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Kent State University

Kent State University logo
  • Headquarters

    Kent, OH

  • Number of Employees


  • Industry

    Educational Services

Organizational Overview

Kent State University (KSU) is a public higher education institution with 8 locations in Northeast Ohio and a Fashion School in New York City. There are approximately 6,000 employees, 43% male and 57% female, with an average age of 49. KSU is a large employer in Ohio with a hometown feel. The environment is welcoming and employees look out for each other.

The Workplace Mental Health and Wellness Initiative

Getting started. In 2012, KSU’s leadership made a commitment to take a holistic approach to addressing employee well-being, work-life balance and mental health. Since then, creating a culture of health and well-being has become their operational cornerstone. During the initial stage of implementation, it was important for KSU to understand the needs of the employee population and gather information from their existing data. Kim Hauge, director of employee wellness shared, “we truly wanted to understand what was in the hearts and minds of the employees.”

To accomplish this, they surveyed employees, held focus groups, inventoried campus resources and looked at their claims data. The feedback and analysis of data confirmed that mental health and work-life balance were top employee concerns. The claims data helped them understand use of Family Medical Leave (FMLA), EAP use and pharmaceutical spend.

Choosing the right initiative. Hauge understood the enormity of the task. She and her team started their workplace mental health focus with Right Direction, a depression awareness initiative developed by the Center for Workplace Mental Health and Employers Health. It helped them address questions like: “where do we begin”; “how do we get the mental health conversation started”; and “how do we earn employees’ trust to engage in these discussions?” Hauge describes the program as simple, free, turn-key and most importantly, aligned with their priorities.

KSU then developed a solid operations and communications plan and engaged their EAP vendor, IMPACT Solutions. Using resources from Right Direction and IMPACT, KSU educated its managers on how to recognize depression and how to support employees affected by the condition. Once managers were equipped to recognize signs and symptoms of depression and prepared to help direct employees to resources, such as IMPACT, KSU rolled the initiative out to all faculty and staff members. Implementation included developing metrics to assess the success of the initiative.

Right Direction Bears

The team and leadership support. Hauge and her team had full support from KSU leadership and immediate buy-in to their initial campaign. Hauge also secured support for this initiative from: the EAP – IMPACT Solutions, Employers Health Coalition, Inc. and the KSU Employee Relations department.

Communicating the initiative internally and externally. Building communication, reducing stigma around mental health, and establishing trust was important to Hauge and colleagues. In the initial rollout, they talked extensively about the prevalence of mental health conditions, including depression. Hauge shared that she wanted “mental health conversations to be as ‘front and center’ as other health issues.” She also shared that “services were offered to help build a healthy community,” emphasizing that EAP is an accessible and confidential resource meant to help and support those who need it anytime. The communication they instituted for the Right Direction initiative yielded the following impressive results:

  • 36 education training sessions conducted across KSU campuses.

  • More than 400 managers and supervisors trained on depression.

  • Right Direction initiative introduced at 10 open enrollment fairs serving 800 people.

  • Right Direction initiative shared with 1,600 employees at an employee appreciation event.

  • Customized and distributed Right Direction flyers, posters, newsletters and coasters.

KSU has expanded its workplace mental health initiative. Every 7-10 days employees are reminded of upcoming events through targeted email blasts. In addition to Right Direction, KSU also offers the following:

  • Wellness your way – a self-paced and voluntary initiative that offers employees a choice of wellness options, focused on physical health, mental health, spiritual health, financial health and more.

  • Gratitude Graffiti project (pictured below).

  • Mindfulness and stress management workshops with an accompanying book facilitated by IMPACT EAP personnel.

  • Yoga sessions twice per week.

  • Walk and talks - giving employees the opportunity to be together while learning something new and getting in mid-day physical activity.

  • Journal writing and practicing gratitude.

  • Resilience training.

  • National Move Challenges.

Grafitti Gratitude

When launching in 2014, KSU planned the initiative to last for 4 months. However, because of the tremendous success, Right Direction and their expanded mental health and wellness programs are ongoing at Kent State.

Measuring Impact

KSU recognizes the importance of measuring the impact in implementing Right Direction and other approaches for employee mental health and wellness. KSU saw great success in implementing Right Direction with the following results:

  • Increased number of people calling the KSU EAP with mental health as their primary claim from 15% to 17.44% in the first 6 months.

  • Increased traffic to the EAP website surrounding mental health issues.

  • Increased EAP utilization rates from 13.22% to 14.91%.

  • Increased web hits on mental health information by 10%.

  • Reduction in claims dollars spent for covered employees diagnosed with depression of $4,861.93 per employee/per year (PMPY) for an overall savings of $1,074,900 dollars for the 12-month period post-launch of the Right Direction campaign.

In addition, KSU has continued to collect and utilize data on the following variables to establish the effectiveness of Right Direction and the employee wellness program overall:

  • Medical claims.

  • Self-report surveys that follow program offerings (i.e. lunch and learn; resilience training, etc.).

  • HRAs that include mental health questions to determine risk factors in population.

  • Level of participation at events.

  • EAP utilization more than quadrupled.

  • Employee engagement-participation in events.

  • Retention and turnover rates.

  • Culture audit- questions asking employees about their perception of KSU and if they believe their employer cares about their self-care and wellbeing. Responses jumped from 394 employees answering questions in 2015 to 1400 answering in 2017. Using the 12-question, 5-point Likert Scale, an overwhelming number of employees indicated that they “agree” or “strongly agree” KSU cares about their health status and that a “strong” wellness program is in place for all employees.

Kim Hauge also shared, “when addressing mental health, often times other aspects of wellbeing fall in line.” For this reason, KSU chose to incorporate mental health resources around the EAP and all aspects of their wellness programming. They wanted to normalize the discussion around mental health. These tactics, along with an increase in EAP use for mental health, have helped increase overall EAP usage, suggesting that employees often are struggling in multiple areas with issues like financial hardship, opioids and marital challenges, all of which impact mental health.

Lessons Learned, Challenges and Recommendations

KSU faced several challenges in implementing Right Direction and other mental health and wellness programs, including the following:

  • Acquiring the time and resources that were needed to understand best practices in workplace mental health and then making those best practices “fit” into the organizational culture.

  • Realizing how easy it can be to get distracted by the next new program that comes along if you are not focused on the goal. “Just because it’s new and comes with some impressive stats, doesn’t mean it’s the best for your workplace. Know your culture, your people, and be sincere,” Hauge recommends.

  • Getting all the data in one place from the various health vendors is not always easy.

Despite those challenges, KSU is extremely pleased with the positive outcomes they achieved with Right Direction and their other initiatives. Their success has led to the following key next steps for KSU:

  • Keep the conversation going and stay focused on self-care and mental health.

  • Maximize opportunities to work more closely with health plans and hold insurance providers accountable.

  • Build relationships that create opportunities for more success.

  • Continue collaboration with Wellness Council of America, National Wellness Institute and SAMHSA.

Kim Hauge also shared these 5 helpful recommendations for organizations interested in addressing workplace mental health or engaged in this work:

  1. Use Right Direction as a great starting point.

  2. Start the conversation -depression and mental health issues are not going away.

  3. Talk to other employers who have done this work.

  4. Don’t vacate your campaign once you launch and continue to find ways to reinforce the key mental health and related information, like signs and symptoms and resources for to access care.

  5. Get your EAP involved and build that involvement into your campaign, you can do so by having them deliver your depression awareness workshop, stress management workshop, financial wellness information and more. Also, help to change the perception many have of EAPs, after all, they provide a wealth of information on a variety of topics impacting work and life.

Editor’s Note: The Center for Workplace Mental Health and Employers Health are working with KSU on a research project examining the effectiveness of the Right Direction program. The preliminary results are quite promising. We will seek to publish the research results and share that information through our networks.

The Center appreciates the contributions to this case study from Kimberly Hauge, Director of Employee Wellness and the work Kimberly and her team are doing with the Center and Employers Health in creating an evidence-base for the Right Direction program.

Last updated: October 2018

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