Model Successful Programs
One of the best ways to get started with a workplace mental health initiative is to learn about what other employers have done, especially those of a similar size and/or nature. The Center for Workplace Mental Health offers a library of case studies, which profile a wide range of organizations of all sizes. Just a few examples include EY, HealthPartners, RK and Prudential Financial.
To add to this growing body of knowledge, in 2018 EARN conducted qualitative interviews with representatives from several employers to learn about their mental health initiatives. Below are summaries of insight gleaned from these interviews, which were conducted as part of a larger research project focused on workplace mental health initiatives.
- Bike and Roll DC
- Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
- Duke University
- Mayo Clinic/Dan Abraham Health Living Center
A small, independent business, Bike and Roll DC offers professionally guided bike and Segway sightseeing tours in the nation’s capital, in addition to bike rentals. Run jointly by a husband and wife and one of their sisters, the business’s family nature is the force behind its implementation of a robust mental health initiative for a small business.
Following the suicide of the couple’s teenage son, the family decided to use the tragedy to educate about and decrease stigma surrounding mental health conditions, both externally, through a foundation, and internally, through a wellness program for employees. The goal is to create an open environment, one in which employees feel comfortable talking about and tending to their mental health needs. This begins during onboarding, a frequent process given the seasonal nature of the business; at peak times of the year, the organization’s staff grows to as many as 100 people. Also, “mental health days” are granted without question.
On Wednesdays, employees wear special orange shirts to raise awareness of the Orange Wednesday Foundation, which supports families with children with mental health conditions. The shirts are meant to serve as a regular reminder about the company’s open environment. The strategy is to be as flexible as possible, says co-owner Janna Marks. “You have to run a business, but first and foremost, let’s make sure people are okay.” Return to top of page.
Leadership at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is acutely aware of the stress that working at the facility can place on employees, who care for and interact with children experiencing significant illness and trauma and their families on a daily basis. As a result, the hospital has committed to ensuring the compassion it provides its patients is extended to its staff as well, with a special emphasis on their mental health needs.
This involves proactively creating opportunities for employees to talk about their emotions. As part of this, the hospital developed a mobile cart, dubbed “Code Lavender,” which includes a variety of stress reduction resources, such as scented lavender, art supplies, books, water, and meditation and massage guides. For example, on a day when employees may be facing a particularly intense situation, a department might declare “Code Lavender at 2:00 p.m.” in order to bring employees together for reflection, sharing and relaxation.
In addition, the hospital participates in Schwartz Rounds, an industry program that provides a structured forum for staff, both clinical and non-clinical, to discuss the emotional challenges of working in a hospital environment. To encourage participation in both of these initiatives, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital uses posters, newsletters and word of mouth. Return to top of page.
In recent years, Durham, North Carolina-based Duke University decided that, despite having significant resources in place to assist employees with mental health concerns, they were not maximized due to isolation from other internal wellness initiatives. To help, the university created the “Healthy Duke” initiative.
This initiative integrates five core areas to communicate a commitment to wellness among not only faculty and staff but also students. These include: 1) food and nutrition; 2) mental and emotional wellbeing; 3) physical activity and movement; 4) fulfillment and purpose; and 5) environment and culture. Developed under the leadership of Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Bryan Sexton, the program seeks to help all at Duke realize their full potential and live healthier lives, both physically and mentally.
One key element behind Duke’s decision to launch Healthy Duke was support from top leadership; the university’s current chancellor came from the University of California, Los Angeles, which was the first university to implement a “healthy campus” initiative. Another important factor was that, like many large educational institutions, Duke has many different “subcultures,” and a multi-tiered campaign allows for differentiation among them. As the program evolves, the university aims to establish different work groups, each with an embedded communicator whose job will be to liaise with other groups to ensure an integrated and effective roll out. Return to top of page.
Chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturer DuPont has a long and rich history of promoting employee wellness and a mental health-friendly work culture. In fact, it is regarded as having one of the first corporate support programs, an early version of an employee assistance program (EAP). Reflecting this history, DuPont has a number of internal initiatives focused on mental health and employee wellbeing, with strong support from top leadership.
Given the global nature of the company, these initiatives take different forms in different locations to account for cultural differences in how mental health is talked about and perceived around the world. The company feels this differentiation has been critical to success. As one example, it asks offices worldwide to observe the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3), but each has latitude in how to do so.
Perhaps most notably, DuPont’s global EAP team created and implemented an internal anti-stigma campaign, called “ICU” (“I See You”), the centerpiece of which is an animated video about how to recognize signs of emotional distress in colleagues and encourage them to seek help. Based on its success, DuPont decided to make the ICU Program available to all employers, free of charge, through a partnership with the Center for Workplace Mental Health. Return to top of page.
Pharmaceutical company Janssen, whose parent company is Johnson and Johnson, has established a company-wide vision that mental illness be “well understood and treated early and mostly prevented by 2030.” This vision aligns with United Nations development goals and reflects the company’s goal to be a leader in not only mental health prevention and treatment, but also increasing awareness and eradicating stigma.
Janssen acts on this goal not only externally, related to the company’s products and services, but also internally. For example, the company is known to be the first to establish an employee resource group (ERG) specifically for employees who have or care for someone with a mental health condition. This ERG spearheads a number of events, including an observation of World Mental Health Day (October 10) at more than 90 facilities in 32 countries. During these events, senior executives spoke on video about how mental health should be treated in the same way as physical health. In many places, employee assistance program (EAP) representatives were also on hand to talk about new related aspects in the company’s health care plan offerings and efforts to bridge the gap between physical and mental health benefits—gaps identified as problematic during an EAP audit.
In addition, the company is developing a mental health training for employees, based on the fact that the underlying issue in many performance problems is stress and other mental health concerns. This training will help the company’s supervisors understand and identify when this may be the case. Return to top of page.
Global pharmaceutical company Lundbeck engages in the research, development and sale of drugs for psychiatric and neurological disorders, primarily depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. With offices in more than 50 countries, it employs about 5,000 people. According to company representatives, educating about and decreasing stigma associated with mental health are embedded in Lundbeck’s seven core corporate beliefs and projected externally as well as internally.
Reflecting this, medications for mental health conditions are available to employees or their dependents at no cost when prescribed by a physician. Further, all benefits information received leading up to open enrollment in the company’s health care plan prominently feature mental health messaging. The goal is to make mental health “front and center, right next to vision.”
To assist in fostering a mental health-friendly work culture, Lundbeck also developed a campaign called “Right Direction,” which the company made available to all employers, free of charge, through a partnership with the Center for Workplace Mental Health. This campaign educates that depression is a serious condition that impacts all aspects of a person’s life, including work, and provides employers with turnkey, customizable resources and materials to assist in addressing it in the workplace setting. Return to top of page.
In 2014, Merck, a global health care company headquartered in Kenilworth, NJ with more than 69,000 employees worldwide, implemented an internal disability awareness campaign, titled “I Am Merck, Count Me In.” The purpose of the effort was to encourage more openness about disability across the company—a federal contractor subject to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act—and educate employees about why they were invited to self-identify as having a disability and the benefits of doing so if appropriate.
The company also used this opportunity to educate about “hidden disabilities,” among them mental health conditions, which company representatives said were increasingly “cropping up” as an issue of concern for employees. Through this campaign, Merck discerned that employees indicated a reluctance to self-identify or disclose having a mental health condition for fear of stigma. To counter this, the company decided to implement a number of internal initiatives focused on mental health.
To start, it gathered internal divisions and created a series of events rolled out via a global webcast. Following this webcast, the company planned to offer two-hour mental health workshops on identifying mental health issues, in order to train and create a cadre of “mental health ambassadors.” It also planned to roll out a series of “Resources for Living” on topics such as supporting family members with mental health conditions, fighting stigma, emotional intelligence and resilience. Return to top of page.
The Mayo Clinic’s Dan Abraham Health Living Center is named for a business leader and philanthropist who was a patient at the Mayo Clinic and founded the center to express appreciation for the care provided him. Today, the center’s mission is to improve the health, both physical and mental, of Mayo Clinic employees, retirees, volunteers and their spouses.
A few years ago the center established an Employee Wellbeing Team and rolled out four components to assist in promoting wellness: 1) a wellbeing website available to all employees; 2) “well-champions,” who serve as ambassadors to promoting a healthy lifestyle and work-life balance; 3) workforce learning, encompassing courses on mental health topics; and 4) enterprise challenges, which are designed to keep employees engaged, mindful and present. To ensure these components are available to teleworking Mayo Clinic employees, the center is also exploring virtual wellness coaching and other means of programming delivery.
The Dan Abraham Health Living Center is not revenue driven; employees do pay a fee to join, but the center covers 50 percent of the cost. A study of regular members (those who use the center three times a week or more) indicated a decrease in health care costs of about $6,000 per individual. This return on investment assists in highlighting the center’s value and soliciting donations to maintain and expand its services. Return to top of page.