Case Study: Uponor Helps Employees Cope with Stress and Other Mental Health Issues During COVID-19

UNA provides its employees not only with mental health insurance but also numerous free opportunities to receive appropriate assistance in the comfort of their own homes.

COVID-19 has impacted nearly 7 million people worldwide. More than half of those infected live in the United States. As a consequence, the days of spending 40 hours and more per week in confined office spaces, interacting face-to-face with numerous co-workers, may no longer be practical—at least until a vaccine or treatment has been proven effective. In response, we have created a “new normal” that demands staying at home and limiting our physical interactions with co-workers.

The impact and pressures generated by this new normal can put individual employees’ mental health at risk, which is why Uponor North America (UNA), an Apple Valley, MN-based pipe manufacturer, opted for a proactive approach to provide employees access to various well-being programs, including professional mental health solutions.

Caring for Two Employee Groups

In early March 2020, UNA office employees began transitioning from working in the office to working at home. During this stunning and unprecedented transition, employees were compelled to balance personal, family, and professional responsibilities in very different ways.

The ability to work from home can be a convenient and highly attractive benefit for many employees. However, in a crisis, the demands of taking care of children, caring for loved ones and neighbors, even sharing a limited space with a spouse can generate too much change—resulting in a volume of stress that can take a heavy toll on mental health.

UNA must operate 24/7 to meet customer demands in its various markets in the United States and Canada. While 2 in 5 company employees were able to work from home during the spring 2020 lockdown, the remaining fraction had to report to work in the company’s two Minnesota production plants and three distribution center in the U.S. and Canada.

To ensure factory floor employees and other personnel felt safe coming to work, UNA developed multiple protocols and care programs, while also providing a safe and clean environment for plant and distribution center personnel. The company also granted additional paid leave options to eliminate any reluctance to stay at home when not feeling well or possible exposure.

Proactive Approach

Due to the mandated closure of so many resources—including healthcare facilities—during the pandemic, the availability of professional therapeutic relief was severely limited and even, in some quarters, nonexistent. This situation inevitably increased anxiety, stress, and depression, further compounding the lack of information and coping mechanisms to address symptoms effectively.

Through weekly surveys of employees, supervisors, and managers, UNA provided a safe environment for discussing and learning about the mental health resources and the available benefits.

The 2020 State of Mental Health Report by Mental Health America states that 1 in 10 adults with mental illness remains uninsured. UNA provides its employees not only with mental health insurance but also numerous free opportunities to receive appropriate assistance in the comfort of their own homes. This assistance includes three key programs:

  • Learn to Live: Started in January 2019, Learn to Live is a free online program built on the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help individuals address social anxiety, depression, insomnia, stress, anxiety, worry, and substance abuse. Specific, customized programs are developed to help individual employees respond to different situations, including a professional therapist to provide one-on-one counseling.
  • Doctor on Demand: This program is a convenient, affordable care option designed to accelerate an employee’s return to good health. Under the UNA-sponsored health insurance program, co-pays for mental-health visits via Doctor on Demand were waived through early summer 2020.
  • Life Assistance Program: UNA’s life insurance and disability vendor, Cigna, provides three free counseling sessions per year, including financial and legal consultations.

Beginning January 1, 2020, and through the COVID-19 pandemic, UNA saw a 7.6 percent rise in employee utilization of these three programs. As a result of the company’s aggressive, proactive approach, the importance of worker mental health is now more fully understood and valued. Employees ask our company for help in ways not previously anticipated. We have embraced our responsibility to help our employees effectively grapple with our society’s new normal.

UNA takes enormous pride in the quality of our workforce and remains vigilant for new resources that will help sustain its well-being. As we continue to cope with COVID-19, we are committed to maximizing the health of every employee—physically, emotionally and psychologically.

Jennifer Hauschildt serves as vice president of Human Resources at Uponor North America in Apple Valley, MN. She can be reached at jennifer.hauschildt@uponor.com

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