Inside PNC’s mental health benefits

LAS VEGAS — When 11 people were killed in a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last year, family and friends of PNC employees lost their lives.

Liz Harrington, vice president and health and wellness strategy manager at PNC, said to deal with the tragedy — and others like it across the country — the financial services company leveraged its mental health and wellness benefits to help workers cope. The company, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh, has about 53,000 employees across the U.S.

“There’s a lot of things happening in our society today and it’s important to address our employees individual mental health issues,” Harrington said, speaking this week at the Society for Human Resource Management annual conference. “[It’s about] helping to make sure they can share with their loved ones, their children and cope with a healthy way themselves.”

See also: Recognizing job-related stress, employers zero in on mental health benefits

To do this, PNC launched a mental health campaign leveraging benefits from its wellbeing program, Living Well, which focuses on employee finances, life and health. The program was formed in 2010, in collaboration with ComPsych, an employee assistance program provider. Dale Grenolds, executive vice president of ComPsych, said the company wanted to develop a program that would be accessible to a broad range of workers.

“It seems everyday and every week there are things happening in the world that create anxiety, heightened levels of stress,” Grenolds said.

Ignoring mental health issues could come with a hefty price tag for employers. It is estimated that unengaged workers, a consequence of mental health disorders and stress, cost the U.S. between $483 billion to $605 billion a year in lost productivity.

About 83% of employers offer mental health coverage, according to SHRM data. Much like PNC, some employers, including Ocean Spray and CHG Healthcare have taken additional steps to address mental health in the workplace.

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PNC ramped up its mental health campaign by promoting a diverse group of vendors and benefits on its Living Well platform. Some of the benefit offerings include coaching, on-site wellbeing centers, an EAP and on-demand remote behavioral healthcare, via its partnership with Teladoc. The company also shared details about caregiving benefits including backup child care and eldercare, which can help to minimize stress for workers.

PNC promoted external sources like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The company heightened its messaging in October for world mental health day and in May, for mental health awareness month. It also hosted manager trainings and taught more than 700 managers how to have open discussions about mental health at work, Harrington said.

“We’ve tried to be intentional when we talk about things,” she added.

See also: Using benefits to curb employee stress

But PNC realized there was one “gaping hole” in its program, Grenolds said. While the company had multiple benefits available for those who were already seeking counseling, it lacked messaging that detailed what employees should expect when they sought out a counselor. For example, if an employee struggled with anxiety, going to a counselor could induce so much stress they might not even make it to the appointment.

“We had all these great resources once they got into counseling but didn’t have that fundamental piece to say here’s what you might experience, here’s ways to prepare for the visit, here’s what you can expect. Very basic stuff,” he said.

Since implementation, Harrington said the company has seen some increase in the number of employees who are using mental health benefits from the company. But they don’t yet have enough data to determine if it is reducing the cost of care, she added.

Regardless, in one year, between 2017 and 2018, the employer saw a more than 20% increase in the number of workers accessing counseling. It also saw a more than 50% jump in those seeking out coaching on topics including improving sleep and resilience. Harrington said she hopes these numbers will continue to go up.

“We’ve really tried to tie mental health into the overall well-being messaging, and we’ve continued to evolve that over the years,” she said.

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