Promoting mental health awareness and benefit use within the workplace has come a long way over the past two decades, but for many, a stigma still remains that prevents them from seeking care. As the effects of unacknowledged and untreated conditions on businesses become more apparent, employers have a chance to become a mouthpiece for change.
Approximately 75% of employees have dealt with an issue that affected their mental health, according to the American Heart Association. Whether stemming from personal or professional factors, the toll of these struggles is widespread within the workplace, with being untreated mental health conditions costing companies billions every year. Kaiser Permanente reported that untreated depression, for example, costs companies $9,450 per employee per year in absenteeism and lost productivity.
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These conditions aren’t going away any time soon — a sad reality confirmed by the American Psychiatric Association, which says that people often delay seeking treatment due to concerns about being treated differently or fear of losing their jobs.
“There’s still concern over how they’ll be viewed by their supervisors or coworkers,” says John Crable, SVP at insurance and employee benefits brokerage and consultancy firm Corporate Synergies. “It weighs on productivity and permeates into how that person interacts with co-workers — there is a ripple effect when you have someone who is suffering.”
As organizations think about making mental health awareness more mainstream in their workplace, they can be bolstered by the fact that 87% of employees believe actions from their employer would help their mental health, according to the American Psychological Association. This can be in the form of benefit conversations, endorsing mental health and well-being options, and finding ways to have regular check-ins with their workforce. Crable recommends starting with the basics that serve to refresh people on the benefits they have in the first place.
“A nice communication campaign reminds staff of the levels of support that are available,” he says. “The reality is that most employees don’t even remember that it’s there. It can be ‘Hey, are you dealing with stress or having a tough time sleeping? We have these programs available to you.’ There are ways to say ‘We’re here to support your mental health’ without saying ‘You have a mental health problem.'”
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With the growing number of digital health and wellness options, Crable notes that new offerings can be rolled out at little to no cost during any point in the year, which is another way to remind employees of the variety of benefits available, and that they well -being is top of mind. Providing a multi-pronged approach, Crable says, shows that an employer is not just concerned when serious illness or injury strikes, but in the ongoing health of employees and their loved ones.
Alongside the hesitation to seek care, Crable says that lack of access to providers is a major deterrent for many. If someone is reluctant to reach out for help, and when they do they’re told it will be weeks before they can be seen, it only compounds the problem, he says. For this reason, companies are increasingly considering a more comprehensive mental health benefits package, which Crable says can become part of their standard offering. For employers who choose to, these enhanced benefits can also be offered to those who waive health insurance.
“It increases access, it provides an enhanced service platform, and it’s also saying, ‘We recognize the importance of providing this support for you. Therefore, when you have health insurance, this is part of the core program.”
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In addition to an employee’s mental health struggles leading to loss of productivity and time at work, employers should be aware that many who work for them are concerned for someone with a mental health condition. This, too, can have a tremendous impact on one’s ability to perform in the workplace, and be equally as important for employers to address with options such as flexibility and benefits that can be used by the whole family. They are dealing with trying to find the resources and support for help, Crable says, and this is very distracting.
Mental health benefits are only valuable if people use them. Employers who highlight the importance of self-care and offer a well-packaged mental health benefits program stand to build a stronger work culture and save money, time and talent. Here, Crable says, is when a good HR team knows their population can be most impactful, by finding out what stressors employees have and designing ways to help. Digital tools such as apps and webinars can increase engagement depending on how a workforce is dispersed, and feedback can help HR plan for future events.
“We might do stress relief, anxiety relief, and then the following 60 days we might do financial wellness — and then get feedback from the employees as they’re participating,” Crable says. “Even things that we don’t immediately think of as mental health support, it’s all saying ‘We care about you.'”