A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NKY Chamber Eggs ‘N Issues features candid discussion on mental health and the workplace

The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce February Eggs ’N Issues shed some light on an important workplace issue that is often difficult to talk about.

The “Mental Health and Our Business Community” discussion focused on the business cost of mental health problems and what local companies are doing to address this issue.

The February NKY Chamber Eggs ‘N Issues discussion focused on mental health issues in the workplace. The panelists were, seated left to right, Lori Zombeck of the Boone County Fiscal Court, Dave Welscher of St. Elizabeth Healthcare and Dan Cahill of HSD Metrics. Patrick Crowley of Strategic Advisers, far left, was the moderator (photos by Mark Hansel).

The panelists were Dan Cahill of HSD Metrics, Dave Welscher of St. Elizabeth Healthcare and Lori Zombeck of the Boone County Fiscal Court. 

The discussion, which took place Tuesday at the Receptions event center in Erlanger, was moderated by Patrick Crowley, a principal at Strategic Advisers.

In addition to the impact on work performance, the panelists also talked about how to recognize symptoms and what to do if you think someone might be experiencing mental health issues.

Zombeck is the human resources director for the Boone County Fiscal Court. She previously filled the same role at the Northern Kentucky Area Development District. 

She is the current board president at Children Inc. (now Learning Grove) and serves on the NKY Chamber Regional Youth Leadership Board.

She said mental health issues are a bigger problem in the Northern Kentucky workforce than most would like to admit.

“I think that we all talk the talk about mental health and we’ve been doing that for a very long time,” Zombeck said. “I think that we frame it as someone who has had a mental breakdown or, heaven forbid, committed suicide. I think mental health is bigger than that, especially for employers, because it’s more about those daily stresses.”

Cahill is the managing partner and CEO at HSD Metrics, a human resources analytics firm. He is a nationally recognized expert on recruitment, engagement, performance and retention and the current board chair at the NKY Chamber.

Cahill applauded the Chamber for dedicating the month of February to a focus on mental health issues.

“We need a month to talk about this,” Cahill said. “There is still a stigma associated with this.”

A physical injury, such as a broken leg, Cahill said, can become a topic of water-cooler conversation, but mental health problems are often hush-hush.

“If you are out because of a mental health issue, there is a stigma associated with that, that folks find very difficult to talk about,” Cahill said.

The workforce in the region, and throughout the country, is probably more diverse than it has ever been, which only adds to the challenge.

Chamber members and other workforce leaders were on hand for the February NKY Chamber Eggs ‘N Issues program at Receptions in Erlanger. The discussion focused on mental health and the business community.

“For the first time in history we have five generations in the workforce that are all sort of mixing together, if you will,” Cahill said.

As a result, the perceptions of how to deal with mental health issues can differ greatly.

Those with parents raised during the Great Depression or World War II might have been told to “suck it up,” if they were dealing with stress or depression. 

Younger adults are born at a time when more is known about mental illness and how to recognize symptoms and provide treatment.   

With such diverse opinions often being fostered by people who work side-by-side, it’s not surprising that mental health issues can be a hard to discuss or acknowledge. 

Welscher, who is the manager of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare Employee Assistance Program, has been with St. E for 21 years. 

Employee assistance programs have been around for decades, but have not always been widely available or used.  The program helps employees with personal, or work-related problems that may impact job performance, health, or mental or emotional well-being.

While many employers now offer some form of EAP as a health benefit, workers have sometimes been reluctant to use them for fear of being viewed differently by employers or coworkers.

Welscher said he is encouraged that the sympathetic views based on knowledge and understanding are becoming more prevalent.

“I think there is reason to be hopeful (and) I think it is getting better,” Welscher said. “I think the generations behind us…have a greater level of acceptance. It’s not the same stigma, you are not going to hear same responses of ‘suck it up,’ if you are talking with peers at least.”

There is an effort among human resource and EAP professionals to look at mental health as another part of employee wellness and not necessarily something that is separate from physical health.

“If I’m going to encourage use of EAP counseling, we put our money where our mouth is,” Zombeck said. “We have to make sure our benefits are the right way, that we cover mental health like we cover diabetes. We have to make sure we are not afraid to say, ‘I’ve used the EAP program before’ – leaders have to lead by example.”

Employees can play a role as well, by recognizing changes in behavior, and not necessarily major shifts, but small things that can be a sign that something is wrong.

Not all mental health issues are the direct result of something that is happening to the employee. It could be an issue being dealt with by a family member or a close friend that is creating stress or worry for the employee.

In recent years, the link between addiction and mental health issues, or vice-versa, has become more widely recognized, but there is still a long way to go. Identifying treatment and finding adequate funding are major stumbling blocks to addressing that issue.

That is just one of the many mental health problems that can impact productivity, safety and the bottom line, which is a concern in any businesses.

There is probably more help available for people who are struggling with mental health issues in the workplace than ever before.

The panelists agreed that employers, workers, family members, friends and most importantly, the affected individuals, have to be able to admit there is a problem, confront it, and avail themselves of the resources that are available.  

The Eggs ‘N Issues discussions take place monthly at a venue in Northern Kentucky, usually at Receptions Banquet and Conference Center in Erlanger. For more information on Eggs ‘N Issues, click here.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

Related Posts

Leave a Comment