Tapping into the Power of Peer-to-Peer Support for Employee Well-being

Co-authored by:

Mark Donohue, CEO of LifeGuides

Linda Buscemi, PhD, VP Guides & Content

You can take weight of the world off anyone's shoulder's with two powerful words: "I understand."

Therein lies the value of peer support.

When Life Challenges like family illness, caregiver stress, or any of the other challenges across the spectrum become overwhelming, it is common to feel isolated, alone, and that no one else really understands.

Everyone experiences Life Challenges, but people are often hesitant to open up about them for a number of reasons:

  • They often will not open up to family members since they are sharing the burden.

  • Confiding in co-workers requires a close personal friendship that might not exist.

  • Social support services are often hard to find and cover a limited scope that may not support a person’s specific Life Challenge.

Peer support provides a level of acceptance, understanding, and validation not available in most other professional relationships. Various studies have shown it increases self- esteem, confidence, the ability to change one’s life, engagement, and many other key behavioral indicators.

Traditionally, organizations have reaped the value of peer-to-peer connections internally with mentorships and learning programs. Externally, they are missing an untapped opportunity available to relieve employee’s personal issues through peer-to-peer support, which has a direct impact on engagement, creativity, and productivity at work.

Companies enable professional growth by installing support systems to help new team members acclimate to their position and retain top talent. Similar support should be accessible for employees when they face personal challenges, like caring for a loved one with dementia or a chronically ill child. As just one example of a potential Life Challenge, the numbers show there is likely a caregiver on your team who needs help.

  • 43.5 million caregivers in the U.S. have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months.

  • 40% to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. About a quarter to half of these caregivers meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression.

  • Family caregivers spend an average of 24.4 hours per week providing care, with nearly 1 in 4 over them spending more than 41 hours.

An organization with a strong culture of caring can help reduce feelings of isolation, depression, and confusion by offering access to qualified peer support.

Do not wait to harness this valuable resource while other organizations gain a competitive advantage and your employees struggle to figure out where to turn. Invest in the well-being of your most valuable asset now.

First things first: What is peer-to-peer support?

Peer support is the process of connecting people who share common life experiences. Peer specialists offer a deep understanding, validation, and empathy to those experiencing physical, mental, or familial challenges. It is based in the knowledge that “hope is the starting point from which a journey of recovery must begin.

Here’s why you should offer peer-to-peer support to your employees

Sharing personal experience to help others is not a new concept or trend. It has existed in behavioral health practice for decades, and research shows that peer support specialists have a “transformative effect” on individuals, reducing healthcare costs, hospitalizations and inpatient days.

Participants in peer support programs also report improved:

  • Quality of life

  • Engagement and satisfaction with services and supports

  • Whole health, including chronic conditions like diabetes

  • Relationships with providers & social supports

  • Satisfaction with the treatment experience overall

Edwin B. Fisher, Ph.D., Global Director at Peers for Progress American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation, believes everyone does better from peer support and benefits from feeling understood by someone who has “walked in my shoes.”

“We learn from each other and live healthier lives. People gravitate toward peer support because of its humanizing effect on care. They like how it provides a personal connection to better understand their health and expand their role in guiding their own care," says Fisher.

Here’s how your company can leverage the impact of peer-to-peer support

Peer-to-peer support is not only for people struggling with mental or physical health. It is an excellent resource for employees who are dealing with caregiver stress or any of life’s inevitable challenges. Qualified, trained peer support helps people look at problems in a different way, identify various solutions, gain reassurance that others have faced similar difficulties, and simply to vent their emotions.

There are several ways your organization can immediately implement a peer support program to enhance your organization’s culture of caring. Here are some helpful tips and things to remember:

  • Ensure employees are clear on all aspects of your program, especially around liability and confidentiality.

  • Promote the positive benefits of peer support. It’s often difficult and intimidating to ask for help. Make it clear that peer-to-peer support is both approachable and valuable.

  • Reduce friction. Choose a peer support program that considers the time, travel, and, if relevant, device preferences of your employees.

  • Consider baking in turnkey, valuable and affordable solutions like LifeGuides into your existing corporate benefits package: “LifeGuides pairs someone in the midst of a Life Challenge, to a Guide who has successfully overcome the identical life event, like Match.com pairs people for love.” -Will Bunker, Founder, Match.com

There is a new wave of products and solutions geared toward reducing employee presenteeism.

To use LifeGuides as an example, Conscious Capitalism pioneer Raj Sisodia has said, “I believe that LifeGuides will become one of the most influential companies for helping employers reduce human suffering and increase feelings of joy, fulfillment, purpose, love and creativity.” It’s time for employers to recognize the challenges employees are facing, and address them with proven methods like peer-to-peer support.

To learn more, visit LifeGuides.com and see how it may be able to enhance your company’s Culture of Caring™. Will you be there when your employees need you most?