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Developing a Culture of Mental Health
Episode 59th March 2023 • Absence Management Perspectives • DMEC
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Puget Sound Energy has registered unprecedented engagement with its mental health and wellness programs. Learn how they design offerings, customize programs to align with company culture, and use data to gauge success.

And read an article in @Work magazine that highlights this success and has been unlocked for listeners:


DMEC: Welcome to Absence Management Perspectives. A DMEC Podcast. The Disability Management Employer Coalition, or DMEC, as we're known by most people, provides focused education, knowledge and networking opportunities for absence and disability management professionals. DMEC has become a leading voice in the industry and represents more than 18,000 professionals from organizations of all sizes across the United States and Canada. This podcast series will focus on industry perspectives and provide the opportunity to delve more deeply into issues that affect DMEC members and the community as a whole. We're thrilled to have you with us and hope you'll visit us at to get a full picture of what we have to offer, from webinars and publications to conferences, certifications and much more. Let's get started and meet the people behind the processes.

Heather Grimshaw: Hi, we're glad you're listening. I'm Heather Grimshaw, Communications Manager for DMEC, and we're talking about how employers can move the needle when it comes to engaging employees in their mental health benefits. Jenny Haykin, Integrated Leaves and Accommodations Program Manager for Puget Sound Energy, is with us to talk about the company's success with mental health apps and resources. Her article Using Technology to Promote Engagement with Mental Health Offerings was published in the Technology and Innovation issue of @Work magazine, and it includes impressive data as well as suggestions for how employers can help ensure employees have the support they need. We'll unlock this article for listeners and you can find the link in the Notes section of this episode. Jenny, we hear a lot about the disconnect some employers face with offering mental health benefits to employees who express a need for help but don't always use the available benefits. In your recent article about the mental health offerings at Puget Sound Energy, you talk about unprecedented engagement with the wellness program, which sounds like you've either sidestepped this issue or addressed it effectively. Can you share some of your secrets to success and the role technology is played?

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Heather Grimshaw: It sounds like that variety is really important, especially since everyone is unique and has different needs.

Jenny Haykin: Yes, we try to offer as many different ways to access mental health services as we can. And you had spoken about the employee who reaches out for help. And in other companies, maybe they don't engage with the help for our employees if they're reaching out for help. One of the things that we've made sure is that everybody in the company understands how to access the resources, where to find the information, and where to go based on how they're doing. So we provided education in a form of a mental health continuum, and we shared it in a way that said, hey, we're all on this continuum 100% of the time, and we're all going to move back and forth on it. And the continuum shows the different behaviors that happen when we're doing well, when we're starting to react to things in life, when we're starting to have early mental health issues, warning signs, and when there actually is a mental illness. And so people can self-identify where they're at. And then we correspond the resources to each section of that continuum so that people can say, okay, I'm here on the continuum. Oh, here are the company resources that I can use for where I'm at.

Heather Grimshaw: It also sounds like it might normalize some of those issues for people who might not otherwise feel comfortable saying, this is a need, what are the resources?

Jenny Haykin: Yeah, we've had a lot of success with the “We all have a state of mental health 100% of the time” as a slogan, and showing that continuum because it did normalize it for everybody. And we just happened to roll this out right before the pandemic hit. And of course, when the pandemic hit, everybody was trying to understand their mental health better. So we had the advantage of just the great timing that was just a total coincidence as well.

Heather Grimshaw: The pandemic illustrated a growing need for mental health resources and for people who have recognized this need for a long time and struggled with how to meet that need. There are some people who are comfortable asking for help and others who won't ask for help even when they need it. It sounds like that technology piece plays a key role here for people who can access resources when and as they need them. Is that fair to say?

Jenny Haykin: That is the great thing about technology. Is it's available? 24/7 so an employee who may be having an emotional crisis late at night can access the resources late at night if they need to. One other thing I wanted to mention about when employees come forward and say that they're having a mental health issue, a really effective way to get them to engage with services is something called a warm transfer. And that is if you ask the employee, we have this service for the issue that you're having. Would you like to use that service? If the employee says yes, then whoever they're talking to — maybe it's the HR person, their supervisor, or maybe it's a claims person — can dial the number for them and give them the phone if they're there in person. Or set them up on a two-way call and then drop off when they get engaged with the vendor to provide services. And that tends to result in people utilizing the service if they don't have to take the initiative to make that first step themselves and somebody else dials the number or brings the website up on their screen or helps them download the app or whatever it is, engagement will be much higher.

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Jenny Haykin: When I originally started this research project back in 2018, I checked what were the best practices of employers who are already well engaged with their mental health programs. I looked at what the different offerings were for employers and everything from apps and programs to guides on how to evaluate benefits, just a wide variety of things, and of course, the mental health trainings that were already available. And from there I considered [the questions], “What do we want mental health at our company to look like? What is that culture around mental health that we're desiring to have?” And [I] reached a conclusion that having an environment where people knew how to talk about mental health and knew how to access the resources were the things that I wanted to make sure resulted from our programming. In order to keep the programming fresh and consistent with what employees needs are, we do surveys. We have mental health videos that we show and then after the videos, we've sent out surveys asking employees if this was meeting their needs, what types of things they were interested in. And one of the things that was really amazing coming out of that was that when we asked employees, what mental health topics do you want to learn about? We had 93 different topics suggested by employees, which really showed us how interested employees are in learning in this area and also helped me to determine what trainings I needed to focus on and what offerings I needed to focus on for the employees going forward.

Heather Grimshaw: Is that common for you to have that many responses from team members?

Jenny Haykin: We did really well with our second survey. We have had a lot of engagement with our surveys. But the second survey, we have 3,200 employees and we had over 650 responses. So, I was really thrilled to see that number of people engaging with the survey. And we kept the survey really short. I mean, it was just three questions, so it didn't take a lot of time for people to provide us with the feedback.

Heather Grimshaw: I'm also kind of curious, you talked a little bit about that vision that was set for mental health programming at the organization. Would you talk a little bit about who is involved in that process and if you're providing data to them on a regular basis?

Jenny Haykin: The data that we collect comes from a wide variety of sources. One of them is our wellness program utilization. I look at engagement with the Mindfulness platform and Resilience platform, and our disability data that shows us how many claims are being filed and how long they are for mental health concerns on the short-term disability side and the long-term disability side. And then I have the data from our accommodation program on utilization for mental health accommodations and our employee assistance program (EAP) data and utilization there and what people are using the services for. So that has been really helpful in informing me on what's working for employees. And I didn't mention we also have a mental health web page and an employee assistance program web page and I check every week how many hits those have both gotten and also what specific content people are looking at. And one thing that was really impressive to me was that when we rolled out the mental health training claims for short-term and long-term disability for mental health went down and accommodation requests for mental health went up, which was exactly what we wanted to see.

Heather Grimshaw: I'm hoping that you'll share a little bit about what employers should expect from investments in terms of time, energy, and cost for mental health offerings. This is a topic that most employers hopefully are investigating and it sounds like you've got a lot of these pieces in place. So I'm hoping that you'll share a little bit about a few specifics here and also why it's important from that investment standpoint to take a long term view.

Jenny Haykin: I think one of the first things that employers can do if they haven't already done this is not very expensive and doesn't take a lot of time. And that's simply determining what all the different mental health services are available already and making them available in one place for employees. So it's not like they're having to go to the EAP site to figure out the benefits there and then having to look up in their medical benefits with the coverage is there. And then if there's a wellness program trying to figure out what mental health offerings are there and their accommodations trying to get that information. And of course there should be accommodations, some sort of program for that. So an easy way to start is just to have one web page or one other way, one vehicle for showing employees what all of the services are in one place in terms of the long range and the planning and the time. There are so many different elements. There's like I said again, the wellness program and there's the EAP, and there's the health benefits. So the people working on those programs can keep an eye on the mental health offerings that are available from those service providers, keep an eye on the utilization, make sure that the benefits offerings are in line with the employee needs, which does involve doing surveys as well as, as I mentioned, checking utilization. And it's something that those people will be doing anyway, checking their programs and checking utilization. So it's just a matter of rolling a mental health focus into the work that they're already doing.

Heather Grimshaw: That's helpful. Thank you. So one of the other pieces that you mentioned in the article in terms of laying that groundwork for success is training development and I'm hoping you'll give a little bit more information about that for listeners, certainly.

Jenny Haykin: So a very common training available out there is mental health first aid. That one is being utilized throughout the world and is the most popular training. So an easy start for employers who are looking at mental health training can look at mental health first aid and see if it's a fit for their organization. In our organization. I actually didn't feel like it was a good fit because it does train about specific mental health disorders and identifying specific disorders. [And] although it seems like that would be very desirable, our company culture is very much one where teaching people to label mental health issues or diagnose wasn't going to be a fit… So the three main things that a mental health training need to focus on are how to identify that there is a potential mental health issue, which I mentioned, the continuum. We use the continuum instead of using diagnoses. We don't talk about depression, we just talk about behaviors and reacting. Then there's how to talk about mental health issues. And then the final one is what are the resources? Having a knowledge of where to find the resources so that people can get the help that they need and who.

Heather Grimshaw: Who is involved in that type of training at Puget Sound Energy?

Jenny Haykin: I worked very closely with our safety department because our safety department has goals for the company every year. We're a very safety-oriented culture. We need to be because we're a utility. And so as part of our performance targets, there needs to be a certain very high participation rate in our safety education. And the safety department had an interest in rolling mental health into safety education. So I worked very closely with them to roll the training out. And when it rolled out, fortunately for us, a decision was made to roll it out virtually, which was fantastic because as you know, the pandemic hit right after this training came out and everybody in the company was able to access it, even though a lot of our employees were working from home. So that was incredibly helpful. I also work a lot with our benefits program manager and the folks working on the Wellness Program to make sure that available services through their offerings are integrated into the trainings. And a classic example of this was our second year of training. We actually utilize the resilience vendor that is involved in our wellness program to provide the training content for the second year.

Heather Grimshaw: It sounds like Puget Sound Energy has done a lot of work internally to create resources to help ensure mental health and encourage employees to access the care they need to address mental illness. Would you provide a little context about that in terms of the time that's been required from your team? Overall? I'm just interested in hearing what this entails to ensure not only an effective rollout, but also making sure that it does continue to meet those needs.

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Heather Grimshaw: One of the last questions I have for you is you shared some great data in your article and I'm wondering, what advice do you have for your colleagues about how they can gauge success when it comes to mental health benefits? It sounds like there is an increasing need for mental health support and as you mentioned, if someone recognizes a need late at night, the ability to tap a resource that's available online is incredibly helpful. How do people know that they're hitting the right notes when it comes to the offerings and also how they're communicating them?

Jenny Haykin: Well, I think looking at vendor data is really helpful or internal data. If you're managing these programs in house and checking with vendors, you can check how utilization rates with the programs versus the book of business. So for example, if you're looking at short-term disability or long-term disability, obviously you want to have lower utilization. If you're looking at the employee assistance program, you want higher utilization than their book of business. If you're looking at accommodations versus disability claims, you want more people choosing accommodations and less people going out on disability. If you're looking at the medical plans, you can look at duration year over year of utilization of mental health resources and our people getting better faster, that means they're probably engaging with the services sooner. And that means that if you're making an effort to get people to services sooner, you've been successful. So lots of different ways to look at data to get the information.

Heather Grimshaw: I appreciate the explanation there because it really helps flush that out. One of the things that you've talked about throughout our conversation is customizing some of the offerings to fit your organizational culture. You've shared some really good information about the continuum that's used at Puget Sound Energy and the hesitation or really the avoidance of any kind of labeling of a certain type of diagnosis. And so it does sound as though not only have you customized the offering to suit the needs of the employees, but that it fits really nicely into that culture, which sounds like another potential piece of advice for your colleagues who are investigating these options. Is that fair?

Jenny Haykin: Yeah, I think that's been really helpful. I can tell you that two of our most popular lunch and learn offerings that we have recordings for, that employees can listen to at any time, were very, very specific to what was happening at the time and our culture. And one of them was finding happiness in winter. Because here in the Pacific Northwest, we have short days in winter, they tend to be gray and rainy and we have a lot of incidences of seasonal affective disorder. And during that first year of pandemic, just that awareness that wow, not only are we going to have the short days of winter and the rain and the darkness, but a large number of our employees aren't leaving the house because we're doing pandemic quarantining. And so the activities that they would be engaging in that would promote their good mental health, they're not going to be able to engage in with other people. So that one was one that I'm very grateful that we did because it really was needed and got really heavily utilized. Another one was on telecommuting fatigue. When everybody got sent home, people were exhausted telecommuting. And so that lunch and Learn explained to people why they were exhausted and what they could do about it. And utilization was really high. So things not only with your company culture, but just what's going on in the world and how people are being impacted are really important things to keep an eye on to make sure that you're supporting employees where they need it. And right now, a big, very important trend in industry is focusing on DEI that diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and really making sure that all of your employees, regardless of their backgrounds, are supported.

Heather Grimshaw: Thank you overall for your advice here. I think the specifics that you've provided and the guidance will be really helpful for listeners. And again, I did just want to repeat the fact that we will unlock the article that Jenny wrote in the Technology and Innovation issue of @Work magazine and really appreciate you spending time with us today. Jenny, thanks. Thank you again.

Jenny Haykin: Thank you, Heather. It's been my pleasure.



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