Workers Calling Help Lines More Frequently; Job Stress, Family Issues, Depression

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Job Stress

Members called Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota employee assistance help lines at a 23 percent greater rate in 2006 than in 2005.

Dennis Winslow, MSW, manager of the BluePrint for Health(R) employee assistance program (EAP) at Blue Cross, cited common reasons for calls in 2006:

-- 20 percent of calls were for help with marital issues

-- 17 percent were for depression and other mental health issues

-- 17 percent were for job stress

-- 7.6 percent were because of alcohol or drug problems

When not addressed, these problems decrease workplace productivity and the employer's bottom line. An analysis of one Blue Cross employer group showed that when employees called its EAP, productivity rose by 8.5 percent based on EAP participants' estimates.

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"Many of these employees need help with the pressures of a demanding full-time job, raising their kids, helping aging parents, maintaining a strong marriage and dealing with financial pressures," Winslow said.

Job stress is root cause of many calls: Job stress seems to be what motivates many people to call, Winslow said. "We're seeing more job stress problems than in past years, and job stress often is an issue for those calling about marital conflict and depression."

The program's statistics are detailed in a report called "Employee Help Line Calls Increasing," available at bluecrossmn.com. Blue Cross has the largest in-house EAP of all local health plans serving Minnesota employers and takes calls from members across the United States.

Employees, employers feeling the crunch: "Calls are up because people tell us life is getting harder to manage," Winslow said. He noted that some of the 23 percent jump in call volume between 2005 and 2006 also was because Blue Cross was more aggressively promoting the phone line.

"Not only are employees feeling the crunch, but so are their employers," Winslow said. "We had calls from hundreds of bosses seeking help with employees facing various issues such as job performance."

Another trend Winslow is seeing is a surge in calls from men. "You might expect that men are the last to ask for help, but men account for almost four of every ten callers. They typically used to account for about one-third of our calls," Winslow said.

Help line fits with those short on time: With such major problems, why do employees call a help line? Winslow said that when people are stressed, they often can't break away to go to a doctor or therapist. "They can call us 24/7, because they don't need an appointment and it's confidential."

The Blue Cross EAP phone counselors have master's degrees in counseling fields and have an average of 20 years of clinical experience. "We help identify the nature of the problem, how it is impacting home and work life, and develop a longer-term plan to address issues," Winslow said. This could include use of community support groups and local professionals.

Blue Cross makes the program available at no added charge to fully insured groups. Some self-insured groups purchase the program. Approximately 550,000 Blue Cross members have access.

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