Radical Self-Awareness – Introduction: The Importance of Power

For more than three decades, I’ve been studying human and organizational behavior and sharing what I’ve learned through my work as a speaker, consultant, coach, and therapist. The most important thing I’ve come to know: there will always be more to learn and one of the best learning tools is dialog. So, after you’ve read this piece and those that follow please send me your thoughts, questions, and suggestions—whatever you’d like to share. I look forward to hearing from you and will respond as applicable.
I am excited to bring you this first in a series of articles exploring radical self-awareness. I use this term to describe self-understanding that incorporates awareness of how gender, race, and other identity aspects, including organizational title, shape our thoughts and feelings about ourselves, how we relate to others, and the expectations with which we approach the world. I’ll share concepts, tools, and recommendations that have helped my clients improve their relationships at work, home, and beyond.
Let’s start by examining power, something rarely mentioned despite the fact that it shapes every interpersonal relationship. The rules set by power are so much a part of our lives, like the rules of nature that compel us to breathe, drink, and eat, that we almost always comply without much thought. Here, however, the rules are man-made and following them doesn’t always serve our best interests. We are wise, therefore, to switch off auto-pilot, observe carefully, and practice conscious decision-making.

What is power?

Power is the ability to shape important aspects of our lives, including the ease with which we acquire essentials such as food, water, safety, and shelter. The amount of power we have determines the flexibility with which we can interact with other people, the world of work, and the natural world. The more power we hold, the more control we have over our time and energy. The less power we hold, the more our time and energy gets devoted to activities directed by other people.
Each of us begins life as a powerless infant. We gain power through gifts of nature and from the people who care for us. Many of these power-enhancing gifts develop over the course of years: our size, physical strength, and our ever-improving communication, self-control, and other social skills, to name a few. In our culture, and many others as well, we may draw the greatest share of our power from the amount of money we accumulate and the extent to which we enjoy positive connections with people who have even more than we do.
We gain power other ways as well, through education and training that leads to professional credentials and occupational skills, and through life experiences that key us in to how the world works—the power of “street smarts.”
Our gender, race, sexual orientation, disability status, the degree to which our bodies conform to prevailing standards of beauty, as well as other personal characteristics beyond our control, also contribute greatly to the amount of power we hold. We receive privileges based upon these and other aspects of ourselves, something we’ll discuss in much greater detail in subsequent articles.

Pay attention to power.

If you want to make sense of human relationships, start by paying attention to power. The power a person has and how they choose to use it reveals a great deal about how best to approach living and working with them. I can also tell you that nothing will better help you craft a fulfilling life and career than an honest effort to grasp your own way of understanding and using power.
Disregard power at your own risk. You’ll find yourself lacking an important lens for understanding people and relationships. I’ve known organizational leaders, HR professionals, and therapists who fall into this category. They often see only a communication problem where the essential issue has everything to do with power.

Communication problems?

My phone is dead and I need to make a call. I speak only English and need to share information with someone who speaks only German (I’m on a train somewhere between Berlin and Frankfurt as I write these words). These are communication problems. The following workplace complaints represent something altogether different.

  • “When I asked a question about the new process my boss got a glazed look in her eyes, folded her arms, and before I’d even finished what I had to say, she said, ‘Why don’t you just follow the guidelines I sent out yesterday?’”
  • “I was facilitating training with an IT group when one of the participants went off! He stood up and started yelling at me—and he was a huge guy!” I backed up and let him rant until he kind of wore himself out. Then I told the group to take a break. As they were walking out of the room two people said to me, ‘Don’t worry, that’s just Stan—he’s brilliant and he flies off the handle about everything but he’s completely harmless.’”
  • “I can’t get anywhere with this health insurance claim. Twice now I’ve called the insurance plan and then given them all the information they asked for from my care provider. I just called them for the third time and was told once again that I’d misunderstood them and they need more information. I can’t believe how much time this is taking.”

Do these incidents sound familiar? They’re examples of the breakdown in communication that results from the misuse of power. In the first case, the boss uses her organizational power as a formal leader to disregard her team member’s words. She would benefit from coaching that reminds her of the power she holds as a leader and how important it is to consistently use her power in ways that help team members feel listened to and respected. In the second example, Stan uses the power that comes with his physical size and his value as a “brilliant” technician to get away with intimidating outbursts. There are Stans in almost every organization: employees whose behavior goes unchecked because the benefits of their strong technical skills are thought to outweigh the negative effects of their tantrums. The costs to the organization in terms of turnover, stress, and reduced productivity are overlooked…until violence and/or legal complaints happen. The tragedy here is that leadership’s unwillingness to hold Stan accountable serves nobody’s interest, Stan included, and the right kind of response may well reform Stan’s negative behavior. In the third example, the health insurance representatives use their power to blame and further confuse their plan participant instead of using their power to help get this claim paid. Experience tells me that this misuse of power is extraordinarily common. It begs for an employer-based oversight mechanism ensuring that every claim, brought by an employee or family member, is processed correctly and within a reasonable time frame. Such a mechanism can level the power imbalance between plan participant and health insurer, encouraging the latter to behave more responsibly.
I mentioned earlier how important it is for us to know where we stand when it comes to power. I worked with the most senior leader in a corporate group who loved to display his sarcastic sense of humor. He would say things like, “Oh, I’m surprised to see that you’re working from work today” to an employee who periodically worked from home. Many within his organization understood that he was just having fun and meant no harm. On occasion, however, someone would get upset. I remember talking with him about how important it is to remember that when he speaks to members of his group he is speaking as everybody’s boss and not just as another human being.

Two visions of power:

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to exercise power. We can use power as the right to dominate (power over) or the responsibility to support shared success (power with). The age-old history of human beings choosing the former, more consistently than the latter, lies behind practically everything that’s wrong today. Power over is the rationale behind our efforts to dominate instead of respect the natural world, the cause of a myriad of environmental crises, including, of course, the growing climate crisis. Power over is what ordained two rigidly defined genders as a first step toward justifying domination of one by the other. (Power over within human systems requires us and them distinctions as a starting place.) Thus, power over is the birthplace of patriarchy and sexism. Every additional “us and them” oppression starts from a power over mindset. The list includes racism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, classism, ableism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and stigmatizing people who live with certain illnesses (mental illnesses for example). They are all faces of the same evil and they are interconnected in important ways. We’ll discuss them at greater length later on.
Of course, the list above is far from exhaustive. Within work teams, the imposition of power over can be based upon differences that include:

  • Those who have worked with the leader previously, perhaps at a different company, vs those who have not worked with the leader previously.
  • Those who like linear project plans vs those who prefer less rigidly structured approaches.
  • Those with a boisterous interpersonal style vs those who lean toward introversion.

Power with, the alternative to power over, sees power not as the opportunity to dominate and control but, instead, as the responsibility to bring about good things for everybody involved. It is the essence of great leadership, partnering, parenting, and friendship. Indeed, power with is the essence of love.
The table below contrasts key elements of power over and power with.

Power Over

Power With

The right to dominate

Responsibility for shared success

Command and control

Facilitation

Punitive

Collaborative

Ranks differences

Appreciates differences

“I’m right and you’re wrong.”

“Hmm, I’ve never thought of it that way before.”

One person’s gain requires another’s loss.

Everyone gains.

The following questions can help you use the power over/power with lens to gain insights at work.

  • Which approach to power best characterizes my workplace?
  • If my workplace has a power over hierarchy, is there any effort underway to shift toward power with? How can I contribute to such an effort?
  • Where does my immediate supervisor’s behavior fit on this table? What about that person’s supervisor at the next level in the power structure?
  • Where would those who report to me and/or my colleagues and coworkers place my behavior?
  • How does my approach to power change when I’m under pressure?
  • To what degree would those around me say I use power over related to privileges connected to my gender, race, sexual orientation and/or other aspects of my identity?
  • In what ways am I working to understand and discard my use of power over related to these privileges?

The power over/power with distinction helps me make sense of relationships at work, within couples and family systems, and within larger systems as well. It can be eye-opening to evaluate community and world events using this framework. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, I use the power over/power with framework to gain insights regarding my own behavior. I hope you find this tool similarly helpful.
Stay with me through this article series. I’ll share what I’ve learned and what I’m learning about how to consistently strive for power with, a cornerstone of radical self-awareness. While I’ll focus mostly on the world of work, the content will also help with life beyond the workplace. If you’d like practical guidance on healthy ways to use power with in couple relationships and as a parent, see my books, Making Love, Playing Power: Men, Women and the Rewards of Intimate Justice and Simple Habits of Exceptional (But Not Perfect) Parents.
As mentioned earlier, I invite your thoughts on this and subsequent articles and I’ll respond as applicable. Please contact me also if you’d like to discuss a speaking event, coaching, or consulting. I look forward to hearing from you.

Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio, LMFT, SPHR, is an award-winning leader, speaker, consultant, author, and family therapist. He founded GreenGate Leadership® in 2017 after retiring from his role as Vice President, Health and Wellness, at Prudential, where he was responsible for behavioral health services. His team’s work led Prudential to receive the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Organizational Excellence Award. Ken was honored with the 2017 Leadership Award from the Employee Assistance Society of North America (EASNA). The National Alliance on Mental Illness’ New York City Metro Chapter named him 2016 Corporate Leader of the Year. Ken has authored four books and numerous other publications. He is a monthly NBC TV affiliate on-air guest and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine and other media. Learn more at www.greengateleadership.com

Prudential Receives 2017 American Psychological Association Organizational Excellence Award

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 EAPface-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.

Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio Awarded 2017 Employee Assistance Society of North America (EASNA) Leadership Award

Alexandria, VA, April 26, 2017—The Employee Assistance Society of North America (EASNA) announces its 13th Annual Corporate Awards of Excellence winners. The award is given yearly to showcase the excellence, innovation, and impact of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) in the workplace. This year’s winners, or the EAPs, will deliver a brief presentation about their programs at the 29th Annual Institute, EASNA’s annual conference, May 10-12 at the Westin Buckhead Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia, United States.

The following companies have been selected as the 2017 winners:

  • In the U.S., the winner is Cargill, Inc., whose EAP is Morneau Shepell.
  • In Canada, the winner is Canadian National, whose EAP is Morneau Shepell.

An independent panel of judges reviews Corporate Award submissions and evaluates them on a series of criteria that underscore the importance of integrating the services of an EAP provider to ensure the health and well-being of the company’s workforce. For more information about the Corporate Award winners, go to: https://www.easna.org/conferences/corporate-award-winners/

EASNA’s Leadership Award recognizes an individual who throughout his or her career demonstrated ongoing commitment and support of EAP and workplace health. The third annual Leadership Award will be presented to Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio, LCSW, LMFT, who recently retired from his position as Vice President of Health and Wellness at Prudential Financial. Dolan-Del Vecchio was nominated by FEI Behavioral Health.

Dolan-Del Vecchio in collaboration with medical leadership, created, developed and administered the Prudential health and wellness organization, which coordinates and implements a unique array of services including onsite medical, EAP, work-life, financial, disability management, employee education and critical incident response.  His rigorous re-evaluation of employee health has dramatically redefined Prudential’s understanding of wellness, establishing it as a corporate model of well-being.

Dolan-Del Vecchio is a nationally recognized expert on mental health and the workplace and has been featured in The Wall Street JournalReutersSmart Money, Fox Business News, and other media. He is the author of three books. In 2016, he was named Corporate Leader of the Year by the National Alliance of Mental Illness’ NYC-Metro Chapter. Ken earned his bachelor’s degree in biopsychology at Cornell University and his Master’s degree in social work at Hunter College of the City University of New York.

As the employee assistance industry’s trade association, EASNA advances the competitive excellence of its members by fostering best practices, research, education, and advocacy in behavioral health and wellness that impacts workplace performance.

Should Providers Ask, “How’s Your Financial Health?

Money may not be the root of all evil but it can be the root of a lot of problems, including mental health problems. But for clinicians, talking about it is taboo.

The amount of money we have and the way we manage it can greatly affect psychological wellbeing, with devastating consequences too frequently associated with financial stress. Between 2008 and 2010, more than 10,000 suicides across the U.S., Canada, and Europe were directly attributed to the global economic crisis. Read more

2016 Corporate Leader Award

Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio Awarded 2016 Corporate Leader Award, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – New York City Metro Chapter

Shift Workplace Culture, Help Break The Silence

The silence that surrounds mental health issues is often the result of shame and fear. This is particularly true in the workplace, where many worry they will suffer professional consequences if their co-workers and supervisors learn of their behavioral health challenges.

Sometimes, however, people keep silent about behavioral health issues simply because there is no space for such conversations in their workplace. If there is no precedent for initiating these sorts of conversations and people are not invited to share information about behavioral health matters, they likely will not feel comfortable discussing them. And so they remain silent, unsure of how—or where—to raise the topic.

At Prudential, we have worked to create an environment where people can talk openly about their behavioral health issues without fear of reprisal or recrimination. By establishing and promoting policies that acknowledge mental health needs—and more specifically, policies related to discrimination, harassment, and the Americans with Disabilities Act—we laid the ground work. But fostering a workplace where employees truly feel safe mentioning their behavioral health problems and seeking appropriate assistance and accommodations requires something more.

The “something more” that we’ve added: an ongoing campaign of communications, webinars, and large-scale events that highlight the prevalence of mental health conditions, the importance of talking about mental health conditions in the same way you would physical illnesses, resources that are available, and the important role supervisors play in creating welcoming and helpful environments for all employees.

Included in this campaign is a series of “Profiles in Courage” videos highlighting employees’ personal experiences with depression, addiction, and intimate partner violence. The individuals featured on these videos have also spoken about their personal experiences at company events attended and/or video-streamed by thousands of employees. In each case, the employee told their own story, including how their supervisor and the company’s resources helped. All of these efforts build awareness and a culture of support. They create openings for people with mental health conditions to voice their needs, be responded to with respect and kindness, and get referred to resources as needed.

I am proud of the culture we’re building here, but admit it was not always this way. To get where we are today took a concerted commitment, the support of senior leadership, and the bravery of those first people who came forward to speak about their issues and need for help. Through a collective effort, we were able to shift our workplace culture to one that includes conversations about behavioral health.

This sort of environment may seem unachievable in your own workplace, but culture is dynamic. There are actions any leader, manager, or individual employee can take to move the culture in a positive direction. Here are five ways you can help shift your workplace culture and create a space for open dialogue about behavioral health.

1. Make the business case

To create a mental health-friendly workplace, you must have the support of organizational leaders. The best way to secure that support is to establish the connection between employees’ mental health and their performance and productivity.  For example, depression is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year. When leaders understand the connection between behavioral health and business success, they are more likely to encourage conversation about behavioral health.

That is why when we discuss behavioral health policies and programs with leaders here at Prudential, we make sure they understand we’re not talking about health as though it occurs in a vacuum. We emphasize optimal health, including mental health, as a significant contributor to top performance.

2. Work = health and health = work

In your workplace, you may encounter leaders who view health as a purely private matter; one that has nothing to do with the workplace. These leaders may feel sympathetic to their employees’ behavioral health challenges, but also believe the workplace is not where employees’ stress, isolation, depression, health issues, or financial challenges should be mentioned or addressed.

In taking what they presume to be a neutral position regarding the health of their employees, these leaders make two important errors:

  1. They inadvertently reinforce the stigma that quiets all mention of mental health conditions, thereby reinforcing the likelihood that employees with these conditions will shy away from using resources that could help.
  2. They miss a great opportunity for shaping culture and performance. People spend most of their waking hours at work and the work environment has an undeniably significant impact upon overall health. When leaders pay no attention to this, they lose the opportunity to promote optimal health and, with it, an opportunity to promote optimal performance.

The idea that a workplace can have a neutral impact on health, or that health is irrelevant to the workplace, is an illusion. Every workplace is either adding to the health of its employees or challenging the health of its employees. It doesn’t make sense to leave this to chance.

3. Establish behavioral health as an important piece of your overall health strategy

At Prudential, our health and wellness strategy is built upon a multi-dimensional view of health. Prudential Health and Wellness works to empower individuals to reach their greatest potential across five dimensions of health: physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and financial.

graphic

These five pillars help us to build more complete health and wellness programs and services that more adequately address the full spectrum of wellness. We emphasize this philosophy through ongoing messaging to employees at all organizational levels. The more our workforce hears that emotional health is part of the larger health pie, the more discussion of behavioral health becomes normalized and accepted.

Here, we even go one step further, articulating that mental health is more than just one aspect of the health puzzle; it is a foundation piece that supports all five dimensions of health. That’s because optimal health results from our daily habits: what we choose to eat, how active we are, our compliance with recommended health screenings, how much rest we allow ourselves, our ability to emphasize pleasurable thoughts and feelings, the time we spend with our families and loved ones, the ways that we celebrate our connection to that which is greater than ourselves, and the ways we manage our money, for example. All of these “behaviors” together determine the extent to which we achieve our overall health potential.

Mental health conditions can undermine all of the healthy habits mentioned above. Mental wellness, on the other hand, supports our ability to maintain these habits. Mental health, therefore, affects overall health in a significant way.

4. Jumpstart the conversation

As mentioned above, Prudential team members, including senior leaders, have shared their stories of depression, domestic violence, and addiction at major company events and via widely-viewed videos. They did so with the hope that others would recognize themselves in these stories and feel empowered to seek help. Their accounts were personal, powerful, and deeply appreciated.

If there is an employee at your own workplace who is already open about mental health issues or their recovery from addiction, ask if they might consider addressing co-workers about the topic. And if there is not an in-house person able to stand up and share his or her story, invite a community member to do so. Just hearing these topics discussed in the work setting may prompt people suffering with similar issues to seek help.

5. Talk, talk, talk

Perhaps the simplest, but most significant, action you can take is to talk about behavioral health conditions with your co-workers the same way you might discuss other medical concerns. For example, it would not be unusual for someone to tell a co-worker, “My mom is having a hard time with her chemotherapy and we’re all really pulling for her” or “My brother just had a heart attack and he’s on the mend.”

Yet, few people feel comfortable discussing behavioral health conditions in the work environment because of the stigma these conditions still carry. Each of us can help break that stigma by inserting more of the truth of our lives into casual conversations. It can be as simple as one co-worker saying to another: “My mom got mugged last year and her PTSD flares up now and then, making it hard for her to sleep and a bit anxious overall—we’re all pulling for her” or “My brother is such a great guy, and he’s been struggling with serious depression. Fortunately, he now seems to be on the mend.”

When we start discussing behavioral health openly and honestly, we pave the way for those who live with mental health conditions to feel as visible and welcome as those who live with diabetes, back pain, hypertension, and other health conditions.

As Mr. Rogers used to say, “If it’s mentionable it’s manageable.” Let’s make mental health conditions mentionable at work so more of us can get connected to the resources that make mental health conditions manageable.

Your Turn

  • Under what circumstances have or would you speak about mental health conditions at the workplace?
  • What has been your reaction from co-workers when speaking about mental health conditions at the workplace?

Bio
As a member of the Prudential Financial Inc. Health and Wellness’ leadership team, Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio is responsible for behavioral health and employee assistance program (EAP) services, implementation of Prudential’s work-life resource and referral services, and coordinating Prudential’s Incident Oversight Team. He provides consultation to managers, HR professionals, and work groups on issues related to leadership skills, interpersonal behavior, addictions, and violence prevention. Ken is a member of the American Family Therapy Academy, a national association for family therapy educators, clinicians, and researchers, a member of the boards of directors of The Multicultural Family Institute in Highland Park, New Jersey, and the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence. He is a past member of the board of directors of the New Jersey Association of Domestic Violence Professionals. Ken is the author of two nonfiction books, a family therapy textbook, and several articles/chapters in family therapy texts and journals.

Five tips to shift workplace culture and create a space for open dialogue about mental health

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MMM: Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio

Kenneth Dolan-Del Vecchio, MSW is an author, health and wellness executive, family therapist, organizational consultant, and human resources leader. As Vice President, Health and Wellness, at Prudential Financial, Ken holds responsibility for behavioral health services provided to 20,000 domestic employees, cross-functional workplace violence prevention, and collaborative development/delivery of leadership skills and health-promotion initiatives. Read more

Why Work Matters: Rethinking The Role Of Work In Mental Health Treatment

Care for Your Mind kicks off a new series on workplace issues. Given that depression is the number one cause of disability in the United States, more needs to be done to accommodate employees’ mental health in the workplace. In the first post, Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio explains the value of work and the role employers can play in supporting good mental health. Read more

What Should Employers Do To Increase Access To Mental Health Care?

Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio, LMFT, LCSW, DVS, CEAP, SPHR
Vice President, Health and Wellness, Prudential Financial, Inc.

I read Carolyn Beauchamp’s recent post CFYM with interest, but not surprise. Ms. Beacuchamp discusses the inadequacies of insurers’ behavioral health networks and highlights the challenges that insured patients encounter when seeking mental health care. Often network information is outdated or incorrect, and it can be extremely time-consuming and frustrating to obtain an appointment. For someone in a worsening mental health state, such obstacles are frustrating at best, catastrophic at worst.

While Carolyn’s piece sheds light on this important issue, it is—unfortunately—not news to those of us who work in the behavioral health field. As a practitioner, I experienced the frustrations of patients struggling to find an in-network provider or schedule an appointment within a reasonable time frame. Now, in my current role as Vice President, Health and Wellness, at Prudential Financial, I work to combat these challenges and reduce obstacles to care.

Creating a culture of health at Prudential
At Prudential, we know the health of a workforce is intrinsically linked to the health of the organization. In fact, an increasing body of research demonstrates that organizations that promote health achieve the best business results. Simply offeringbehavioral health benefits, however, is not the same as promotingmental health. Too many obstacles stand between an employee and covered mental health services, but Prudential is taking steps to remove barriers.

Boost provider networks
To ensure our employees can access care, we became an early adopter of mental health parity. Further, we put a great deal of effort into verifying and fortifying our behavioral health network, boosting the number of in-network providers near our largest employee sites.

Our internal behavioral health team identifies highly effective providers who practice near our largest sites and confirms they are in-network for the employee plans in that area. If the providers are out of network, our team facilitates quick inclusion. Creating these “sub-panels” helps to counter the often inadequate number of in-network providers and protects against shortage challenges.

Offer employees an “on-ramp” to care
People seeking mental health services are often overwhelmed by the pathway to obtaining care. For example, if you go online and search for therapists in your area, you will likely get a substantial list of therapists, some of whom are in network. But you likely won’t learn anything about them, and it could take numerous calls before you find someone who is both in network and accepting new patients.

To simplify this process, we offer employees an “on-ramp” to care via our Care Counselor program, available in plans chosen by the majority of our employees. The Care Counselors who are registered nurses and behavioral health specialists, are trained to assist employees in navigating the healthcare system and understanding treatment options. In the case of mental health issues, the Care Counselor team can make referrals and aid in scheduling appointments with conveniently located in-network psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and substance abuse treatment centers.

Bring behavioral health care to the workplace
With a work force of nearly 20,000 and eight on-site health clinics, Prudential is in the unique position to offer a variety of workplace health services. A team of eight behavioral health specialists provides counseling to employees at the Prudential sites with the largest numbers of employees. The behavioral health specialists offer assessments, short-term counseling, and referrals. We consider this to be the earliest stage of care, and it ideally occurs even before the employee has received a diagnostic classification. We want to help people when issues are just beginning to arise, and we do that by making the services as convenient and easy-to-access as possible.

Provide interim care 
Our Employee Assistance Program (EAP), available to all employees and family members, provides another avenue for identifying and resolving behavioral health issues before they become serious problems for individuals and employers. An employee can call our EAP 24 hours a day and speak with a licensed behavioral health specialist who is skilled in assessment, early intervention techniques, and treatment. This specialist assesses all the important dimensions of health, specifically screening for work-related issues, intimate partner violence, addictions, and financial concerns. In most cases the specialist refers the employee or family member to a local EAP counselor for in-person assistance. People can receive up to four counseling sessions at no charge. In some cases, people only need interim support to get them through a short-term challenge; but if it’s determined that long-term counseling is appropriate, the counselor will make a referral to a therapist whose services are reimbursable by the health plan.

Create a culture of health
We understand that people are busy and most are not likely to think about behavioral health services and programs until a need arises. That’s why we promote our behavioral health programs all year long through a variety of communication channels, including our health, life, and wellness intranet site; webinars; daily online employee newsletter; weekly video magazine; town halls and employee meetings; and on-site posters and flyers. Though we utilize a multi-channel strategy, our messaging is consistent: if you have any personal or family need, get in touch with our health and wellness team and we’ll help to connect you to the services you need.

What lends punch to our behavioral health messaging is that it is reinforced from the highest levels of leadership. Our leadership and management training emphasizes the importance of being attuned to a person’s whole health, supporting our corporate belief that the company is at its best when our employees are at their best health.

By inviting people to seek support when they’re facing personal, emotional, or behavioral challenges, we create a culture where people feel welcome and valued. And that lends itself to a more inspired workplace. A place where people feel free to share ideas and innovations.

Lessons learned
Prudential is a leader when it comes to behavioral health programs and benefits, and I am fortunate to work in such an environment; but not everyone works at Prudential. If you have employer-sponsored insurance, you may not have access to such extensive programs and services, but you probably have access to some relevant resources. If there is a lesson from the Prudential experience, it is that employees should not be hesitant to ask what behavioral health assistance is available through employer-sponsored insurance or the employer itself. There might be more than you realize, and your employer may be able to point you to resources and care that will help you and your family.

Questions

  • What does your employer offer to its employees in the way of behavioral health services benefits? What changes do you think would be appropriate to better serve your company’s employees and their families?
  • What experiences – positive or negative – have you had with mental health services through your employer?
  • How can we ensure that more employers are offering workforce behavioral health services benefits?

Bio
As a member of the Prudential Financial Inc. Health and Wellness’ leadership team, Ken is responsible for behavioral health and employee assistance program (EAP) services, implementation of Prudential’s work-life resource and referral services, and coordinating Prudential’s Incident Oversight Team. He provides consultation to managers, HR professionals, and work groups on issues related to leadership skills, interpersonal behavior, addictions, and violence prevention. Ken is a member of the American Family Therapy Academy, a national association for family therapy educators, clinicians, and researchers, a member of the boards of directors of The Multicultural Family Institute in Highland Park, New Jersey, and the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence. He is a past member of the board of directors of the New Jersey Association of Domestic Violence Professionals. Ken is the author of two nonfiction books, a family therapy textbook, and several articles/chapters in family therapy texts and journals.