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The HR News Wire: Mental Health in the Workplace, PTO Issues, and More

6 minute read

Welcome back to The HR News Wire, our weekly round-up of HR news and thought leadership that you may have missed.

This week, we look at why so few employees ever use their PTO time, how crowded workplaces can lead to more doctor visits, and why it's time that employers address mental health in the workplace.

Let's jump right in.

37 Percent of Workers Don't Use Up Their PTO

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A new study by WorldatWork, with support by PTO Exchange, has found that many workers are simply not using all of their PTO, making some question how well the retention-focused benefit actually works.

“This survey highlights a critical shift,” said Scott Cawood, President and CEO, WorldatWork. “Organizations that deliver benefits like paid time off, flexibility, and paid parental leave – benefits that provide a great work experience and a great life experience -- are often valued higher by employees than other rewards like salary or health benefits."

"The rise in parental leave programs may be a result of state-led mandates, in addition to employers striving for differentiated benefits in a strained labor market -or possibly both. These programs have quickly become an important and expected part of the Total Rewards equation and are critical in maintaining an engaged and productive workforce.”

Basically, workers love the idea of PTO and parental time off (who wouldn't?) but getting them to use it is actually quite a different story. Based on what the team is saying, this is because workers really don't feel like they can actually use it when they need it.

To change that, forward-thinking organizations should put rules in place to increase usage. This differs from place to place but one of the simplest solutions is a use it or lose it policy. Employers should also be open and honest about the fact that they want employers to use the benefit, especially if someone was just hired (a time when most employees feel like they are not allowed to take any time off).

Read the full study here.

Addressing Mental Health in the Workforce Can Seriously Boost the Economy

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Mental health issues have had a rocky past, but - fortunately - those days are slowly coming to an end. With more people being honest with their friends, coworkers, family members, and bosses, the stigma around mental health is starting to decline.

However, it's taking forever for these societal changes to make their way into most workplaces where workers still feel like their mental health isn't truly valued.

So what does that do to the overall economy?

Well, new research conducted by researchers in the UK aimed to answer just that. And the result: a lot.

"There are 5.7m SMEs in the UK (accounting for 99 percent of all businesses) and they employ close to 16m people, contributing 20 percent to UK GDP," they report.

"Meanwhile, mental health issues, including stress, depression and anxiety, are thought to be responsible for 91m lost working days each year in the UK, costing the economy £30 billion. About 10 percent of this was due to staff replacement costs, 30 percent down to people being off sick (absenteeism) and 60 percent of the cost due to reduced productivity at work (presenteeism)."

They found that workplace mental health issues can cause more unemployment and lower productivity, but there is a way to help stop it.

They claim that organizations should simply do what they can do help workers struggling with mental health issues - whatever they may be. These solutions are not one-size-fits-all, though, especially given the fact that some small to medium sized businesses cannot afford a whole lot.

Even putting awareness initiatives in place can go a long way. The goal should be to recognize mental health as a real thing and try to erase the stigma surrounding it at your workplace. By doing so, workers will feel more empowered to talk about what they are going through, feel better about taking mental health days off, and even getting help outside of work if they need it.

Read the full article here.

Crowded Workplaces Are Leading to More Doctor Visits, Study Finds

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What happens when you get a bunch of workers jammed into a closed space? Sickness, that's what.

According to new research, a mere one percent increase in the employment rate correlates to a 19 percent rise in flu-related doctor's visits, reports HR Drive.

This suggests that a strong economy - like the one we're in right now - fosters more sickness to spread in office spaces.

This all makes a lot of sense. After all, flu is transferred via droplets that people come in contact with. If you have a full office - or especially an over crowded one - it becomes a prime location for flu to spread. And, once it gets started, it's typically off to the races. How many times can you recall multiple employees being out sick all at once? It happens quite a bit.

One of the most interesting takeaways is how this differs from workplace to workplace. For example, healthcare professionals and retail workers - two workplaces that have the potential to deal with more sick people and operate in smaller spaces - have the greatest risk. However, open spaces - like construction sites and manufacturing plants - had lower chances.

We wonder if this also has to do with people calling off work. For instance, if you work at a desk all day or an hourly retail job (which usually has limited time off), you may still come to work when you are sick, which will spread the flu faster.

In construction and manufacturing roles, you may not physically be able to perform your job and will be either sent home or call off to recover, helping end the spread of the sickness.

Read the full report here.

This Week's Takeaways

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Some of the biggest takeaways this week are that employers need to pay attention to how much PTO their employees are taking. Specifically, paying attention to how many days are left on the table.

To increase PTO leave usage, employers should be open and honest that they want employees to take those days.

This story dove tails nicely into the current mental health issue that many businesses are just starting to notice. Mental health can be disastrous for businesses and the economy at large if employers fail to help those who may need it.

The best way to do this is to erase the stigma surrounding mental health as much as possible. Allow employees to take mental health days, seek treatment if needed, and feel like they can be open with their managers.

Finally, new research into how the flu spreads found a correlation between crowded offices and doctor visits. The team implies that this means that a strong economy leads to more sickness. However, you must always be careful when implying that correlation means causation.

For this study, it stands to reason that more employees in a tight space can lead to the spread of sickness, though. To get around this, employers should make sure that people take their sick leave when they are sick. It's really one of the only ways to ensure that your workforce isn't completely out of commission at the same time.

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