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Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services
Addressing mental health could be perceived as a huge and complex undertaking. It can be daunting to try to dispel the myths, reduce stigma, and solve the problem around mental health all at once. TiER1 Performance Solutions, on the other hand, said, “Let’s just start a conversation about mental health.” By starting the conversation, they helped demystify the complexities that are often associated with mental health, enhanced understanding, and helped employees get the resources they needed.
TiER1 Performance Solutions was founded in September of 2002 and is based in Covington, KY. The company focuses on helping other companies maximize their work performance with a people-centered focus. With just over 200 employees, the company empowers each team member as a leader within a collaborative work culture. They deliver holistic performance solutions to other companies through talent development, strategic change, and organizational evolution (e.g., culture programs, leadership development) by building trust, leading with trust, and building relationships.
Why They Started the Conversation
TiER1 began their “Start the Conversation” initiative in 2015. As a people-centered organization that helps businesses optimize their performance through people, it seemed quite natural to address mental health as a construct of performance. Sarah Ehrnschwender, director of marketing for TiER1, further explained, “We’re focused on improving the performance of an organization through their people, and often how an individual shows up at work can be one of the biggest drivers of their success.” TiER1 believes that mental health affects a person’s ability to bring his/her whole self to the workplace, regardless of whether he/she is directly or indirectly affected by mental illness.
The fact that one in five adults in the United States is affected by mental illness in a given year, and that the majority of those people are employed, makes a compelling case for employers to address mental health. What was also notable was that over 90% of employees surveyed by TiER1 reported having someone in their life affected by mental illness. Such realities confirmed the primary reasons why TiER1 felt the need to act.
How They Started the Conversation
The company’s three co-founders—Greg Harmeyer, Kevin Moore, and Normand Desmarais—recognized that everyone has a friend, family member, or colleague who is affected by mental health, yet very few people talk about it. They all felt the opportunity to make the largest impact would be in the workplace: helping improve organizations through the performance of their people. Initially, when CEO Greg Harmeyer shared that mental health issues have affected his family, friends, and colleagues, he found that many within his organization began opening up and sharing their own stories. Cara Gilmore, senior solutions consultant, described how Harmeyer wanted to challenge how people approach the topic of mental health and make the commitment to invest time and tangible resources with the services the company provides. “We decided to pilot the experience within our own organization first,” Meg Switala, senior manager of business operations, further explained. “We wanted to promote education, awareness, and communication. The impact the initiative had on our culture—and, more importantly, our people—was tremendous.”
After establishing the initial interest to take on this topic, the founders assembled a cohort of six people from the company and partnered with Lindner Center of Hope, a comprehensive mental health center in Cincinnati. The purpose of bringing together such a group was to “do a discovery”: to take a deeper dive into the subject matter and understand mental health challenges and issues in collaboration with healthcare experts. TiER1 is skilled in holistic solutions that include change management, communications, and technology. However, they understood the need to bring in someone with the medical expertise to serve as the subject matter expert. President of Lindner Center of Hope and psychiatrist Paul E. Keck, MD, was a key player in helping TiER1 steer the project. When they focused on the barriers that exist and looked at how prevalent mental illness is, “the message became clear,” Switala recounted. “One doctor simply said, ‘Someone just needs to have the conversation.’ So, we wanted to enable individuals to discuss mental health just as you would any other health issue.” Hence, TiER1’s “Start the conversation about mental illness” campaign began.
The TiER1 cohort of six included Dustin Shell, director of innovation; Mark Hilvert, creative strategist; Stephanie Roberto, technology strategist; Meg Switala, project manager; Cara Gilmore, communications strategist; and Greg Harmeyer, CEO.
An important part in the development of “Start the conversation about mental illness” was building awareness and education about the signs and symptoms of the most common illnesses. The initiative also provided resources to assess risk, find information, and get help or support. With the help of the Lindner Center of Hope, the team focused on depression, anxiety, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and addictions. The team also collaborated with Heather Turner, executive director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness in southwestern Ohio, to help employees have the conversation with and support those living with mental illness.
Another part of the process was creating 12 different touchpoints to reach employees. One of the touchpoints included a custom website that would house the information and resources related to the program. Other touchpoints were a pre- and post program survey (Figure 1) to measure program impact and an infographic of survey results (Figure 2). In all, the touchpoints included the following:
Survey of TiER1 employees
Infographic of survey results
Weekly table tents with reflections and challenges
Videos (educational and storytelling)
“Start the Conversation” group on Yammer (TiER1 Performance Solution’s internal social media platform)
Workshop (onsite at TiER1 Covington and virtual for remote employees)
Participant materials for the workshop
Family mental health history form
Figure 1. The pre- and post program surveys allowed TiER1 leaders to establish the baseline before the initiative and understand the program impact after 4 weeks. Out of approximately 100 people who took the pre and post program surveys, the majority increased their discussion on the topic of mental illness.
By first testing the experience internally, a month-long program was launched. As Switala described, leaders “asked for everyone to be open minded in embracing the topic, not fully knowing what the outcome would be. Again, the openness we saw as a result was tremendous.” Everyone was willing to participate by engaging in all 12 touchpoints. At that time, there were a little fewer than 100 employees, located mostly in Cincinnati, and 20–30 in Pittsburgh and Denver.
The results of piloting their program exceeded the expectations of those who were a part of the planning process. They started the pilot program during May: Mental Health Awareness Month. Although timelines were aggressive, the plan was to think of the goals in a long-term manner to reduce stigma, increase awareness, educate, and provide resources. Since the initial launch of “Start the Conversation”, the company has doubled in size and maintains a culture that increases awareness, educates, provides resources, and reduces stigma in the workplace. Through an annual offering of the program each May, they introduce every new employee to the program and have since been able to offer the program to other organizations. They now offer the experience free of charge to companies interested.
Figure 2. Questions posed to program participants at the conclusion of the 4-week implementation.
How Can You Start the Conversation Within Your Organization?
The TiER1 team has laid out a roadmap for other companies to be able to “Start the Conversation” about mental health within their own organization by providing a free toolkit. The toolkit includes a pre- and post program survey template, a communication guide with email messaging, a kickoff deck with talking points, and online reference materials. A designated champion from an organization can use the TiER1 toolkit to encourage their employees to:
Learn about mental illness;
Share their own personal stories;
Listen and support others’ stories; and
Understand the importance of a support network.
TiER1’s implementation team emphasized the importance of getting started—and getting started doesn’t have to be hard, nor does it have to be done all at once to make a change within your work culture. The team members all agree that you should consider the following:
Make it a priority to address mental health in your workplace.
Team up with organizations like NAMI and the Lindner Center of Hope that can help you. They can provide resources and data to ensure that you are providing the appropriate messaging to your people.
Whether you’re a small or large organization, something as simple as starting the conversation about mental health can make your organization better and improve the lives of your employees.
Ewuria Darley, MS, is the associate director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health and can be reached at [email protected] or 703-907-8503.
Last Updated: July 2017
Contact Company Representative
Sarah Ehrnschwender, Director of Marketing
Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50).