent years?

Judy Buczek: We have definitely seen an uptick in interest at the employer level for more programs, like EAP, that can help employees who are undergoing emotional, mental, and financial stress. And this is something that we know is also important to employees. Guardian’s 4th Annual Workplace Benefits Study revealed that most working Americans (82%) say improving their emotional wellness is important to them.

Take for example a recent analysis of Guardian’s disability claims. It shows mental health as a leading cause for individuals to use short-term and long-term disability insurance. Often these claims lead to an extended period off work. Employers are now making the connection on how offering services, like EAP, can help with return-to-work as well as impact productivity.

Finally, many companies focused on health and wellness are beginning to eliminate the stigma of mental health by educating and training employees. It’s important to not only educate your workforce, but also help them be aware of the resources or benefits available to them. 

 Pam Jenkins: The impacts of stress and untreated mental health conditions have become more publicized and acknowledged by employers. The importance of providing benefits to treat mental as well as physical health continues to grow. Recent Colonial Life research found that more than 20% of U.S. workers spend more than five hours on the clock each week worrying. It’s costing employers billions in lost productivity and engagement. Employers have an interest in providing access to services, either by the type of voluntary products offered or through a separate Employee Assistance Program.

  1. What can brokers and benefits people do to help employers/employees and individuals better understand their behavioral health benefits?

Judy Buczek: Guardian 4th Workplace Benefits Study showed that about half (53%) of all working Americans believe they have access to an employee assistance program (EAP) at work, but of those, only 1 in 10 report ever having used it. Those who have used EAPs do so mainly for relationship or mental health counseling (55%) and for help with stress reduction (30%).

This demonstrates an opportunity for brokers/benefits consultants to help employers and employees better understand their benefits, such as EAP. At Guardian, we have the following best practices to help employers use their EAP to improve their employees’ well-being. This includes:

  • Designate people to champion EAP within your organization
  • Promote awareness of the program throughout the year
  • Promote the services available in your EAP Program
  • Highlight the work/life resources available through your EAP Program
  • Consider your EAP program as an extension of the HR Department

The key takeaway is that if brokers and benefits consultants are working with clients who have EAP or are interested in having one, a year-round communications plan that educates and promotes the services is paramount to its success and well-being of their workforce.

Pam Jenkins: Continue to talk about the importance of dealing with any mental health issue as just that – an issue of health! Recognize the impact to an employer’s bottom line if employees are struggling to find help with personal issues. This can result in higher absenteeism, poor job performance, impact to co-workers, or other outcomes.