Employee stress and mental health touches every area of your business. Your employee’s mental health is reflected in productivity, morale, absenteeism, turnover, engagement, burnout, customer satisfaction, teamwork, employee complaints, and incivility.
Nearly every mental illness begins when an individual’s coping skills are inadequate to handle the level of chronic stress being experienced. An Aon Hewitt survey recently reported that 54% of employees report high levels of stress. Nearly 18% of the adult population in the United States experienced a mental illness in the past 12 months.
Two significant advances in the science of human thriving (what helps humans thrive in spite of adversity) make it possible for employers to address the mental health crisis. We know far more than we’ve ever known about how to optimize the mind to increase the ability to fulfill an individual’s potential and maintain good mental health. Until very recently, the continuum of strategies for coping with stress stopped at adaptive coping strategies.
Recent advances expanded the spectrum of coping skills to include Advanced and Transformational Strategies. Brief descriptions below highlight the importance of this shift.
- Dysfunctional Coping: Makes the situation worse, fast
- Maladaptive Coping: Increases stress, allows problem to fester, situation gets worse slowly
- Palliative Coping: Decreases stress temporarily but does not solve the problem
- Adaptive Coping: Changes the situation in ways that reduce stress
- Advanced Coping: Quickly reduces stress using metacognition and critical thinking
- Transformational Coping: Permanently reduces stress experienced every day
Unhealthy habits of thought lead to suboptimal outcomes. Habits of thought affect success in every area of life including relationships, physical, mental and behavioral health, academic and career success. Healthy habits of thought optimize outcomes in every area of life. Training employees how to change habits of thought provides them the opportunity to choose healthy habits of thought.
The second and perhaps most important advancement is the re-defining of the purpose and use of emotions in 2007. The old paradigm about emotions (the way most people interpret the meaning of their emotions) leads to worse outcomes than people achieve when they apply the new, scientifically validated definition. The new definition is that emotions are a sense designed to guide behavior. Positive emotions point us toward self-actualization while negative emotions indicate we are stressed and should use Advanced strategies to feel better.
Emotions are divided into seven Zones based on how empowered or disempowered a person experiencing that emotion feels. This chart indicates the level of stress, empowerment, mental health, physical health, relationship health, and success in career, academics, and sports are typically associated with chronically being in each Zone.
The goal is not to always be in the Sweet Zone. The goal is to experience emotional states with less stress more often. Advanced and Transformative strategies reinforce hope which helps people get out and stay out of the Powerless Zone faster. The Powerless Zone can’t hold a person who knows they have skills that will help them feel better.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has pretty good durability as far as relapses for the same event, especially when compared to other methods such as drugs. However, it tends to be situation specific. In other words, if the reason therapy was sought was a job loss or an unexpected death, the individual may end up in therapy again if a different stressful life event, such as a divorce, occurs. When compared to CBT, Advanced and Transformative Strategies are a better solution for preventing mental illnesses from developing and have been successful providing relief from chronic depression and PTSD when applied with the new definition of the purpose of emotions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one-on-one therapy and resembles having an expert marksman stand next to an amateur who is blindfolded while attempting to hit a target by obtaining instructions from the expert, who is the only one who knows the location of the target.
Advanced and Transformational Strategies are delivered to groups as education. It removes the blindfold and makes the target fully visible. Each individual is taught skills that empower them to identify the target they want and continually improve their aim. Individuals learn skills to shift to increasingly better feeling emotional states and develop expertise in regulating their emotions.
CBT should be available for individuals suffering from serious mental illnesses. However, for Primary Prevention and employees who won’t seek traditional methods of treatment, Advanced and Transformational strategies reduce the risk of mental illness, speed recovery, and develop a positive work environment.
The way a person handles stress can multiply, add to, subtract from, or divide the level of stress experienced. Individuals can consciously control this process with Advanced and Transformational Strategies.
Teaching employees the new definition of the purpose of emotions and Advanced and Transformative coping strategies benefits from intrinsic motivation because each step is reinforced by positive emotional feedback. The teacher does not have to know the student’s unique situation. The student decides what to change and when to change. Even when the overall emotional state is still negative, the student feels the relief of feeling better and the hope that comes from knowing one is learning skills to shift to increasingly better feeling emotional states.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is hampered by:
- Stigma that prevents many people from seeking help
- The cost of one-on-one therapy
- Not preventing future issues
- Being reactive instead of proactive
Advanced and Transformative strategies are proactive, low-cost, and designed to help individuals achieve and sustain emotions in the +8 to 10 range (from hope to joy). Because it is educational and structured to correct prevalent misconceptions, no stigma is attached to learning about the new definition of emotions or developing Advanced and Transformational coping skills. It is a low-cost, evidence-based pro-active method of prevention.
Training comes with added benefits for employers and employees. Employers benefit because it improves morale, reduces burnout, reduces daily stress, enhances existing wellness programs, and reduces biases. Employees benefit because they experience less stress, more success, and better relationships in every aspect of their life.
Advanced and Transformative strategies help employees develop healthy habits of thought including by applying belief change, metacognition, and critical thinking skills that enhance emotional intelligence, build resilience, improve employee engagement, and reduce burnout and the development of common mental illnesses. Given the bleak status of mental health in the United States, these advances come just in time.
Over 50% of physicians report at least one symptom of burnout
- 75% of employees report obstacles to receiving treatment for mental illness
- “The state prevalence of untreated adults with mental illness ranges from 43.1% in Vermont to 67.5% in Nevada.”
- Chronic stress increases the pain from chronic conditions which can increase the need to treat it with drugs.
- Drug and alcohol abuse frequently begin as a dysfunctional attempt to cope with stress.
- 3,000 counties in the United States have inadequate mental health resources to meet the demand. Nearly every county (96%) has insufficient resources to meet the mental health needs of residents.
Employers that want to be part of the solution and reap the business benefits of lowering employee stress now have an evidence-based option that is cost effective. Both my recent books, Burnout: Prevention and Recovery, Resilience and Retention, Evidence-based, experience-informed, root cause solutions and Mental Health Made Easy Maintain and Restore Your Mental Health: Develop Health Habits of Thought, The Smart WayTM to Permanently Reduce Stress provide an in-depth look at advanced and transformational stress management strategies.
Friborg, O., Hjemdal, O., Rosenvinge, J. H., Martinussen, M., Aslaksen, P. M., & Flaten, M. A. (2006). Resilience is a moderator of pain and stress. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 61, 213-219.
Gil, K. M. (2004). Daily mood and stress predict pain, health care use, and work activity in African American adults with sickle cell disease. Health Psychology, 23: 67-74.
Hall, J. (. (2017). HRdive.com. Retrieved 2017, from Employees report having higher stress levels: http://www.hrdive.com/news/aon-hewitt-54-of-employees-report-having-higher-stress-levels/439665/
Lampe, A., Doering, S., Rumpold, G., Solder, E., Krismer, M., Kantner-Rumplmair, W., et al. (2003). Chronic Pain Syndromes and their relation to childhood abuse and stressful life events. Journal Psychosomatic Research, 54(4), 361-7.
Mental Health America. (2017, July 2). Mental Health America. Retrieved 2017, from Mental Health in America – Access to Care Data: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/mental-health-america-access-care-data
National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among U.S. Adults. Retrieved 2017, from nih.gov: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-us-adults.shtml
O’Doherty, F. (1991). Is drug use a response to stress? Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 29, 97-106.
Peckham, C. (2016). Medscape Lifestyle Report 2016: Bias and Burnout. Medcape.
Thomas, K. C., Ellis, A. R., Konrad, T. R., Holzer, C. E., & Morrissey, J. P. (2009, October). County-level estimates of mental health professional shortage in the United States. Psychiatric Services, 60(10), 1323-1328.
Wingo, A. P., Ressler, K. J., & Bradley, B. (2014). Resilience characteristics mitigate tendency for harmful alcohol and illicit drug use in adults wiht a history of childhood abuse: A Cross-sectional study of 2024 inner-city men and women. Journal of Psychiatric Research.
 (Hall, 2017)
 (National Institute of Mental Health, 2017)
 (Peckham, 2016)
 (Hall, 2017)
 (Mental Health America, 2017)
 (Friborg, Hjemdal, Rosenvinge, Martinussen, Aslaksen, & Flaten, 2006) (Gil, 2004) (Lampe, et al., 2003)
 (O’Doherty, 1991) (Wingo, Ressler, & Bradley, 2014)
 (Thomas , Ellis, Konrad, Holzer, & Morrissey, 2009)