Members of the Employee Assembly discussed the availability and state of mental health benefits for Cornell employees and staff vacation day policies at their meeting Wednesday afternoon.
In light of the passing of Dr. Gregory Eells, a member of the Cornell community for 15 years and former director of Counseling and Psychological Services, a significant portion of the meeting was an open discussion where assembly members dwelled on current mental health resources available to staff and the stigma attached to being an employee with mental health issues on campus.
Assembly members in particular highlighted how the resources available to students are significantly advertised, whereas staff are not often aware of how to best seek help.
“There is such a focus on student mental health and I totally get that … but I’m not quite sure why there are two tiers –– we’re all people,” said Anne Sieverding, the representative for the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and chair of the Benefits and Policy committee.
The current avenue for staff to voice their concerns and seek help is the Faculty & Staff Assistance Program and employees are often referred to licensed practitioners in the Ithaca area if the limited number of staff cannot meet the demand.
Sieverding talked about her own experiences with FSAP and said that it was not what she had expected from a university that has over 8,000 employees, labelling it “totally inadequate” and “unable to meet her needs.”
Kristine Mahoney, the College of Human Ecology representative, stated that while FSAP has a shortage of staff, it is “far superior” to what can be found at comparable institutions across the country.
This sentiment was also echoed by Kate Supron, the representative of the Division of University Relations, who said that she had experience with several insurance policies and Cornell’s was one of the most “generous” policies she had encountered.
Beyond the discussion on the formal avenues available to staff to address these issues, representatives also brought up the importance of supervisors receiving training to be able to identify and help people struggling with mental health issues –– a “see something, say something” approach.
Another suggestion was to provide anonymous ways to seek help, since employees are often afraid of retaliation and the stigma associated with having mental health issues.
“Removing the negative stigma around mental health is crucial to being able to address some of these issues,” said Hei Hei Depew, the assembly’s executive vice chair. “Some people might not feel comfortable talking … so how do we confront the issue if you’re not even comfortable talking about it?”
Sieverding, in her capacity as chair of the Benefits and Policy committee, also updated the assembly about a previous resolution to change employees’ vacation day policy in order to give more time off to newer employees.
The current policy increases employees’ vacation days only after they have worked at Cornell for 10 years. Although the Benefits and Policy Committee had worked with Human Resources on this measure last year, the resolution was ultimately tabled after HR indicated that it was not currently “within their timeline” and not “something that they’re interested in addressing at this point”
“By the end of last year … HR was posturing that, ‘You pick one [vacation policy] and we’ll give you whatever you want,’ and now for some reason they went entirely cold on this decision,” said Kristopher Barth, Research & Technology Transfer Representative At-Large.
The consensus at the end of the discussion was to revisit the policy and interactions from last year’s assembly to see whether this would be something the assembly wanted to advocate for and pursue with HR again.