Case Study: Lessons from the University of Alabama’s Approach To Mental Health
In our last issue, Stan Kulesa covered ways you can help your clients "Manage Mental Health Disability In The Workplace." In this issue, we're highlighting a companion case study developed by Laurel Long, Assistant Vice President of Human Resources at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).
In February of this year, an unfortunate tragedy occurred on the UAH campus. A biology professor shot and killed three colleagues during a routine faculty meeting and wounded three others. While the incident was unprovoked and unpredictable, fortunately the University had a strong benefits program, wellness initiatives and ongoing support for mental health already in place, which were extremely valuable in helping staff and students cope with this tragedy.
The University had formed a system-wide Benefits Committee in 2006, which identified multiple challenges to positive mental health, including staff reductions, leadership changes, delayed retirement and fiscal uncertainty. New wellness initiatives, education and awareness programs were developed and coordinated to address these issues. Updated websites and e-mails made benefits information easier to find and use.
EAP Improves Performance And Provides On-Site Counseling
Utilization of the University’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) increased from 17 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2009. Online visits increased 45 percent from 2007 to 2008. Top participant issues include emotional well-being/stress management, addiction and recovery and mandated referrals for work issues. The EAP also offers training programs such as "A Personal Guide to Managing Change.” Following the traumatic February incident, because the EAP was already in place, the provider was able to rapidly respond with on-site counseling.
The program has had a significant impact on work performance:
- Improved productivity – 70.7 percent
- Reduced absenteeism – 71.8 percent
- Reduced stress – 88.2 percent
- More likely to stay employed at UAH – 75.9 percent
Faculty And Staff Clinic Increases Satisfaction, Reduces Costs
While primarily for medical needs, the on-site clinic provides counseling and consultation on lifestyle changes. It has helped increase employee productivity and satisfaction, and sick leave usage has decreased each year. The projected annual cost savings for the University are $77,000.
SSAFE Fund And RAVE Program Show Innovation Works
The innovative Student, Staff and Faculty Emergency Fund (SSAFE) provides free assistance for students, faculty and staff facing emergency personal situations. It helps remove stressors by allowing employees to be more present and productive at work. Fund requests range from rent, utilities and groceries to medical bills and day care. This resource was also put to good use following the February incident.
The RAVE Program is a joint initiative of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Human Resources and the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS). It provides disability management and comprehensive case management to employees and/or job applicants whose job performance, job stability or promotional opportunities are affected by physical, mental or emotional impairment. The program has helped retain 24 employees over the past two years, at no cost to them or UAB.
Seven Lessons From UA’s Successful Wellness Programs
The UA case study showcases the importance of being proactive and having positive mental health and wellness programs in place that support employees every day, as well as during difficult circumstances. The following keys to success also apply to businesses:
- Ensure senior administration (or management) support
- Educate employees about the benefits of counseling; overcome popular myths
- Make mental health awareness a key part of your wellness initiative
- Partner with benefits providers and use their expertise and resources
- Get feedback from employees on what they want
- Communicate often and vary the communication methods
- Periodically check to see if the program is working and meeting its goals