A recent Unum study1 found that work environment has a significant impact on an employee’s absence from work due to behavioral health issues. The research also found it to be the leading barrier employees face when returning to work.
“The current culture of the American workplace is operating on a ‘do more with less’ mentality,” explains Dr. Kristin Tugman, PhD, assistant vice president of Health and Productivity at Unum. “This is creating a workforce that is struggling with presenteeism and lack of engagement, as well as an unbalanced work/life structure. As a result, employees are faced with more workplace stress than ever before.”
And that is having a negative effect on an employer’s bottom line: 41 percent of employees lose 15 to 30 minutes of productivity a day and 36 percent lose one hour or more as a result of workplace stress.2
That stress can also be compounded by additional factors such as employee performance issues. The research showed that for some employees the stress of performance expectations becomes too great and they’re not able to persevere, so instead they go out on leave due to stress.
“The flip side to that is the negative stigma that is often associated with leave or disability, especially when the absence from work is due to a mental health issue,” said Tugman. “This stigma becomes a barrier too, causing employees to either be afraid to seek help or to take leave.”
These factors, in addition to workplace stress, contribute to presenteeism, or being at work but with an inability to perform at full capacity. And that can be bad news for employers too because currently presenteeism costs the United States approximately $150 billion a year.3
It comes down to the role of managers in the workplace, Tugman said. “Managers have an integral part to play when it comes to helping employees navigate changes and challenges associated with a company’s structure or systems. That means managers not only need to have the knowledge to do their job, but also the training and tools to effectively manage employees.”
A mandatory, formalized management training program is the first step, but the research showed that there is also a need for ongoing support and coaching of managers to help them with challenges they face and refresh their skills as their careers continue.
Manager training and education should include training on how to handle performance issues, difficult situations and complaints, as well as work distribution and disability matters. Programs that focus on skill development, emotional intelligence and team building are also vital components to an effective manager training program.
“Employers need to arm their managers with the skills they need to support their employees through open and honest communication, empathy and transparency,” Tugman said. “Helping managers stay accountable for their management style and encouraging positive manager/employee relationships leads to a more engaged and productive workforce.”
For more information about our extensive experience and expertise in disability, absence management and successful return-to-work strategies, please contact your Unum representative.
1 Work-related behavioral health short term disability claims, October 2014
2 Juniper, B. (2012). Price of presenteeism. Occupational Health, 64(5), 26
3 10 ways to reduce the threat of 'presenteeism'. (2013). HR Specialist: Compensation & Benefits, 8(1), 1-2