2017 Organizational Excellence Award Winner
Making Mental Health Manageable
Unlike some physical ailments, mental health disorders are often less outwardly evident. This, combined with stigma, makes it easy for many people to avoid talking about mental illness or deny its existence altogether. And in the workplace, the mere mention of stress, depression or anxiety can make an otherwise capable manager uncomfortable.
In the absence of timely and appropriate intervention, mental health problems can undermine a company’s culture and even affect its bottom line through absenteeism, lost productivity, reduced individual and team performance and, ultimately, diminished returns.
Bringing the subject out into the open and tackling it head-on requires equal parts courage and determination, thoughtful planning, ongoing training and sustained outreach at all levels of an organization. In this regard, Prudential Financial is uniquely positioned to lead the way in mental health awareness in the workplace.
A decade ago, Prudential’s leadership looked at the fallout from mental health issues among their 20,000 employees in the U.S. and resolved to take action. Long recognized for its pioneering dedication to employee well-being (its first onsite health clinic was established in 1911), the company’s health and wellness experts have mounted an ambitious internal and external effort to challenge people’s long-held perceptions of mental illness and get them talking, without fear of embarrassment or reprisal. Prudential’s leaders have also teamed up with executives and professional groups in the larger business community to combat stigma on an even broader scale.
In recognition of the company’s successful, ongoing efforts to promote psychological well-being and destigmatize mental health issues within its own work culture and beyond, the American Psychological Association is proud to honor Prudential Financial with its 2017 Organizational Excellence Award.
Breaking down barriers
When K. Andrew Crighton, MD, joined Prudential in 1999 as vice president and chief medical officer, most employee health activities were being carried out in onsite health clinics in the larger Prudential offices by medical professionals and employee assistance program (EAP) specialists. Crighton, who also directs health strategy, expanded Prudential’s mental health offerings and also broadened the company’s definition of health, identifying five interdependent “dimensions of health” on which all of Prudential’s wellness efforts are based.
All of the dimensions are considered equally important, but the emotional component is key to Prudential’s efforts to raise awareness of mental health issues, remove barriers associated with stigma, and encourage meaningful dialogue. Getting to that point involves every member of the Prudential family.
“We focus on the individual, but we’re also here to help the manager and the team,” Crighton says. “If we don’t include the manager and team as participants, it’s less likely that employees will feel supported and can flourish.”
Assessing and addressing risk
Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio, MSW, vice president, health and wellness, has been with Prudential for 19 years. Reporting to and working closely with Crighton, Dolan-Del Vecchio is the company’s senior behavioral health specialist and a member of its Behavioral Health Services group, which provides counseling, assessment and training as well as employee coaching and healthpromotion activities.
“When people come to work, or whether they’re working remotely, the culture of the work environment is extraordinarily important,” says Dolan-Del Vecchio. “Because on any given workday, we spend most of our waking hours engaged in work activity. So the extent to which that workplace supports our health is vitally important to our ability to make the best contributions.”
In 2007, Prudential’s Health and Wellness team introduced Prudential’s first annual employee Health Risk Assessment questionnaire. Questions touch on the five dimensions of health, and the assessment takes about half an hour to complete.
“The assessment is the big component of a number of measurements we take to evaluate the overall health of our organization,” Crighton explains. But presenting the data, he says, requires a human approach. “Most of our programs and interventions are driven by data that we then make accessible by telling the human stories behind the numbers. That resonates with employees and leaders alike.”
More than three-quarters of Prudential employees took the assessment in its first year. The aggregate data suggested that stress and depression were significant risk factors for employees. The following year, during the nation’s economic downturn, the data revealed that more than a third of employees were experiencing stress related to finances.
Prudential’s leadership responded by greatly expanding resources targeted to those risk factors and more. Among the services now available at no cost to Prudential employees and their families are those designed to alleviate some of the stressors that can lead to depression and other mental health problems:
- Internal Behavioral Health Services’ confidential counseling
- External EAP face-to-face counseling
- Personal budget coaching
- Adult care coaching
- Work-life resources and referral services
- Up to 200 hours backup dependent adult care
Prudential even offers hotlines for employees who prefer to seek help anonymously. There are monthly “Stress Busters” events and “Budget Boosters” workshops on money management to reduce financial stress. Regular lunchtime learning sessions are hosted by onsite health professionals and guest speakers. And since 2016, Prudential has offered weekly 15-minute “Take a Break, Take a Breath” stress-relieving meditation sessions.
Each year since the first assessment, the risk factors for stress and depression have steadily declined. For example, the incidence of financial stress has dropped from 34 percent to 16 percent — below the national benchmark.
Taking the message on the road
“Psychological and mental health is something we’ve worked hard to care for in the workplace in ways that are protective, proactive and instructive,” says Sharon C. Taylor, Prudential’s senior vice president of human resources, whose responsibilities include the company’s health and wellness programs. With 41 years at Prudential and 20 of those years in human resources, Taylor has witnessed a sea change in the company’s approach to employee well-being.
“Before we began seriously addressing stigma, you would hear people say they were stressed out,” Taylor says. “But heaven forbid you mentioned anything related to mental or emotional health. Managers didn’t want to pry, so they tended to stand down. We needed to move beyond that.”
And move they did.
Working with multiple departments, Dolan-Del Vecchio, Crighton and their colleagues developed a series of programmatic offerings geared toward navigating employees through difficult and often controversial topics related to emotional health.
In 2013, “Ending the Myths and Stigma: What Everyone Should Know about Depression, Addiction and PTSD,” was presented at Prudential’s headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. The event featured a panel of high-level staff discussing their experiences with each of the named disorders and, as with most topical programming, was videotaped for replay on demand.
Other large-scale internal events over the past three years have included:
- Two symposia on domestic violence with panels of employee survivors and internal and external experts.
- “The Gender Continuum,” an exploration of the transgender experience featuring transgender Prudential staff.
- A Health Summit, presented in 2016, focusing on spiritual health and commitment to personal purpose in the workplace.
- “Remembering Orlando,” a teleconference hosted by Behavioral Health Services, Hispanic Heritage Network and PRIDE in response to the 2016 mass shooting at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub.
- “Navigating Our Troubled Times,” a teleconference presented by Behavioral Health Services and six other departments within the organization, provided support and guidance in response to multiple videotaped shootings of unarmed African Americans and the shooting of a police officer in Dallas, Texas. This event was repeated at a town hall for Prudential’s sales force and revised to focus on leadership for human resources consultants.
A series of external conferences for behavioral health care providers and workplace leaders was presented in partnership with Rutgers University School of Social Work and collaborators representing Johnson & Johnson, Ernst & Young, Verizon, JP Morgan Chase, CIGNA and AETNA, the National Association of Social Workers-New Jersey Chapter, the Employee Assistance Professionals Association, and others. Held between 2012 and 2015, the conferences explored diversity and power in the workplace, ending stigma and promoting behavioral health as a key to wellness, helping veterans transition from overseas combat to home and work, and domestic violence and its impact on the workplace.
Another conference, “Clinical Work with the Corporate Employee: Collaborating for a Safe, Healthy and Respectful Workplace,” helped community behavioral health providers learn about, refer to and collaborate with workplace programs such as Accommodations, Return to Work, Work-Life Resource and Referral, and onsite medical and behavioral health services.
For the past four years, Dolan-Del Vecchio has represented Prudential at the NEBGH-NAMI Metro Working Well Initiative. He is a co-author of the group’s Working Well Toolkit, which provides a rationale and assistance for employers to address stigma, awareness and difficulties accessing mental health care.
Dolan-Del Vecchio and Crighton, along with a cadre of Prudential’s subject-matter experts, have been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business News and Working Mother Media, on issues related to mental health, stigma and the workplace.
Training managers to spot warning signs
Prudential’s core philosophy is that the health of its workforce is linked to the health of the organization, and that it isn’t enough simply to offer benefits, stand back and wait for them to be used. Dolan-Del Vecchio and his Behavioral Health Services group engage in ongoing outreach activities to ensure that all employees are fully aware of the tools and resources available and how to find them.
Supervisors, managers and human resources professionals receive specialized training to assess traditionally stressful environments, such as the company’s call centers, and consult with leadership on solutions. A Cross-Functional Incident Oversight Team — an interdisciplinary group composed of Behavioral Health Services staff along with security, legal, human resources and employee relations specialists — is ready to respond when urgent situations occur, such as disruptive office behavior.
When the company was rocked by an employee’s suicide, Behavioral Health Services professionals consulted with company leaders on effective ways to communicate with staff. Managers received follow-up training on effective ways to create a culture in which employees feel comfortable raising concerns.
Managers also receive expert instruction on modeling healthy behaviors and self-care. They learn to check in regularly to assess the emotional health of staff, take note of concerns and provide supportive, constructive guidance. Moreover, they are trained to intervene before a problem becomes a crisis.
Inspiring others to step up
A company culture that eschews stigma and fosters trust paves the way for employees to open up about their personal problems and get help. Robert Tyndall, Prudential’s vice president for strategy, planning and risk management, credits his supervisor, Christine Marcks, with providing the support and encouragement he needed to address his addiction to alcohol.
Tyndall had hidden his drinking from colleagues for years. But in time, Marcks and members of his staff began to notice his increasingly erratic behavior. Tyndall’s drinking had already cost him his marriage. Now his job was on the line.
As a Prudential manager, Marcks had received intervention training. However, before Tyndall’s annual performance review, she sought additional guidance from her business’ human resources leader and Dolan-Del Vecchio, who, working together, counseled her on ways to handle her conversation with Tyndall supportively and nonjudgmentally. The subsequent meeting between Tyndall and Marcks was positive and encouraging. Tyndall took medical leave, entered a highly structured addiction program recommended by the Behavioral Health team and was able to quit drinking for good. He has since received a promotion and additional job responsibilities. He has remarried, and his children tell him they are proud of him.
Two years after attaining sobriety, it occurred to Tyndall that others in the organization might be hiding some major problems as well. Going public with his story, he reasoned, might embolden them to reach out for help. So he approached Dolan-Del Vecchio and asked what he could do. Since then, Tyndall has recounted his journey of addiction, treatment and recovery at company meetings, on panel discussions and in internal and external presentations. He and Marcks appeared together in a company “PruTube” video, part of a special series highlighting employee experiences called Profiles in Courage, after John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book.
“When you look at that video, you really get a sense of the mutual respect and trust that exists between these two,” says Dolan-Del Vecchio. “When I show this program to other leaders, one of the things I tell them is to pay attention and think about what the supervisor did, day in and day out, that laid the foundation for such a constructive outcome.
Tyndall himself reflects, “It couldn’t have been easy for my supervisor to raise the issue of my alcoholism with me. But that’s part of the Prudential culture.”
Taylor acknowledges that it takes time and commitment to create the kind of work culture in which mental health issues are destigmatized, confronted head-on and addressed in actionable ways. But, she says, the returns are well worth the effort.
“In the past, the issue of mental health has not been cared for as proactively as it might have been,” she concedes. “It’s a tough topic. There’s still a tendency among many to shy away from it. But at Prudential, we believe deeply that to the extent we address it well, we are stronger and better-served for it, both as a provider of services to our customers and as an employer.”
Or, as Dolan-Del Vecchio often quotes from beloved children’s television host Fred Rogers, “If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable.”