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Mental Health Benefits in the Workplace: Why It Matters Now More Than Ever

Now more than ever, people are opening up about mental health. Even celebrities and athletes are talking about it: Pop singer Adele has gone public about her battle with postpartum depression, and record-breaking Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has disclosed that he deals with attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder (ADHD). Adele and Phelps are just two of many public figures who have shared candidly about their mental health struggles. The message? Mental illness is pervasive; it impacts more people than we realize. And no one should have to endure it alone.

While this attention and transparency have helped to eliminate some of the stigma around mental health and emphasize the necessity of getting help when it’s needed, these concerns aren’t new. The data shows mental health is no longer a problem, it’s a crisis. Pre-pandemic, approximately one in five Americans experienced mental illness in a given year on any given day. In the tech industry, mental health benefits were among the top three benefits used most often by employees working long hours in high-demand, high-pressure roles. The issue has been exacerbated by the isolation and uncertainty wrought by Covid-19 — 41% of employees report their mental health has declined in the past year.

Mental Health Impacts the Bottom Line

Mental health matters, especially in the workplace. With adults spending most of their time at work, employers have a significant role to play in addressing mental health. According to estimates from the National Mental Health Institute, mental illness in the U.S. costs $193 million a year, just in lost earnings. The impact to companies is around $44 billion in lost productivity due to untreated depression alone, according to the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health and the American Psychiatric Foundation.

It’s no wonder employers recognize that offering mental health benefits is good for business. Whether employees are working in the office or at home, they don’t drop their personal worries and stressors the moment their workday begins. Employees’ mental health impacts retention, productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism (when employees are physically at work, but not fully functional due to injury, illness or other distractions). Therefore, it’s imperative that employers respond by making sure employees are up to speed on the mental health benefits available to them at work to ensure they can easily get access to the support and care they need.

It’s important to note, if your company doesn’t currently offer a benefit program, it’s never too late to implement one. Adding a healthcare program for employees is vital if your company can afford it — a competitive benefits package also helps improve hiring and retention. What’s more, new benefit options are available that make it as common and easy to access mental health care as it is to go to the doctor for a routine checkup. Employees can now access mental health benefits in a variety of ways, from in-person and video calls to telehealth and even text messaging.

Awareness Is Key

A significant part of a solid benefits strategy is ensuring employees understand their mental health benefits. A thoughtful, well-executed education and awareness campaign that hits employees from multiple channels, such as email, text and the company intranet, for example, can help elevate the culture to align with core organizational values, such as caring for employees’ well being, promoting health and safety, and fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Keep in mind, communication about mental health is most impactful when it comes from leadership, especially in the current climate of layoffs, furloughs and high unemployment. This top-down approach creates an atmosphere of safety and transparency. This is especially important, as some employees may have anxiety about expressing their mental health challenges for fear of being perceived as unable to perform their job.

Mental Health Benefits Aren’t One-Size-Fits All 

Mental health is personal, and the needs range from mild to moderate to severe concerns. Depending on the needs of your workforce, it may be beneficial to educate on a variety of solutions so employees can determine which works best, based on their individual preferences.

Here are some components of a well-designed mental health benefits program that may be worth considering:

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Some employers offer an EAP benefit. It’s typically a lower-cost option, and the value to employees is immense. EAPs provide confidential access to qualified professionals who can assist employees with a variety of short-term, situational mental health concerns, from work-related stress to family conflicts to the death of a beloved pet.

HR Benefits Inc., a WTIA subsidiary, offers an EAP through Wellspring, which provides employees access to mental health resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week via telephone, video or online. Employees get unlimited online support and three face-to-face visits with a therapist per issue per year at no cost, along with additional wellness, life, social and education tools.

Behavioral Health Solutions

Ongoing or more severe mental health issues often require options that deliver longer-term care opportunities. While face-to-face, in-office talk therapy is one common approach, there are many different options available. TalkSpace, for instance, is a cutting-edge online and mobile mental health therapy option staffed with licensed and trained therapists. It’s also convenient: Employees can talk to a therapist via text or video 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without an appointment. Personal treatment plans are available depending on their needs. Phelps is a TalkSpace spokesperson, and credits therapy with changing his life.

Care options are also available for employees dealing with substance abuse. In many cases, treatment can even be accessed virtually, via video and chat.

Virtual therapy delivers added benefits in that it promotes accountability, along with increased patient engagement and self-care. It also provides a low-cost way to eliminate obstacles that prevent employees from seeking in-person mental health care, such as needing to take time off work to complete a substance abuse program, scheduling conflicts or lack of access to transportation.

Think Beyond the Basics

Employers can — and should — be creative when it comes to offering mental health benefits. Enhance traditional offerings with benefits that improve employees’ quality of life, such as:

  • flexible work hours
  • access to apps for exercise and mindfulness
  • childcare support
  • mental health days for employees who need a break
  • ensuring that workloads are manageable
  • checking in with employees regularly, especially now that many are working remote

Advocating for better mental health in the workplace starts with offering great benefits to employees. In addition, it improves opportunities to recruit and retain talent, as well as foster a culture of diversity and inclusion. While the stigma is beginning to lift, mental health continues to decline the longer the pandemic persists. Employers must be thoughtful and deliberate in their approach to understanding the mental health needs of their workforce, and respond appropriately to help employees get the support and care they need in these challenging times.

WTIA can assist you in designing an effective, impactful benefits program to meet the needs of your unique workforce. For additional information, visit the HR Benefits website at https://www.washingtontechnology.org/services/medical/, contact your broker, or Raven Mencias at rmencias@washingtontechnology.org.

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