Employers heading into the annual health plan enrollment period are likely to discover that their options for next year include changes relating to both COVID and mental health. Both are seen as priorities for employee health benefits in 2022 and beyond. The challenge for employers is to figure out how to best apply the new benefits.

One way to go about it is to embrace something known as the sieve approach. According to Dallas-based BenefitMall, the sieve approach looks at employee health plans through the lens of workplace stress and how it affects productivity. The approach is actually a three-step process for dealing with stress.

Reducing Costs by Reducing Stress

Applying the sieve approach to employee health benefits is actually an indirect way to reduce costs. It is based on the principle of reducing healthcare spend by reducing stress both in the workplace and at home.

The thinking is that many of the health problems people experience are either directly caused by stress or exacerbated by it. If we can eliminate stress, we can reduce the likelihood off experiencing costly health issues. And if we can keep such issues to a minimum, we can ultimately spend less on healthcare.

The 3 Steps of Sieve

BenefitMall says the sieve approach takes its name from the idea of reducing the volume of issues needing to be addressed as you work your way through the three steps. Each successive step filters out more issues. The three steps are as follows:

1. Pre-emption

The greatest number of stress-related issues can be dealt with through a pre-emptive strategy. In real-world terms, this is achieved by changing company culture for the purposes of making the workplace as less stressful as possible. Pre-emption addresses things like job functions, workplace environment, and task distribution. It seeks to make the coveted work-life balance a reality.

2. Detection

The detection stage addresses the next largest set of issues by directly ascertaining what is causing people the most stress. Detection is achieved by way of encouraging employees to self-report their stress levels and, when applicable, report to management when conditions might be causing others undue stress. Direct surveys are one avenue for accomplishing both.

Detection is about identifying stressful situations and responding with appropriate assistance. Without detection, hidden sources of stress can wreak havoc on the workplace. The trick is figuring out how to best assist.

3. Remediation

The third and final stage of the sieve approach is known as remediation. It involves offering employees a variety of means to get the help they need apart from work. Remediation could manifest itself in any number of ways, including offering employees access to discounted mental health services through a local provider.

Remediation’s goal is to offer real world services to employees whose stress levels are not significantly reduced through pre-emption and detection. It relies on an employee’s willingness to take charge of their own mental health. In light of that, remediation may not always be as effective as employers would hope.

The Link Between Mental and Physical Health

This entire discussion is based on the assumption that there is a link between mental and physical health. It is not much of an assumption given what scientific studies have shown. People do react to stress in ways that can affect their physical health. So it stands to reason that reducing stress should improve health outcomes.

The sieve approach is designed to reduce stress by approaching it in three different ways. When applied to employee health plans, it can reduce costs for both employers and employees alike.