Quick Look: As employee mental health and wellness challenges became ever more apparent during the pandemic, so too have their expectations for employer-provided support. This new mental health revolution calls for a new approach to benefits, and employers will look to their brokers and benefit advisors for strategies, plan updates, and more.
The last two years have put mental health and stress management in the spotlight for many businesses, as employees struggled to balance work and home responsibilities during a time of instability. While stress has always been an issue for workers across the United States, the additional factors from economic uncertainty, sweeping social unrest, and the COVID-19 pandemic have taken an even greater toll on employees’ physical and mental wellbeing.
One silver lining amid the disruption is that mental health support went from being a “nice-to-have” to a true business imperative for many organizations. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2021 Employer Health Benefits Survey, about 39% of employers updated their health plans since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to expand access to mental health services. Moreover, the 2022 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report released by Wellable Labs revealed that 90% of employers increased their investment in mental health programs, 76% increased their investment in stress management and resilience programs, and 71% increased their investment with mindfulness and meditation programs.
Providing mental health employee benefits and programs has become a staple for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to attract and retain top talent. In fact, a recent survey by Calm found that 76% of workers say they consider mental health benefits critical when evaluating new jobs.
Mental health statistics in the workplace
Per the 2019 Gallup Emotions survey, over half of the U.S. population admits to feeling stressed on a daily basis. The American Institute of Stress (AIS) reports that 83% of respondents suffer from work-related anxiety and job stress is the number one source of stress for adult Americans.
And it’s no surprise that stressed out employees could be costly for businesses. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates $1 trillion in lost productivity globally each year because of mental health conditions alone. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says that 1% of workers say their productivity is affected by their mental health issues, and 37% of workers say their work environment contributed to their mental health issue.
However, organizations that support employee wellbeing see a large return on investment. Data from McLean & Company show that organizations with effective wellbeing programs see increased productivity, financial performance, and engagement, and decreased absenteeism, turnover, and healthcare costs.
Helping employers create a plan
Brokers play a key role in encouraging employee wellbeing. In today’s competitive job market, benefits will be even more important as employees decide their next career moves. Working with a professional employer organization (PEO) to expand benefit plans inclusive of mental wellness offerings is an easy and cost-effective way for your SMB clients to attract candidates and keep current employees happy.
The 2022 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report released by Wellable Labs surveyed 197 health insurance brokers to gain better insight into the future of employee wellbeing. These brokers reported stress and burnout as two major issues for employees, and they are encouraging their clients to create a clear strategy for managing workplace stress.
Unfortunately, only 1% of brokers surveyed believe their clients have a strong understanding of how well employees are managing chronic workplace stress—and those who are investing in greater well-being benefits will do so completely or mostly virtually. Because of this, brokers are imploring their clients to look at budgets to address this issue (64%) and create more internal resources for stress management at work (55%).
Benefits that work today are different from those even six months ago. In order to take action, brokers can encourage clients and prospects to revamp their benefit strategies to include access to mental health programs like digital mindfulness tools, flexible schedules, financial wellness programs, and more.
Employee Assistance Programs
Shrinking primary care plans have made traditional coverage for mental health even more expensive. Brokers can recommend that their SMB clients launch Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to ease the financial burden. EAP services connect member employees to professional service providers for confidential counseling for work or personal issues. These services are often outsourced to third parties and usually come at no additional cost to employees.
Meditation and mindfulness mobile apps
Virtual and mobile platforms are making mental health care more accessible and affordable than ever. Brokers can suggest their clients offer employer-covered subscription costs for mindfulness apps, therapy sessions, or at-home workouts as part of a newly tailored benefits plan. Access to these types of health benefits allow employees to maintain the right headspace to do their best work.
Flexible work policies
Flexible and hybrid working is here to stay, and policies that benefit mental health will become even more important. Many SMBs have already given employees expanded options and control over where they work, with a goal of attracting top talent and boosting employee morale. Gartner’s 2020 Reimagine HR Employee Survey revealed that only 36% of employees were high performers at organizations with a standard 40-hour work week. Brokers can encourage their clients to implement strategies offering employees flexibility over where, when, and how they work.
The use of telemedicine services soared during the pandemic and became an employee benefit to watch. Employees and employers alike have come to appreciate telemedicine’s ability to offer flexible, on-demand, and cost-effective care. Utilizing telemedicine for mental health services experienced an uptick in the early days of the pandemic when lockdowns closed doctors’ doors and delayed non-emergency medicine. According to the American Psychological Association, over 70% of psychologists reported an increase in demand for patient therapy for anxiety disorders during this time. A broker, with support from their PEO partner, can help SMB leaders tailor employee benefits and offer telemedicine services for both physical and mental healthcare coverage.
Family stress management investments
Employees have been carrying a heavy burden of stress both in and out of the office. Rates of anxiety, depression, and PTSD have increased since the start of the pandemic and have hit younger generations even harder. A 2021 survey from Headspace reports that one in seven American teens are struggling with their mental health. That same survey revealed 39% of employees say work stress bleeds into their home life and vice-versa, and 84% want their mental health benefits to extend to their dependents. Brokers can help their clients craft benefit packages that cover employee spouses, children, and other family members mental health.
Additional PTO perks
Employers have also gotten creative with new paid time-off (PTO) perks to combat unprecedented levels of burnout. The events of the past few years have resulted in a physically and emotionally drained workforce, and many employees simply need a rest. SMB leaders can look to their brokers and HR experts at their PEO company for help creating work/life balance programs, travel perks, volunteer time, and mental health days to encourage time away from the workplace.
More demand for mental health benefits
Going into 2022, companies are finally investing more in mental health—and will look to their brokers and benefit advisers to help provide meaningful support for employee wellbeing. Brokers can work with their clients to evaluate current employee benefit plans, identify gaps in care, and tailor plans to effectively address worker needs.
Support from a PEO company can also help your clients address mental health in the workplace. A PEO can help create policies to combat workplace factors that negatively affect mental health, reduce stress caused by high health care costs, revamp old or outdated employee benefit plans, and more.
It’s a new era for workplace mental health. Contact our experts today and start helping your clients create a more supportive and stigma-free environment.