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How helpful are workplace wellness programs for people with disabilities?

August 21, 2018
Diversity & Inclusion

Businesses are spending a great deal of time, money and energy providing outlets for people to stay healthy. They are also educating leaders and managers on how exactly to create a positive mental health environment on the job.

But according to Employee Benefit News, although wellness programs are growing, initiatives that serve chronic health conditions have seen a significant drop in the last five years. That’s an issue that cannot be ignored in the disability community. Some of the most pressing needs facing people with disabilities who are working are chronic (they come and go but do not preclude people from working). These chronic conditions include mental health disorders, long-term pain issues, musculoskeletal problems, vision or hearing loss.

The goal of this post is to make clear that while well-deserved attention is being paid to corporate healthy living and wellness programs, these do not necessarily serve the needs of working people with disabilities. To explain this issue further, here are just four of the many issues facing leaders who want to offer benefits for all:

1. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) Aren’t A Great Fit For People With Mental Health Conditions.

The number of employees who seek mental health advice through their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is still pretty limited. A recent profile of an average company’s use of counseling showed a minuscule percentage of employees used those services. A national benchmarking study of EAP programs showed a median use of 4.5 of 100 covered employees used outside services offered through their employer. That’s pretty dismal. It may be that the message that it is free, short-term, objective counseling available lost on the average worker. It’s also likely that eligible employees are frustrated by the fact that an EAP offers help and then ends after several weeks, spitting them out into a system of hard-to-find or difficult-to-afford care.

2. Employees Still Feel Stigmatized.

It’s common for successful, productive employees who enjoy their job to say they won’t reveal that they are facing a mental health issue because it would cast a shadow on all their hard work. According to a Kaiser Permanente study, eight out of 10 workers with a mental health condition say shame and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment. Fear also plays a role. Research published in Work, Employment and Society shows employees with disabilities are twice as likely to be attacked at work and are the target of more insults, ridicule, and intimidation. It’s no wonder then that a U.K. survey of 1000 people found that 26 percent of people had taken a mental health day and lied about their reason for being absent.

3. Preventative Employee Wellness Programs Can Be Highly Successful.

According to a 2017 National Business Group on Health (NGBH) survey, there is a trend toward offering employees healthy on-site food options, standing desks, and other ergonomically-friendly workstations. What needs to be on the table for discussion and study next? The fact that these programs are not targeted to helping people with disabilities—nearly 49 million Americans—who require assistive technology or other reasonable accommodations that go beyond standing desks or healthy eating programs.

4. It’s Not All Bad News: One In Four Adults With A Disability Is Being Heard.

More businesses are beginning to see the need to promote preventive wellness as well as revisit how and how much assistance they offer for chronic issues, according to Workplace Disability Trends. One likely reason: The U.S. Social Security Administration projects that nearly a third of workers under 21 will become disabled before they reach their late 60s. Some companies are beginning to spend more on adopting digital health strategies to track and serve their workforce better and less expensively. This should trickle down to a change in the way health benefits serve certain groups that are in high need right now, for instance, the millions of Americans who have a treatable mental illness but are not receiving treatment because they do not have access to affordable medical care. The bottom line, according to experts, is that employers must invest in care for people with chronic illnesses and disabilities or they will begin to see the consequences.

By Denise Brodey

Source: Forbes

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