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Pittsburgh Plate Glass Industries (PPG) 2

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    Pittsburgh, PA

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PPG Industries Drills Down on Depression and Productivity Factors

Recent Research Builds the Case for Employer Programs and Benefits

Mental Health Works first featured PPG Industries in 2004. At the time, the company was several years into an effort to increase employee education about depression and to improve coordination of employees’ mental health care. Corporate Medical Director Alberto M. Colombi, MD, MPH, worked with PPG Industries’ health plans to encourage depression screening in primary care and appropriate referral to mental health specialists. PPG added questions to their health risk appraisal process about both depression and the stressors that may contribute to depression. The company also integrated data from a variety of sources to determine how mental health affected not only health care costs, but also such areas as work productivity, absence, disability, and turnover. The results at that time in terms of improved patient screening and care coordination were encouraging.

Currently, the company continues to drill down on workplace stress and depression to better understand their effects on employees. PPG employee data were included in two recent studies, one on depression severity predictors and the other on the health effects of the caregiver role. “Better understanding of the specific issues our workers face will help us to target our interventions appropriately,” says Colombi.

Colombi and his colleagues (Allen, Hyworon, & Colombi, 2010) set out to learn how various person- and work-related characteristics affect depression severity and, in turn, how depression severity affects health and work performance. To summarize a few findings from this comprehensive study, general health, work attendance, and work performance were all affected negatively as depression severity increased. Employees with mild depression (as measured by the Patient Health Questionnaire) had the largest combined productivity loss due to the greater overall prevalence of mild depression. Adverse effects of personal issues and financial concerns were the strongest predictors for higher levels of depression severity. In mild stress, a predisposition toward stress (measured by scoring on a defined stress risk assessment) was the most potent predictor, followed by having a stressful (versus satisfactory) job, a job at risk for minimal stimulation, and a higher number of lifestyle risk behaviors.

The caregiver study (MetLife Mature Market Institute, 2010) was prompted by the recognition that aging workers were taking on caregiving tasks for elderly family members. This eldercare role was found to be associated with higher chronic health conditions (such as depression, hypertension, and diabetes), higher health care costs, greater work absence, and negative influences on work. In addition, employees in eldercare roles tended to have higher levels of risky coping strategies, such as smoking, and they were more likely than non-caregivers to neglect their own health.

Both studies suggested ways for employers to target changes in workplace programs and benefits to address these issues. Regarding depression and contributing stressors, Colombi comments,

The economic impact on productivity loss for mild depression is very relevant. We need to have an understanding of the spectrum from mild to severe depression and diversity of interventions to match each level. At one end of the spectrum, there is severe depression, where early detection screening and high quality clinical tools are very relevant. On the other end of the spectrum, organizational and work cultural strategies become more relevant for addressing mild depression and stress precursors.

In terms of support for caregivers, the report suggests work/life balance benefits may be valuable. These include paid time off, telecommuting, and flexible schedules. In addition, wellness programs are encouraged to support and incentivize caregivers to build positive coping skills, develop healthy lifestyle habits, and access appropriate preventive health checks.

PPG is currently designing an educational and training plan for addressing some of these factors that contribute to stress and depression. Plans include a series of analyses on depression as a comorbid condition of several chronic diseases and a series of webinars on stress resilience, sleep hygiene, and caregivers’ health promotion needs.

HRA Depression and Stressors Questions

PPG Industries added questions to their health risk appraisal process about both depression and the stressors that may contribute to depression.

Depression: PPG used the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9); to access the tool and scoring instructions, click here.

Stressors: PPG used the Stress & Satisfaction Offset Score (SSOS); to access the tool and scoring instructions, click here.

About Pittsburgh Plate Glass Industries

PPG Industries is a global supplier of coatings, glass, fiberglass, and chemicals. The company has more than 34,000 employees in about 50 production sites in the U.S. and 120 sites worldwide.

Nancy Spangler, MS, OTR/L, president of Spangler Associates, Inc., and consultant to the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, is a prevention and health management specialist in the Kansas City, Missouri, area.


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