By Wayne R. Bodie, MBA, SPHR
Not long ago, health and wellness were hot topics. You couldn’t walk anywhere without tripping over these industry buzz words. Though often discussed in meetings as a matter of policy or detailed in summary plan documents, over time many company programs honed in on employer cost savings via employee health screenings and staff virtual wellness courses.
Right now, mental health disorders and suicides are on the rise, and more common than ever before. Thus, we grapple for workplace wellness programs that can cope with today’s rising tide of stress, anxiety and clinical depression. Narrowly focused health programs must broaden their scope. If they don’t, their glory days are over. We need more than cosmetic cover-ups, where we mindlessly re-apply polish to restore our program’s original luster. Only a comprehensive retrofit with integrated solutions will do.
Over the last 30 years, anxiety, depression, and suicide have dramatically increased. No demographic has escaped this epidemic’s grip. The National Institute on Mental Health estimates that 40 million adult Americans suffer from some form of Anxiety Disorder. That’s approximately 18% of the United States population.
To complicate matters even further, most employers are ill-equipped to recognize, intervene and mitigate the full impact of clinical depression on staff performance, workplace engagement and the company’s bottom-line. So that 18% threatens productivity, workplace safety, and moral. One thing is certain. If we ignore the trend and do nothing, we will see greater numbers of mentally unhealthy employees in the workplace.
After scrutinizing the conventional methods they’ve used in the past, given the increasing prevalence of mental health problems, many employers have broadened their health management tactics. They now advocate positively managing and supporting their employees’ total well-being. It’s the only way employers can ensure their staffs perform to their potential – allowing businesses to achieve peak performance.
Considering how much time we spend on the job, it’s logical our jobs affect our well-being. Although there’s a mountain of program alternatives, I only want to concentrate on one of them: A liberal policy allowing emotional support animals in the workplace. I bet you’re picturing a “mad house” or a “petting zoo” at work. Hang on for a minute and let me explain. Even better, hold on and enjoy the ride.
Over the past decade, the mega-shift from the physical world to the virtual reality of consuming content online, including digitally purchasing items, simulation gaming and electronic socializing compounds our isolation. In this merged reality movement, our work habits are steadily more and more computer-centric. As technology explodes and constantly deluges us with information, many of us struggle at home and at work with virtual connectivity overload.
Although there is no Ph.D. in my titles, l strongly encourage you, especially if and when you’re upset, to look at the picture below. Does that make you feel better? If not, there’s no need to read further. However, if it made you smile or feel better or at least say, “Ahhhh”, please continue.
Titles II and III of the ADA regulate the utilization of Service Animals in the workplace. The Act limits the use of Service Animals to those with mental illness to those that require medication reminders or calming an individual with PTSD. While Emotional Support Animals (ESA) or Support Animals are prescribed as part of medical treatments, they are not considered Service Animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
I haven’t attached a generic Emotional Support Animal Policy since you will want to customize one for your organization’s unique advantage. Instead, my goal is to make a compelling enough case that well-intentioned key decision makers put positive reinforcement to work for them. A happy employee is a productive employee. In a world adjusting to mainstream workplace violence, assaults, and increased depression and mental illness, it would be really something if all it took was a puppy in the office to start repairing the social damage.