As a female entreprenuer, I often think about those who supported me along the way to a now 20 year successful business venture. That's why I like to give back and help other women working to have a long entreprenuerial career as well. Meet Amy Denney who is a locally owned small business owner focusing on helping others. She feels strongly that HR professionals can include her services in their overall employee assistance programs. Help me help her by giving the following a read from this "guest blogger".
There’s a tragedy in Employee Assistance Programs currently: they are underutilized AND they rarely even do what they promise.
This wellness model is intended to give employees access to needed support in the midst of personal life issues and crises. The EAP is often the system of choice for many employers, who struggle because it’s both underutilized and under appreciated by employees.
A 2016 study by Chestnut Global Partners found anywhere from 1.8 percent to 6.9 percent of employees utilize the EAP at all.
It could be because employees are calling the hotline and failing to get support or because many models contract with therapists who aren’t even accepting new patients, according to a Jan. 19, 2021 Forbes article entitled, “Is it Finally Time to Reconsider Employee Assistance Programs?”
Thankfully many employers are seeking out other solutions in addition to their EAP, in part due to the pandemic, though the Forbes article suggests it is simply time to ditch the EAP altogether.
What are the other solutions that are trending? What could take the place of the EAP and provide the needed help in times of crisis?
Anything that emphasizes the mind-body connection is bound to be more effective than simple “talk therapy.” While therapy has its place, in situations of trauma (which can include chronic stress), effective solutions have a physical component.
Holistic approaches to mental health are rooted in science, and addressing both the body and mind in a healthy environment for employees can have a positive ripple effect across the workplace.
Many trauma-informed experts agree that bottom-up approaches (training the body before or alongside the brain) more effectively retrain thought patterns, and can have tremendous impact on the quality of life (and work!) for your employees.
Bottom-up approaches involve a physical element such as movement (yoga/stretching), breathing or meditation. Its impact on the nervous system is tremendous. The heart rate lowers and the body and brain respond with calm and balance. Art, pet therapy and theater can all generate a similar response. These ideas are considered in trauma expert Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s bestselling book, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma.”
It’s pretty darn hard to talk the brain out of ingrained anxiety patterns. But the body can be more easily and gently coaxed.
Another option is science of photobiomodulation (PBM) that impacts the parasympathetic nervous system by releasing nitric oxide, a messenger molecule that promotes vasodilation of blood vessels and mediates communication between nervous system cells. PBM improves the body’s resilience to stress while at the same time elevating focus, improving sleep and giving energy levels a boost.
This is pretty exciting when we also consider stress is at the heart of 80 percent plus of all disease and illness. For employers, it impacts productivity in the workplace, sick days and staff turnover. Consider these statistics from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and business.com:
While the science of PBM for mental health is incredible, there are dozens of issues that it can help with — most involving some kind of pain. The Nobel Prize winning science of nitric oxide is touted for improving circulation and immunity.
It’s worth pointing out that pain is another workplace problem. An American Osteopathic Association survey found that more than one-quarter of office workers lose two or more hours a month on work-related tasks because of pain. Overall, according to the Institute of Medicine, the annual cost of lost workplace productivity due to pain is over $297 billion. Opioid use and addiction is another layer of concern that can enter the workforce, both rooted in pain. Getting ahead of addiction is in everyone’s best interests.
Amy Denney is owner of Shine Light Therapy and a certified Holy Yoga and trauma-sensitive Holy Yoga instructor. She has published a white paper on five uses of light therapy in the workplace that can be found at www.shinelighttherapy.com.
When a survey reports 83% of employees have been talking politics at work, you must be relieved that now some work can get done. So what should be top on mind for employers to get employees back to work after a pandemic practically lifted life out of employers and employees alike and it is not over yet.
The priority is to evaluate how you have done as an employer adapting to the COVID-19 situation and comparing that to what employees think. According, to almost 20k local government employees only 75% of essential workers and 89% of remote works think you’ve done a good job. A good 1/3 or so think the job has increased after COVID-19. Both situations do not bode well for employee morale and job satisfaction and can lead to increased turnover and low employee engagement. Currently, 51% of employees are looking to leave jobs which increases the stress on HR and hiring managers. Do not forget they can burnout too!
In my experience democratic administrations issue more workplace rules and regulations to follow which in some cases require training, administration and documentation. Biden vowed to issue mandatory safety rules in all workplaces which will be one of the first things to watch for in 2021. So far, depending on the governor, states have been free to manage COVID-19 the way they saw fit. While most follow CDC workplace guidelines, they are not necessarily required to do so. It is likely that OSHA will be put in charge for ensuring employers follow the laws. While OSHA is primarily focused on the private industry, the Illinois Workplace laws require every employer to follow OSHA requirements, local government included. While this might seem like a minimal requirement to follow it has major impact when not followed and employees report the organization. The maximum penalty is $134,937 or $13,494 per infraction.
Ensure your management team understands how to administer the Victims Economic Security and Safety Act Leave. Why, because this not as popular of leave as FMLA, PTO, etc. and the usage has been increasing due to the pandemic. Domestic violence incidents are increasing, and some have the possibility of doubling up as FMLA leave in addition to VESSA. Knowing the details and how to address issues in the workplace will give employers a leg up on those that are now being fined or lowing lawsuits for not administering correctly.
Stop saying “sorry” all the time. Just because you must implement a policy, conduct a required training, or require managers to document performance discussions that employees of all levels don’t necessary like doesn’t mean you should be sorry your doing it. Are you sorry? No, most likely you are just doing your job. Does your accounting department say they are sorry every time they ask for a receipt to pay an expense? Does IT say sorry every time they shut down the computer to install a new spyware software to protect the employer’s computer systems? No they do not. So stop saying “sorry”. Perhaps, I understand, or I feel your pain but do not apologize for doing your job.
Finally, as we watch the COVID-19 case numbers likely increase due to Thanksgiving gatherings, take this opportunity to suggest alternative Christmas and New Years celebrations that will minimize the risk in early 2021. Take time to thank your management team and staff especially those that have been on the front lines. While they are your rock stars they too are vulnerable, stressed to the max and may entertain an invitation to move to a position where they can have a better mental and physical outcome. Retention should be key in this environment and doing what we learned in kindergarten such as saying please and thank you is the easiest thing you can do to help this very volatile workplace situation we are in.
Like most, Conflict Management is not my favorite subject. Nor am I an expert as I have my own unresolved conflict currently brewing that I need to heed my own advice on. However, in Human Resources you often need to be a mediator of conflict between coworkers and manager/employee disagreements. Other times you simply have to provide advice to other managers who need to help their employees deal with conflict. Finally, conflict almost always shows up in the board room regardless of how well we try to avoid it.
So unless you are the king of conflict denial or the queen of pushing conflict under the rug, you may have a desire to fix your conflict situation at the earliest possible opportunity. If not you should…life is too short to live with conflict. If you don’t have a desire to resolve, then get ready for the big explosion that is bound to happen sooner or later. You can be sure someone will get hurt post explosion because something is almost always said that is not meant the way it comes out or is taken.
Some studies say we are about 75% responsible for how others treat us. If the emotion is negative then most likely some of that responsibility is in your reaction to the situation. If you are a person who tends to allow others to treat you in a way that causes inward or outward conflict, it may be time to put them in their place and make them think twice about doing it again. Of course I don’t mean to do this in a negative way because what does that do? It feeds the fire and causes more conflict. So here is a quick list of suggestions I recommend based on my own experience, education, and practice resolving conflict.
Even if these suggestion are just reminders of what you already know, I hope it’s a good refresher and can help maintain a relationship that may be on the verge of being broken. Remember, life is too short to carry conflict for long. Take responsibility now and move forward. I have lost several loved ones (mom, dad, and brother to name a few) in my life recently who I wish I had hugged one more time than I had fought with them.
Don’t have regrets and make a difference in your life and others.
Sometimes things happen in life that are simply unexpected, unfair, and come from out of the blue and smack you in the face like you were never expecting it. That happened to me this past January. I had a great career for almost two decades consulting and teaching. My motto was “I teach what I do and do what I teach”. Then one day, one half of that career was just gone. No warning, no expectation, no nothing; it was simply gone and by no fault of my own.
When something like this happens: What does one do? What can you do? What would you like to do? What is realistic? What is professional? What is acceptable? Do I react? Do I accept? Do I move on? Do I start over? There are so many questions running through your mind. It’s like you have been running so fast and suddenly you hit a brick wall and you fall down and can’t get back up, for what starts out to be hours, then days, then weeks which end up turning into months.
[A picture containing person, outdoor, front, personDescription automatically generated] How many of you have hit a brick wall in your mid or late career? I am 100% positive I am not the only one. I remember the first time I was laid off at 23 years old as a Training Specialist for a mortgage banking company due to a downturn in the economy. I was devastated but too proud to go to the unemployment office. Little did I realize back then that I earned that unemployment and should have taken it. I was laid off a few more times in my career and saw it coming again due to economic downturns, company restructuring, etc. When you are in HR management, often you know your job is going away before the rest of the company knows, so it is part of the career path.
This time was different. This time it was personal. This time it had to do with what I believed in, what I stood for, what I taught, what I consulted on, what was right and just. While I still cannot talk about the details freely, I can say that it hit my core. I worried about my reputation, what people thought of me, how I would come out of this. Remember I told you this was no fault of my own. However, what do we do as women? We take on what is not ours to take on. Therapy helps and it is not a bad thing, believe me! It took me a while to also relate this situation to fears I had always lived with as well.
That brick wall represented fear and was like losing something or someone. Part of myself. It was a huge loss. I finally realized: it was grief that I was going through. It was not until I was deep into the depression stage that this reality hit me. I had already managed the loss of half of my career through the denial, anger, bargaining stages which took about one and a half months. The depression stage was the longest stage of all. It was prolonged by COVID-19, quarantine, and the loss of several consulting and training gigs. So in a way, I was starting to feel I was hitting another brick wall because what did the future hold with the consulting half of my career post COVID? I was starting to feel that was going to be the next thing to go, to lose, to grieve.
I struggled with decisions about whether I should continue to consult only, or if I should look for a full time HR job. I knew if I did that I would most likely have to give up consulting. I have not worked a typical 8 to 5 job for nearly 20 years. I have been my own boss, managed my own schedule, and done so much without being under someone else’s thumb for so long; how I could do that again? Luckily throughout all these months and all these stages I had the support of so many positive people telling me I would be ok, and this too shall pass.
Words like freedom, choice, and your own path was used often in discussions. While it took me a while to push down that brick wall and be open to this change as a window instead of a wall, I finally came to see the light. I finally realized this is my chance to finally put all my effort on revitalizing, building, and growing that consulting firm that I started with nothing so many years ago. I have worked hard over the years to build my skills, knowledge, and experience. I am an HR subject matter expert after all having worked, consulted, and taught for almost 30 years now. Why not look through that window and see opportunity with clarity and purpose? Why not turn all that negative energy into something positive, something better, and something that can help other? Continuing to help others is what I have always been about.
You see, we all struggle, and this is not my first. It certainly will not be my last. I just hope I have inspired someone who is reading this to not give up on your dreams just because someone else decides one day to change your reality because they can. You have the power to change your own future. Get up and do it and do not look back. Look clearly through that window of opportunity!