Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

Treat the Individual, Not the Stigma

By: | April 20, 2015 • 2 min read
Terri L. Rhodes is CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition. Terri was an Absence and Disability Management Consultant for Mercer, and also served as Director of Absence and Disability for Health Net and Corporate IDM Program Manager for Abbott Laboratories.

The recent tragedy of the crashed Germanwings flight and the deaths of 150 people raise a number of workplace concerns about employees with mental illness, including depression.

Depression is a common disease. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, the rate of “current depression” in the U.S. general population averages about 9 percent, with state rates ranging from 4.8 percent in North Dakota to 14.8 percent in Mississippi.

Any disease of this scale and scope poses risks; risks to individuals, risks to families and risks to employers.

If we learn anything from the Germanwings tragedy, it’s that mental illness, like all illness, is normal. It can be situational, acute or chronic.

So what can employers do to reduce those risks?

First, we must think and act as though mental illness is just that, an illness, a disease. And by the way, that’s what the law says. But stigma attached to mental illness has not gone away.

As a matter of fact, according to a 2014 survey conducted by the Disability Management Employer Coalition, stigma around mental health is not decreasing among employers.

Only when society, and not just employers, treat mental illness like “any other disease” will screening and treatment become effective. Many employees give false information about their mental state to avoid the potential negative workplace repercussions of mental illness.

Screening tools are most effective when employees truly believe revealing mental health issues is an avenue that will help them access treatment options so they can better perform their jobs.

Employers in particular need to become educated about recognizing signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety. This alone sends a powerful message that mental illness, like all illness, respects no title or position.

Next, employers should make better use of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). In the DMEC 2014 Behavioral Risk Survey, fully 97 percent of employers surveyed had an EAP program. But as prevalent as EAPs are, they are woefully underutilized.

Employers must do a better job of communicating the services they provide and continue to emphasize that they can be used confidentially with no impact on an employee’s work status — just like any other health care service.

When employers effectively communicate about EAPs, the results are impressive. How a company uses an EAP reflects the diversity of its organization, employees, market and other HR resources.

Although detailed EAP performance statistics are limited, studies suggest that employer-sponsored EAPs can reduce company disability, medical, pharmacy and workers’ compensation costs.

If we learn anything from the Germanwings tragedy, it’s that mental illness, like all illness, is normal. It can be situational, acute or chronic.

We need to offer unfettered treatment for mental illness that doesn’t imply or make the individual feel something is “wrong with them.” And we need to have more education and training in the workplace and in our schools to identify the high-risk individual that has the potential to wreak havoc on the workplace or public.

It is sad that we find out after an event that an individual had significant mental issues and we didn’t see the signs or symptoms. When we all embrace that fact, we can effectively identify this illness, treat it, and reduce the risks it imposes on all of us.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2017 Risk All Stars

Immeasurable Value

The 2017 Risk All Stars strengthened their organizations by taking ownership of improved risk management processes and not quitting until they were in place.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 3 min read

Being the only person to hold a particular opinion or point of view within an organization cannot be easy. Do the following sound like familiar stories? Can you picture yourself or one of your risk management colleagues as the hero or heroine? Or better yet, as a Risk & Insurance® Risk All Star?

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One risk manager took a job with a company that was being spun off, and the risk management program, which was built for a much larger company, was not a good fit for the spun-off company.
Rather than sink into inertia, this risk manager took the bull by the horns and began an aggressive company intranet campaign to instill better safety and other risk management practices throughout the organization.

The risk manager, 2017 Risk All Star Michelle Bennett of Cable One, also changed some long-standing brokerage relationships that weren’t a good fit for the risk management and insurance program. In her first year on the job she produced premium savings and in her second year is in the process of introducing ERM company-wide.

Or perhaps this one rings a bell. The news is trickling out that a company is poised to dramatically expand, increasing the workforce three- or four-fold. Having this knowledge with certainty would be a great benefit to a risk manager, who could begin girding safety, workers’ comp and related programs accordingly. But things sometimes don’t work that way, do they? Sometimes the risk manager is one of the last people to know.

The Risk All Star Award recognizes at its core, creativity, perseverance and passion. The 13 winners of this year’s award all displayed those traits in abundance.

In the case of 2017 Risk All Star winner Steve Richards of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, the news of an expansion spurred him to action. He completely overhauled the company’s workers’ compensation program and streamlined its claim management system. The results, even with a much higher headcount, were reduced legal costs, better return-to-work experiences for injured workers and a host of other improvements and savings.

The Risk All Star Award recognizes at its core, creativity, perseverance and passion. The 13 winners of this year’s award all displayed those traits in abundance. Sometimes it took years for a particular risk solution, as promoted by a risk manager, to find acceptance.

In other cases a risk manager got so excited about a solution, they never even considered getting turned down. They just kept pushing until they carried the day.

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Butler University’s Zach Finn became obsessive about what he felt was a lackluster effort on the part of the insurance industry to bring in new talent. The former risk manager for the J.M. Smucker Co. settled on the creation of a student-run captive to give his risk management students the experience they would need to get hired right out of college.

The result was a better risk management program for the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and immediate traction in the job market for Finn’s students.

A few of our Risk All Stars told us that the results they are achieving were decades in the making. Only by year-in, year-out dedication to gaining transparency about her co-op’s risks and learning more and more about her various insurance carriers, did Growmark Inc.’s Faith Cring create a stalwart risk management and insurance program that is the envy of the agricultural sector. Now she’s been with some of her insurance carriers more than 20 years — some more than 30 years.

Having the right idea and not having a home for it can be a lonely, frustrating experience. Having the creativity, the passion and perhaps, most importantly, the perseverance to see it through and get great results makes you a Risk All Star. &

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Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, perseverance and passion.

See the complete list of 2017 Risk All Stars.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]