Innovation: a new way of looking at employee behavioural health

by Lori Block, principal and west region client technology leader, engagement practice

Around the world the concept of Innovation Imperative is shaping how companies use new technology while maintaining connections to their customer experiences. The way we purchase and consume groceries, movies, automobiles, travel and more are being personalised and changed every day. Innovations in healthcare are progressing just as fast, with the focus moving from physical health to the idea of wellbeing. Health care consumers now have access to online portals that track health biometrics, reward users for healthy behaviours and offer a multitude of new online and offline tools to help them engage in their health. Included in many of these innovations, but still lacking behind their physical counterparts are programmes designed to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

Unfortunately, mental health issues come tied to outdated stigmas that often hinder the willingness of those affected to seek help. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five adults in the US have some mental illness, indicating there are millions of individuals and families trying to deal with mental health issues and often suffering the consequences of ignoring the need for treatment. The impact on companies is significant: lost productivity, lower engagement and increased absenteeism to name a few.

As noted in the first quarter 2017 issue of Benefits Quarterly, Bruce Sherman, MD and I have identified five strategies and innovations that companies are using to address the business and personal impact of employee behavioural health.

Wellbeing as a foundational framework
As noted above, recent years have seen improvements in wellness programmes, with employers taking a more holistic approach to individual health. What once dealt primarily with physical health has expanded to include behavioural, financial, social, and career-related support. Yet, despite the array of offerings, programmes to support behavioural health have been largely underused.

Innovation in conceptual and delivery models
In part because of growing recognition and understanding of the health and productivity costs that behavioural health issues contribute to, and the increased integration of medical care with behavioural health, we now have tactics that vendors can use to deliver improvements in psychological capital.

Technology advancements
As technology become more and more an extension of our lives, an array of new behavioural health offerings have emerged to help people engage wherever they may be. Telehealth applications that replace in-person visits, smartphone applications that range from stress management to self-guided therapy and the use of data analytics to predict behavioural health issues have all emerged thanks to technology. This area continues to grow and will require employers to review outcomes and identify those tools that generate meaningful value.

Enhancing engagement
New innovations in behavioural health care such as smartphone apps, or long-time benefits such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can’t benefit employees who are afraid to acknowledge a personal or family mental health condition, or are concerned that accessing employer-sponsored mental health resources will have negative consequences at work. To effectively address the mental wellbeing of their workforce, business leaders must create a safe and supportive environment for their employees. With the support of their employers, tactics such as personalised messaging or even participation in online peer-based communities can help employees take that crucial step toward engaging in the improvement of their mental health.

Quantifying business value
While cost containment remains a top priority for companies, recent analyses suggest that behavioural health programmes should be an area of focus to fully address costs. By favourably impacting employee engagement and retention, customer satisfaction and workforce absenteeism, such programmes can help to mitigate costs. Ultimately, developing a structured approach to quantifying the business value of the offerings will provide a measure of programme effectiveness and justifications for continued use.

The rapid growth of innovative behavioural health services should provide employers with a level of confidence that they can tailor a programme best suited to their priorities, organisational culture and cost limitations.