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Neil King Brings Mental Health to the Forefront

Published by: LifeWorks,

Originally published in Advantage Magazine on June 25, 2020

Billy Yost, Advantage Magazine

Before he speaks about his background, his leadership, or his responsibilities as president of LifeWorks, Neil King asks, “Are you familiar with what an EAP is?”

It’s not asked with any hint of annoyance or derision. The concept is often unfamiliar to employees who have the benefit of an employee assistance program (EAP), let alone an outsider.

The question cuts to the heart of King’s mission, and the broader mission of Morneau Shepell: to support the mental, physical, social, and financial well-being of a billion people worldwide. Before that can happen, he has to help people who need help understanding that support is just a few short clicks away.

Making Help Known

King spends a great deal of his time in cabs and ride-sharing vehicles. “I remember a driver in Minnesota asked me what I did for a living, and I found myself wondering how to explain to someone what a defined benefit pension is or how an employee assistance program works,” King remembers. “But when you tell them that you’re dealing with the benefits for employees’ families, or helping coach them, or providing services for stress, anxiety, or financial struggles, they understand right away. You take care of your employees because healthy people are happy at work. It just makes sense.”

The work at Morneau Shepell is that of helping employees improve their well-being and, more specifically, helping to remove the potential roadblocks that can often make that journey a difficult one. The LifeWorks platform offers extensive assistance programs to employees including: online chat, self-service booking and video counseling; access to Total Health Index, a robust employee health risk assessment and productivity metrics survey; perks that offer discounts at select retailers; rewards for activities that contribute to a healthy lifestyle; and integration with lifestyle-monitoring, wearable technology.

With all of these potential possibilities toward leading a healthier lifestyle, why aren’t more employees taking advantage of the benefits available to them?

“It’s an amazing service for people who know how to get help,” King says. “We know that one in four people are affected by mental illness, and yet a majority of those people never seek help. With EAPs, stigma is still very much there and people can be afraid to ask for help.”

“You take care of your employees because healthy people are happy at work. It just makes sense.”

Normalizing Mental Health

In King’s view, the LifeWorks platform helps Morneau Shepell normalize the role of EAPs in employees’ lives. “If I want to know what song is playing, there’s an app for that right there on my phone,” he says. “Now, we’ve got a convenient mobile platform that is personalized to my unique wellness plan. If I need immediate help, or just want to take the first step to improve my wellbeing, the app is right at my fingertips.”

While the LifeWorks platform is great for employee recognition and perks from retailers around the world, there is incredibly robust mental health help in there, too.

“We had a case where a woman was sitting in a parking lot as her mother was passing away, and she had no idea how to explain to her ten-year-old daughter what was happening with grandma,” King explains. “Because she was familiar with the app, she clicked three times and was on the line with a counselor who talked her through the situation. It reduced so much stress and anxiety for her, and she was able to have that meaningful talk with her daughter. It’s the beautiful power of having a well-being app with an integrated EAP.”

That usage, King notes, still comes down to adoption, and he wasn’t remotely satisfied with the numbers. “Traditionally, you see maybe 4 or 5 percent adoption,” King says. “That means out of one hundred people, only four or five people are going to access their benefits. But we come back again to one in four people who are experiencing mental health issues, and that doesn’t begin to address people who might be going through relationship difficulties or a legal issue or taking care of a sick relative. We just couldn’t accept those numbers.” In Canada, EAP adoption is 14 percent on average. By combining its EAP with well-being features like recognition, perks, and fitness challenges, Morneau Shepell is able to double that adoption rate.

“If you’re trying to run a business, you have to have the right supports in place to actually help [employees] so they can stay focused at a time when it’s desperately needed.”

Helping Others When They Need It Most

During the COVID-19 global pandemic, King says that trying to engage employees and maintain healthy lifestyles is more important than ever. “Much of what people are reaching us for are feelings of anxiety and helplessness,” King says. “People feel isolated, and there is so much uncertainty about how this is all going to affect people and their families. If you’re trying to run a business, you have to have the right supports in place to actually help employees so they can stay focused at a time when it’s desperately needed.”

King says now more than ever, it’s important to connect with his own team on the things that matter. That team had been working longer days than usual for the first few weeks of the pandemic, working nonstop through weekends. It’s easy for the work to take the driver seat.

King urges his leadership team to be responsive, not reactionary, and to take care of themselves first. That includes encouraging them and their teams to speak up when they need help, and use their EAP if needed. Because healthy people are happy at work. And bringing that health and happiness to one billion people starts at home—and at work.

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