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December 28, 2020

Good Thing or Bad? Employees Are Heavy Users of Mental Health Benefits.

By The Rev. Jeff Thiemann

As you know, it’s been a difficult year, and everyone’s talking about stress and anxiety — including me.

In a recent video, I said, “Good news, our Portico plan members are using mental health resources more than the average user,” and was surprised to learn that some people took issue. “How could that be good news?” they asked.

It gave me pause. At Portico, we’ve been talking for decades about what it means to live well financially, emotionally, and physically. We often say how critical it is to be proactive, to assess your own well-being and seek help when needed. It’s how we avoid succumbing to conditions like compassion fatigue, the slow loss of empathy over time due to emotional and physical overload. In short, it’s how we become and remain healthy, resilient people — we grow from adversity.

As a CEO and pastor, I asked a trusted Facebook group of ELCA clergy what they thought, given the emotionally challenging nature of their work. And they reminded me of a truth that is relevant for all employers, but especially for those whose employees serve in emotionally challenging, caregiver roles.

Their collective message:

  • Yes, it’s critical to provide effective, quality mental health benefits and resources.
  • Yes, you need to communicate creatively and often that needing emotional support is not a sign of weakness but of strength.
  • It’s fine, as an employer, to feel good about your employees being above-average users of the benefits you provide.
  • But as an organizational leader, you can’t stop there. You must also strive to understand the sources of work-related stress and minimize what you can.

That last one really spoke to me. And, as I thought about it, I realized, that’s exactly what Portico leaders did this year to help our employees navigate COVID disruption. We couldn’t make the many stressors go away, but we were able to reduce their stress, primarily by offering them a greater sense of control.

  • We communicated transparently and often, which kept our employees from feeling in the dark.
  • We listened and responded to their concerns and opinions, which gave them the real sense that they were helping to shape our next steps.
  • And, most important, we made it clear that we would trust them to continue advancing our collective mission from their homes.

My take-away from this learning moment: Celebrate when benefits are used by those who serve your mission. But make sure you’re also noticing the stressors and looking for ways to reduce them.

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The Rev. Jeff Thiemann

Jeff was drawn to lead Portico by the opportunity to combine two things he cares about deeply: solving the complex challenges of health care and retirement planning and helping more people through God’s work. When he became president and CEO of Portico in 2011, Jeff was able to combine his passions, leading the talented team at Portico to help bring over 40,000 members holistic benefits so they can better serve the congregations, employees, and communities of the ELCA.

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