Revolutionize federal employee wellness programs with mental fitness

Revamping EAPs to include more focus on employee wellness is crucial for a thriving federal government workforce. Experts predict the cost of mental health cond...

The Office of Personnel Management is asking agency leaders to revamp their Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to create Employee Wellness Programs (EWPs).

Revamping EAPs to include more focus on employee wellness is crucial for a thriving federal government workforce. Experts predict the cost of mental health conditions will rise to $6 trillion globally by 2030. That’s a $3.5 trillion increase from 2010, making the cost of poor mental health greater than that of cancer, diabetes and respiratory ailments combined.

Effectively implementing agencies’ missions requires creating a workplace culture that values employee wellness and well-being. This, in turn, will result in employees becoming more engaged and productive.

EAPs are voluntary programs available to federal employees, and while they can be highly beneficial, there are stigmas around traditional EAPs.

I served as a naval officer and a civilian in the federal government for 34 years. During this time, I experienced divorce, being a single parent, having a child with numerous invisible illnesses, parenting another child experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and being bullied by supervisors. I went to an EAP counselor once. Why didn’t I use the services more frequently? Because of the stigma.

I was a supervisor for most of my federal service career. The standard practice was to inform employees with performance or conduct issues of EAP services. Unfortunately, this practice reinforces the stigmas around EAPs and is not a proactive or preventative approach.

Jorday Taswell, a personnel research psychologist at OPM, said in an interview with Federal News Network, “We want to look at the mental, emotional and physical aspects of an employee’s health and wellness to really provide them with the most comprehensive arena of supports that are available.”

OPM’s preventive approach to workplace mental health can help agencies identify and mitigate problems before they become severe. Regarding employee well-being across an organization, a mental fitness training program can serve as a preventive measure that ensures employees have the tools to maximize their performance, sustain healthy relationships, and maintain their well-being at work and home.

Mental fitness training is a powerful supplement to an EAP because it addresses the urgent need for proactive measures to support employee mental health and well-being.

Mental fitness is the ability to handle life’s challenges from a positive mindset with less stress. Mental fitness training requires training your mind to intercept negative thoughts and emotions and build new neural pathways (mental muscles) that lead to positive actions.

By implementing mental fitness training as part of an EWP, agencies can create a workplace culture that prioritizes mental health, fosters high-performing teams, and supports the holistic well-being of employees. In a world where mental health is an escalating crisis, investing in mental fitness training is vital to mission success.

When used preventively, mental fitness training can reduce the workload of counselors and the need for other services provided by EAPs. This means reduced costs and higher-performing employees. The positive effects of mental fitness training ripple outward to employees’ daily lives and interactions outside of work.

Effective mental fitness training enables participants to focus on building mental muscles and gaining insight. For example, simply acquiring the insight that feeling frustrated isn’t helpful to your performance and well-being, won’t automatically stop you from feeling frustrated. Instead, you need to build mental muscles (create new neural pathways) that shift your brain activation from negative emotions to positive actions.

You can learn about what’s impacting your mental fitness by taking this short assessment to discover your “saboteurs.” These are the voices in your head that generate negative emotions in the way you handle life’s everyday challenges. They represent automated patterns in your mind for how to think, feel and respond. They cause all of your stress, anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, restlessness and unhappiness. They sabotage your performance, well-being and relationships.

You can also measure your PQ (Positive Intelligence Quotient, or Positivity Quotient for short). This assessment measures the relative strength of your positive versus negative mental muscles. PQ is the measure of your mental fitness and will enable you to discover how often your mind is serving you versus sabotaging you.

These two assessments can help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. Everyone has saboteurs. My top saboteurs are restless, hyper-achiever and pleaser. I was unaware of my saboteurs when I worked for the federal government. Looking back, I can see how they negatively impacted my performance, well-being and relationships. They even kept me from taking advantage of EAP resources.

Imagine a federal government workplace where the saboteurs are exposed and employees thrive because they’ve strengthened their mental fitness. What becomes possible?

Emily Harman retired from the Navy as a commander and from federal service as a member of the Senior Executive Service. Emily is an International Coaching Federation and Positive Intelligence Certified Coach. She’s the U.S. Government Account Director for Positive Intelligence, LLC.

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