Why offering mental health benefits to your employees will benefit your business amidst Covid-19
Even before COVID-19 emerged, the costs of poor mental health in the workplace to employers was substantial. The pandemic has brought mental health and distress to the forefront, and our recent study revealed that people experienced two times more negative emotions than before. Before the emergence of the pandemic, employee mental health programs might have been considered a value-added benefit or an access initiative, COVID-19 has shifted its importance to an urgent necessity, not only during the period of the lockdowns, but also during the adjustment period when transition to the new normal will follow.
A mental health pandemic is bound to follow the intense social distancing and isolation phase, with trauma, PTSD, anxiety and grief dominating the emotional space of all individuals and workers, with unfavorable consequences for societies, communities and business.
The monetary cost of mental health
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, which surveyed 1,226 Americans during March 25–30, 45% of adults say the crisis has had a negative impact on their mental health, and 19% say it has had a “major impact.”
Depression is already the number one cause of disability worldwide, accounting for up to 400 million lost work days annually, with mental health and substance abuse alone costing US businesses $80- $100 billion annually.
Additionally, there is also a cost in productivity and effectiveness, as many people choose to carry on working, either on-site or remotely, instead of taking time off.
Fortunately, employers’ awareness of the issue and the amount of money companies spend on the mental health of their employees is rising rapidly, year on year.
How COVID-19 has made employers’ change their attitude to mental health
As anxiety and stress levels have risen due to COVID-19, there has been an upsurge in the number of people looking for online mental health resources, which has created an urgent need for many businesses to look for and provide suitable mental health resources for their employees. The results of an online survey by The National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, 18–23 March 2020, showed that 53% of employers are providing special programs for their workforce.
Kickstand Communications, is one such company. Although they already provide their employees with a monthly wellness stipend that can be used to pay for mental or physical health, due to coronavirus they have implemented a more flexible work schedule along with three hours per week to step away from the computer and recharge.
Another company improving mental health benefits for their employees is auto insurance company Clearcover. They are hosting digital sessions with a counselor through their EAP to discuss mental health during social distancing and quarantine, and have also set up a Slack channel on mental health and productivity to encourage conversation around the topic.
Starbucks too announced in early April 2020 that all ‘partners’ who work more than 20 hours a week, approximately 220,000 US workers and their families will be entitled to expanded mental health benefits through Starbucks’ employee assistance program.
In the long-term however, a recent Employer Health Innovation Roundtable (EHIR) survey noted that only 36% of businesses surveyed would increase investment in innovative healthcare services, and then only if the investment improved short-term ROI.
Who else is driving the change?
Pandemic aside, employers had already begun to take note and act on the need for providing mental health benefits for their employees because of the driving force of the younger generation of employees, the millennials and Gen-Zers, and the emerging ‘sandwich generation’ demanding change, as well as more choice, including digital and remote offers, beyond just “ticking the box”.
Millennials & Gen-Zers
They grew up in an age where the stigma surrounding mental health was gradually pulled down and, as such they are more likely to want to talk about their mental health and go to therapy. As they become a bigger part of the global workforce they are becoming stronger and more vocal in expecting their employers to help them receive the support they need.
According to ‘The Economic Consequences of Millennial Health’, produced by Moody’s Analytics in November 2019 on behalf of Blue Shield Blue Cross: “Between 2014 and 2017 alone, prevalence of major depression and hyperactivity among millennials was up roughly 30%. What’s more, according to the CDC, accidental deaths, which include overdoses, and suicides were the cause of 60% of all 25–29 year old deaths in 2017.”
The ‘sandwich generation’
Is the term used to describe those aged between 40 and 60 who are pressed and stressed between caring for aged parents and their partners and dependent.
A 2007 American Psychological Association survey found that 2 in 5 men and women in this group feel overextended, and 40 percent of women ages 35 to 54 report extreme stress. And as Sandwich Generation employees feel the pressure of work and home, their employers, too, are feeling the effects. With caregiving-related costs, including absenteeism and turnover, estimated to run employers nearly $38 billion each year, it’s time to examine the psychological support and benefits provided to a group of workers that makes up 47% of US adults.
Why act now — a call to action
It is becoming a widely accepted fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has alarming implications for individual and collective health and emotional and social functioning. In addition to providing extended coverage for medical care, employers have an important role in monitoring psychosocial needs and delivering psychosocial support to their employees — activities that should be integrated into their general pandemic response strategy.
In Thrive Global’s report ‘Thriving in the new normal’, nearly 90% of employees surveyed felt that employers needed to be doing more to properly address concerns and challenges surrounding COVID-19. Specifically, when it came to providing more resources, three key themes emerged: stress management and resilience, managing the ‘work-from-home’ environment and maintaining performance and productivity.
It is now more important than ever, to pay attention to the voices of people, who might be struggling to adjust to the new normal, and will continue to do so, as the uncertainty over the Covid-19 crisis and its long term outlook lingers on. Employers will be challenged to create cultures of well-being as they navigate today’s public health challenges and pursue healthier futures.
This is an opportunity for business leaders to intensify their focus on their people, in order to retain talent, maximize productivity in order to not only survive the crisis, but prosper, thrive and differentiate their employer brand for the future.
Digital technology and community partnerships will play a powerful role in understanding and responding to health behavior changes as populations adjust to a new normal.
Feel Relief Mental Health Program for Business
To this end and in an effort to act responsibly and stay loyal to our mission to remove the suffering caused by mental health for as many people as possible, we have developed and launched, Feel Relief, a four-week, fully remote structured mental health care program, tailored for organizations who want to provide assistance for their employees.
The program includes access to mental health resources, an app to journal emotions, group webinars on relevant practical topics, and weekly online 15-minute sessions with qualified, professional coaches. The program is designed to help both individuals manage their emotional health and improve their wellbeing levels, motivation and resilience, as well as businesses to keep in touch with their employees, boost morale and productivity, and minimize the financial impact of the crisis.
Full details of the Feel Relief Program can be found here.
AUTHOR: MARIA ARVANITIDOU, CONTACT INFO: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Fidelity/NBGH survey, SHRM survey, 10th annual Optum Wellness in the Workplace study, Forbes “The cost of ignoring mental health” , Met Life, Fast Company, Fidelity/NBGH survey, 10th annual Optum Wellness in the Workplace study, Forbes “The cost of ignoring mental health”