Climate change has long been in the news, but the issue came to a head in 2018. That’s when four major winter storms pounded the Northeast, temperatures soared to record highs across much of the nation in July and Texas is still rebuilding from hurricanes.
Much to my surprise, it also appears to be affecting the workplace. New research from the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) suggests the presence of a perfect storm. In a nutshell, climate change triggered more short-term disability (STD) insurance claims that resulted in lost income and productivity.
Since IBI cautions that extended absences may continue even after an extreme-weather event, employers are advised to incorporate their operational impact into risk assessments and business continuity plans.
Another significant finding is that one in seven claims for non-occupational STD leaves involves anxiety disorders, acute stress reaction, adjustment reaction, depression, ischemic heart disease, heart failure, cerebrovascular disease, respiratory infections, upper respiratory disease, pneumonia and asthma/COPD.
That’s some fascinating food for thought.
It makes me snicker to imagine how climate-change deniers might react to these findings, especially since IBI is headquartered in San Francisco – the epicenter of progressive liberal thinking in the bluest of states. Be that as it may, business people obviously care about numbers, and if something is eroding the bottom line, it’s going to command their attention.
But IBI’s report detailing climate change’s impact on STD claims has got me thinking about another topic that’s been in the news a lot lately, which is mental illness. I couldn’t help but notice that several leading drivers of employee absences involve behavioral health conditions.
After writing a recent article on the connection between depression and workers’ compensation claims, and prior to that several others that closely examine the mind-body connection, I’m convinced more than ever before that mental health represents a huge blind spot in the U.S. health care system.
I’m sure mental illness has been around as long as humans have walked the earth. What’s different is that we know so much more about these conditions and they’re being demystified, though there’s still a stigma associated with seeking treatment. And therein lies the rub: if working Americans aren’t accessing mental health or substance abuse services, then we’ll continue to see both a business and societal impact.
We’re all unfortunately well-acquainted with horrific headlines involving the latter phenomenon (i.e., when firearms fall into the hands of mentally ill individuals). Sometimes it spills into the workplace (i.e., disgruntled former employees exacting revenge against co-workers or supervisors).
While I believe federal legislation aimed at achieving parity for accessing medical services to treat physical or mental ailments has helped move the needle, many people still resist getting help for several reasons. They include the aforementioned stigma, as well as rationing or avoiding care because of unaffordable out-of-pocket costs.
It’s incumbent upon every employer that provides benefits to their employees to do a better job communicating the existence and purpose of employee assistance programs, which can refer people to the right clinician or community services. The trouble is program usage is historically pretty low. It also can help if human resource leaders can do their part to remove the stigma of seeking treatment and make less expensive telehealth services available for psych visits.
In addition, it’s critical to ensure that health plans are designed with mental health parity in mind and that case management involving STD or work comp take a holistic approach to returning claimants to work. One such solution involves the biopsychosocial model.
Until we take mental illness and substance abuse problems more seriously, especially in the workplace where so many Americans receive health insurance coverage, the U.S. will continue to see sad results. Not only will productivity suffer if employees are absent or collecting less of a paycheck, but we’ll also see more mass shootings and a national opioid epidemic get even worse.