I’ve fessed up about two of my employee mental health flops. But I’ve had successes, too, including providing health care workers with one of the best-proven opportunities to get stress under control.
The scene was a large population of employees at a major medical center, where I served as employee wellness program manager, and partnered with our internal Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to offer the Yale Work and Family Stress Program. EAP counselors went to Yale to get trained on the program, and made a few adaptions suitable for our health care worker population.
The program had two parts:
- An Introductory session, in which participants learned basic stress management techniques and were introduced to the benefits of participating in the more intensive program.
- A seven-week series consisting of weekly one-hour sessions.
Stress Management Curriculum
Program content covered:
- How to eliminate or modify sources of stress.
- How to change thought patterns that can worsen stress.
- Stress management, and avoidance of harmful or counter-productive coping behaviors.
- Creation of personalized plans to sustain progress made during the program.
The trained facilitators led didactic presentations, group discussion and problem-solving, and reflection on personal experiences. These approaches offered participants opportunities to personalize a range of coping skills, make better use of social support, and practice stress management techniques. Though the program was conducted in a group setting, it promoted behavior change personalized to each participant’s unique work and family situations.
The Yale Work and Family Stress Program was rigorously evaluated by an independent research group and, as a result, was designated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as one of only five workplace Model Programs nationally. It was studied in a wide range of industries including manufacturing, water authority, telecommunications, and utilities. Target populations included men and women working in various occupational groups and of diverse ages and ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The participants also were diverse in terms of education, religion, marital status, and family size.
Documented outcomes include:
- Reduced work and family stressors
- Increased problem-solving and cognitive coping strategies
- Reduced use of avoidance coping strategies
- Increased social support from supervisors and co-workers
- Reduces use of alcohol and other drugs
- Reduced levels of depression, anxiety, and somatic complaints.
Though I doubt the program would still be considered best practice or satisfy employers and participants drawn to mindfulness, positive psychology, and technology… at the time it was distinguished as one of the most rigorously developed and evaluated workplace stress management programs, leading its developers, in summarizing the program’s demonstrated health outcomes, to go as far as speculating:
These improvements in employee health are likely associated with decreased absenteeism, decreased use of medical services, and increased productivity.