by Noah Nordheimer, CEO of All Points North
There is a growing need for quality employee mental health services and emotional support. Burnout has become commonplace, affecting upwards of 70% of employees worldwide across different demographics, and work-life balance continues to be a key concern for employees.
Workplace Stress Is at an All-Time High
According to the American Institute of Stress, 95% of workers report feeling stress at work, with 62% describing their stress level as high with extreme fatigue/feeling out of control.
Stress isn’t just a personal issue – employees’ mental and emotional health has drastic implications for organizations. According to the CDC, depression makes physical job tasks more difficult about 20% of the time and impacts cognitive performance about 35% of the time.
With substance use and overdose rates on the rise and added stress from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, employees aren’t just losing hours of productivity – they’re struggling in silence. Healthcare workers, veterans, and families of veterans are especially at risk.
Difficulty Accessing Mental Healthcare
Despite innovations in mental health services and treatments, 71% of employees struggle to access care. Many employees are uninsured or underinsured. Without dedicated behavioral health benefits, they may be unable to afford support, especially when insurance companies fail to provide the appropriate coverage for addiction and health services, even though the law requires it.
Even when companies provide mental health benefits and access to counseling, and even when employees can afford the steep copay, there’s no guarantee that an employee will find an available in-network therapist.
According to SHRM.org, nearly 78% of organizations currently offer or plan to provide mental health resources in the next year. The remaining 22% of companies struggled to recognize the severity of employee mental health needs:
- 33% said their organization hasn’t thought about offering these resources
- 27% indicated their company is unsure which benefits to provide
- 18% said their organization is unsure how to find or choose a plan
- 21% said their company doesn’t have the resources to address mental health
Employers Need to Support Employee Mental Health
People are the most valuable resource in any organization, which is why employers should take mental health concerns seriously and find proactive ways to support their employees.
Investing in employee mental health directly benefits companies. According to Aflac’s Workforces Report, 70% of employees enrolled in wellness programs have reported higher job satisfaction than those not enrolled in the companies’ programs.
Quite frankly, employers can’t afford to not invest in employee mental health; the APA reports that 81% of workers agree mental health support from potential employers is an essential consideration for their job search.
No matter how we look at the data, it’s obvious that there is a huge disconnect between employee mental health needs and employer offerings. I feel compelled to share this insight as the CEO of a company with a 98% retention rate over the last 12 months. Even with coverage limitations, companies can still find ways to support their workforce and protect their most valuable assets. Here are 6 creative ways to support employee mental health.
1. Cover mental health copays
If we want employees to prioritize their mental health, we must remove the barriers to access. Covering mental health copays doesn’t just take care of the financial burden – it also goes a long way in removing the stigma.
Companies can offer an allowance in addition to base salary and benefits to protect their privacy and use the funds at their discretion to cover therapy, medication costs, and other services that support mental health.
This approach takes trust – you have to make the investment and believe that your employees will allocate the funds appropriately. But trust, choice, and empowerment can benefit mental health patients, and prioritizing a culture of trust can go a long way in increasing employee job satisfaction.
2. Include mental health days in PTO
Research from the American Psychological Association tells us that employees lose 550,000,000 workdays every year due to stress. But that number doesn’t have to impact your organization, and including mental health days in PTO can help.
It might sound counterintuitive to give employees more time off to prevent lost workdays, but when a company vocally and proactively includes mental health needs in its PTO offering, it sends a message to employees: you matter and your mental health comes first. That message is a one-two punch against workplace burnout and mental health stigma, and it encourages life-saving early intervention.
Instead of stress, anxiety, substance use, or depression forcing employees to miss days or weeks of work, they can proactively keep themselves healthy (likely with fewer overall days off). Employees feel supported in managing their stress the same way they’d manage their physical wellness.
Depending on how your company structures paid time off, you have a few options:
- Add a few days/hours to the overall PTO offering
- Include mental health struggles in the official employee handbook under PTO use
- Allow and encourage schedule flexibility so employees can manage their time more effectively and healthily (this also allows them to schedule counseling sessions at reasonable times!)
3. Offer subscriptions to wellness apps
The best mental health support focuses on prevention ahead of intervention – meeting your employees’ needs before they feel the impacts of chronic stress, anxiety, depression, or substance misuse.
With meditation and wellness apps taking the tech world by storm, there is an abundance of offerings that can help employees carve mindful moments into their everyday routines.
Headspace and Calm both offer enterprise solutions for businesses that want to support their employees’ mental health. Many employers provide subscriptions to Apple Fitness+, Peloton, and Tonal or cover gym membership fees to give their employees a physical outlet for stress management.
When you consider the body, mind, and spirit as equal pillars of wellness and give employees opportunities to support their health holistically, they can approach their health with more balance and create healthier routines that work for their schedules.
4. Improve and protect your workplace culture
A toxic or cutthroat workplace culture doesn’t just exacerbate mental health struggles, it creates them. When your employees work together, understand one another, and look out for one another, the resulting culture provides a protective foundation for mental health.
One possible route to creating a healthier workplace culture is to rely on the expertise of outside organizations and trainings. An outside perspective can help you gain unbiased insight into pain points, strengths, and how to improve. Mindfulness and stress management experts can be an integral part of creating a workplace culture improvement strategy.
A growing number of outlets focus on emotional intelligence and empathy training for employees, managers, and executives. These offerings utilize research-based skills to strengthen empathy and trust, improve collaboration, and create more innovative, productive, and satisfying experiences at work.
One way to show your employees that you value mental health is to increase open communication around mental health (without making people feel exposed or vulnerable). Emphasize the need for mental health days, talk openly about scheduling therapy appointments, and check in with your employees, not just as professionals, but as human beings.
Of course, your employees are the most important voice in evaluating your workplace culture. Anonymous surveys can reveal the true pulse of your workplace culture and give your team an outlet without making them feel at risk. You can learn what your team values and what they’d like to change and encourage buy-in by making them feel like their input is valued and respected.
5. Increase flexibility when possible
Another way to show your employees that you respect them as individuals is to offer flexibility as your business allows. More than ever, the strict rules and expectations around work hours, availability, and in-office time create real challenges for modern employees and their families.
But research presented in Pathways’ Mind at Work: A Report on Employee Mental Health showed that work-life balance was the third-highest concern for employees in 2021. Companies can offer flexibility in the form of hybrid work, telecommuting, remote work, condensed workweeks, flextime, part-time work, shift work, and job sharing. Writing for Forbes, Christopher Littlefield put it this way:
At Australian on-demand house cleaning service, Calibre Cleaning, they support the mental health of their people by giving them the autonomy and flexibility to work when they want and how they want. Founder and Director, Rocky Vuong, shares “Our teams do not clock in a fixed number of hours per day. Rather, we focus on whether weekly outcomes are being achieved. This gives our team the chance to prioritize work/life balance, hobbies, and even taking mid-week breaks – as long as we are producing at the end of the week.” He shared that a recent survey on employee satisfaction showed a 100% net promoter score on areas including work pressure, whether they feel valued, and would they recommend a friend to join the company.
Working flexibility into the workday can come with new stress-inducing challenges as well. You’ll have to create new expectations and guardrails around when employees need to be available, clarify deadlines on an ongoing basis, and encourage time–tracking so that employees don’t accidentally overwork themselves.
But those challenges can be very worth the incredible mental and emotional benefits for employees. Flexible scheduling options make employees feel respected and appreciated.
6. Create a mental health intervention plan
No matter what you do to create the best possible work environment or provide quality mental health support, you need a mental health crisis plan in place. Something that ensures that your employees will be safe, cared for, and able to access interventions with a moment’s notice.
A strong mental health intervention plan includes a one-stop expert consultation, a wide variety of high-quality services, short-term and long term care availability, and a trustworthy track record of addressing core issues effectively.
At All Points North, we offer a full continuum of care with plenty of in-person and virtual support options. We customize our treatment plans based on an individual’s history, immediate needs, and long-term goals.
Developing your intervention plan is the first step – communicating the plan is the most important part. Employees need to know what supports they can rely on. Familiarizing your team with the plan can help them assess their needs and feel confident communicating their struggles before they reach a point of crisis. And in the event of an emergency, employees can find solace in knowing there’s a standard procedure in place.
Mental Health Can’t Wait
No matter how you do it, supporting your employees’ mental and emotional health can’t wait. If insurance companies won’t guarantee mental health and addiction services, we all need to do our part to lighten the burden.
Our employees are our biggest asset and our greatest responsibility. It’s time for employers to step up and do what we can to advocate for our people.
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