Happy workers, positive results: How Chippewa Valley businesses address mental health of their workforce

Happy workers, positive results: How Chippewa Valley businesses address mental health of their workforce

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The mental health of one’s workforce is key, as mental health challenges can throw a monkey wrench into the gears, whether it’s absenteeism, interpersonal conflict, a drop in performance due to distraction or disinterest, or quitting.

Turnover hurts because training is expensive and it takes time for the new hire to master their assigned tasks. Chippewa Valley employers tender care to mental health in various ways, some reactive and some proactive.

Proactive care is pragmatic, as research has shown that millennials want to work in places where they’ll be happier than their parents. Studies also show that millennials want workplace policies that enable work/life balances so that there’s time to tender to relationships and family.

The larger employers have the resources to develop formal mental health infrastructure and policies that address a wide range of challenges, from opioid addiction to depression to even parenting and to offer these resources 24/7/365.

Some strive to be as proactive as reactive, for there’s proven causation between exercise and good mental health. Even being outside and increased socialization render good mental health outcomes, so Valley employers, bigger and smaller, provide exercise, socializing, and outdoor opportunities.

Eau Claire Area School District

By employee count, the Eau Claire Area School District (ECASD) is tied for third among Eau Claire’s largest employers, with 1,400-plus employees spread throughout many buildings. Having so many colleagues can be a challenge when it comes to conveying the many ways that the ECASD has its employees’ backs.

Kay M. Marks, Executive Director of Human Resources for the ECASD, said: “A struggle that we continue to experience is educating all our employees as to the vast resources available to them through our Employee Achievement Program (EAP).”

ECASD disseminates those resources from the top down.

“We have found that through ongoing training and education of supervisors and managers, we have been able to reach more people, as they are then the ones to promote and share what resources someone could benefit from,” Marks said.

The ECASD EAP comes from a partnership with REALiving, which enables a fuller suite of services.

“REALiving’s EAP is not a typical EAP like those offered by most employers,” Marks said. “The employees of the ECASD have access to a litany of services and offerings that support both their personal and work environments.”

For example, there’s professional coaching, with topics ranging from organization and time management for stressed employees to working with difficult co-workers. There are also executive coaching services that includes management strategies and leadership development. Whatever the need, you can be counseled in person or over the phone, for both employees and their family members.

Financial challenges are one of the biggest triggers of mental health challenges, so there’s also financial advice. There’s even legal assistance, including resources for employees to create their own legal documents, such as a will or power of attorney form.

For those who prefer to privately address workplace and mental health challenges, there are a wide variety of publications on topics, ranging from wellness to parenting to retirement. There are also presentations and speakers for district events and meetings.

“One of the greatest highlights of this program is that because it’s so proactive and offers so much more than counseling services: It truly takes away the stigma that is associated with a traditional EAP,” Marks said. “Employees are not ashamed or embarrassed to utilize the REALiving services because they find value in what they have to offer.”

Mayo Clinic Health System

Mayo Clinic Health System is the second largest employer in Eau Claire. Being a caregiving company, Mayo recognizes that tendering good healthcare comes from a foundation of good self-care.

Tina Bialzik, employee well-being specialist, Mayo Clinic Health System, said: “At Mayo, the needs of the patients come first. However, in order to best care for our patients, employees must first care for themselves. Our personal lives affect our work life and vice versa, so we offer programs, resources and opportunities that help our staff thrive personally and professionally.”

Mayo recognizes that good mental health isn’t enabled by a single source.

“We practice a holistic approach and focus on six domains of well-being: financial, social, emotional, and physical, as well as work-life integration and meaning and purpose in work,” Bialzik said.

To support the mental health of its employees, Mayo uses those working alongside them, as they know them and their challenges best.

“Mayo has a very robust Well-Being Champions program with 1,400 members across the enterprise,” Bialzik said. “Well-Being Champions are supported by the Employee Well-Being team and are employees who increase the awareness of the health and well-being of their coworkers.”

The Well-Being Champions are the mental health versions of personal trainers.

“They promote lifestyle choices that support good health and improve the quality of life at Mayo Clinic,” Bialzik said. “They are champions of well-being and catalysts for change, offering opportunities for their coworkers to increase their energy level, enjoy more productive workdays, and ultimately to feel better about themselves.”

The Well-Being Champions don’t just talk the talk. They walk it.

“They promote health and well-being in their work areas by being a role model for leading a healthy lifestyle, they promote staff well-being by engaging colleagues, and they create and maintain a well-being space on a bulletin board, a department intranet site, or in unused space in their work areas to share communications regarding wellness activities,” Bialzik said.

To upgrade their supportive skill sets, the Well-Being Champions attend regularly scheduled meetings to determine the best ways to support their colleagues and are chosen because they manifest a sincere desire to help their colleagues enhance the quality of their lives and their mental health. However, Mayo doesn’t just rely on its Champions to support its employees.

“In addition to the Champions program, Mayo has a monthly well-being newsletter, a ‘12 Habits for Well-Being’ program, worksite presentations, employee challenges centered around the six domains, well-being courses on paid time, and domain-specific resources and regional opportunities,” Bialzik said. “By focusing on the six domains of well-being and supporting our employees, staff members are happier, have an increase in energy level, enjoy more productive workdays, and ultimately feel better about themselves.”

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Also tied for third as one of the largest Eau Claire employers, UW-Eau Claire (UW-EC) employs a multi-pronged mental health approach, both proactive and reactive, utilizing its beautiful campus and facilities to keep its workforce happy and humming.

Jennifer Steinhorst, a Human Resource Specialist at UW-EC, said: “We are proud of the wellness offerings that the UW-EC provides to our employees. Our Employee Assistance Program not only focuses on mental and physical wellbeing, but also on financial well-being, which can often be a stressor for many people. Our EAP is available to employees and their families 24/7/365.”

Then there’s the fair, a pick-me-up to launch spring.

“Our annual Wellness Fair is held in March,” Steinhorst said. “We welcome a variety of vendors to showcase their services and products, everything from weight management, smoking cessation, chiropractic care, foot heath, spa services, mental health, financial options, ageing and elder care, dental health, etc. The Wellness Fair is offered to all employees at no cost and it’s a great way for employees to walk away with some prizes.”

UW-EC’s campus also lends itself to good mental health.

“Another benefit of working on a college campus is the access employees have to our recreational facilities and programs that are offered to students,” Steinhorst said. “Employees can participate in a variety of fitness classes in our studios as well as discounted memberships in our fitness centers that are managed through our recreation department.”

Recognizing that simply being outside is conducive to good mental health, UW-EC facilitates this.

“Employees also have access to rent outdoor equipment such as canoes, kayaks, tents, bikes, golf equipment, snowshoes, etc.,” Steinhorst said. “One of the most unique features we have on our campus is the Eagle View Challenge Ropes Course. Many departments on campus as well other employers use this course for team building, trust building and leadership development.”

Chippewa Valley Technical College

Like UW-EC, Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC), another big employer in Eau Claire, has a wellness fair, held in January each year.

Julie Neuhaus, PHR, SHRM-CP, Human Resources Manager at CVTC, said: “All employees are invited, including faculty, professional and support staff. Having the event during in-service provides the best opportunity for employees from all of our campuses to attend.”

It’s a wander-and-learn event.

“There are no formal presentations,” Neuhaus said. “Many vendors attend, host a booth, and share information with our employees. There’s something for everyone — mental, physical, financial wellness, and more. Many booths are interactive, such as BMI measurement. Vitamin samples are provided and even massages have been offered.

Attendance is incentivized in several ways.

“Participation is encouraged and rewarded by wellness points, which can save employees money on their health insurance costs,” Neuhaus said. “Vendors also donate prizes. To be eligible for prizes, employees are required to interact with vendors during the fair. Prizes have included such things as gift certificates, memberships and sample products.”

CVTC has also an EAP, which can assist with opioid addiction and other substance abuse, bullying, depression, parenting, mental health, aging, overall wellness, legal resources and more.

“EAP resources are available to employees and their family members 24/7/365 at no cost and completely confidential,” Neuhaus said.

CVTC contracts with Vital Work Life to provide EAP services.

“Vital Work Life has providers throughout the Midwest, which means they can service our employees who reside in River Falls or Chippewa Falls. CVTC has campuses in five different communities,” Neuhaus said.

CVTC’s EAP’s confidentiality encourages its use.

“Because services provided through the EAP are confidential, the college does not receive reports on individual interactions or results. The EAP is about the health and well-being of our colleagues and will always be important to the entire organization,” Neuhaus said.

Smaller, tailored and nimble

Smaller businesses in the Chippewa Valley won’t have the resources to build a fitness center or launch an EAP, so attending to the mental health of their employees might necessarily be more tailored, personal, and nimble. This can be a huge perk, as a Fidelity study concluded that millennials are willing to take a $7,600 pay cut to work for a company with a happier company culture. Volume One and Tru-Lock & Security Inc. are two smaller companies that support good mental health through fun and caring cultures that also free employees to attend to family crises, family needs and personal challenges.

Nick Meyer, editor, publisher, and owner of Volume One, said: “We don’t have a specific mental health approach, but we do work hard to build a positive culture. We have a decent PTO policy that gets much bigger the longer you’ve been here. It can be taken for any reason, and general ‘mental health days’ have been cited in the past.”

There are also half-day Fridays in the summer for office staff, Free Beer Friday once a month, with staff socializing with snacks and craft beer for an hour at the end of the day, and even in-office massages once a month.

“We also do various staff outings once or twice a year, such as kayaking down the Eau Claire River, going to Action City, paintball, touring a brewery, going bowling, and stuff like that,” Meyer said.

Volume One even offers three paid days a year to volunteer for a nonprofit and hosts random staff cook-outs, pot lucks, and parties. That covers the good times, but what about tragedy?

“We’ve also had a few significant family tragedies in the past with some of our staff and we’ve just allowed a lot of leeway for those individuals to deal with those things, with extra time off and other ways to give people the mental space they need,” Meyer said.

Tru-Lock & Security Inc. also manifests caring in various ways.

Patty Lokken, Corporate Secretary/Treasurer Tru-Lock & Security Inc., said, “I like to think of our employees here at Tru-Lock as part of our extended family. Many have been here for a goodly amount of years and have truly become just like family to us. We appreciate their efforts and their contributions to the company.”

Tru-Lock shows its appreciation in return.

“Over the years, many of the employees have needed time off for the births of their children, necessary surgery and illness recuperation, vacations, travel, moving, weddings, honeymoons, and funerals,” Lokken said. “Each worthy circumstance has been accommodated without many exceptions and employees were given the time off they needed to take care of the important things going on in their lives.”

Tru-Lock’s size means its owners can really come to know its employees and support them.

“Tru-Lock is a large enough firm to service a wide radius of the Chippewa Valley and beyond, but small enough to have strong interactions with each other and a healthy knowledge of what’s going on in each of our lives,” Lokken said. “We genuinely respect and support one another, which I think is really important in any organization. Our family owners are readily available and always approachable for comments and suggestions when differences of opinion occur, as they certainly do, and a workable solution is found.”

Like Volume One, Tru-Lock has a culture that conveys caring, thus promoting good mental health.

“Everyone likes to feel appreciated,” Lokken said. “So, we like to celebrate birthdays at work with a homemade birthday cake or special dessert on their important day to share with everyone. We always have lots of fun at our holiday Christmas parties with spouses. Everyone gets a little crazy with food, fun, games, prizes, and even some funny skits. Fairly regularly, there is also a pan of baked goods, brownies, donuts, or bagels free for the taking in the employee lunch room for those who have the munchies or need to satisfy a sweet tooth with their coffee.”

When employees feel the care, they care more about their work.

“Appreciated employees will almost always go the extra mile when the need arises,” Lokken said.

A plethora of approaches

Whether it’s a a very robust Well-Being Champions program with 1,400 members, EAPs that buttress employees 24/7/365, fitness centers that tap into the mind/body connection and thus promote good mental health, or even Free Beer Fridays, the Valley’s employers convey and deliver caring in myriad ways. How important is this? Economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12% increase in productivity. Conversely, unhappy workers proved 10% less productive. In short, supporting good mental health is a good business practice.

“We’ve also had a few significant family tragedies in the past with some of our staff and we’ve just allowed a lot of leeway for those individuals to deal with those things, with extra time off and other ways to give people the mental space they need.” Nick Meyer, editor publisher and owner of Volume One

“By focusing on the six domains of well-being and supporting our employees, staff members are happier, have an increase in energy level, enjoy more productive workdays, and ultimately feel better about themselves.” Tina Bialzik, employee well-being specialist Mayo Clinic Health System


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