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Making Employee Mental Health a Reality

Making Employee Mental Health a Reality

A hidden crisis made visible

Before the pandemic, mental health was often treated as an afterthought to physical health when it came to benefits offered by employers. Now, workforce wellness programs are becoming increasingly common in the United States, driven by factors including the need to contain health care costs as well as attract and retain talent.

Most employers see employee mental health as a priority—96 percent of CEOs believe they are doing enough, according to a Forbes study. Despite the reported return of $4 for every dollar invested in mental health treatment, organizations have tended not to develop mental health-specific strategies. The increasing demand for behavioral health services results from challenges surrounding the cost of untreated mental illness. The average annual cost for an employee experiencing mental health issues is $15,000. These employees also use nearly $3,000 more in health care services than those who do not have mental health issues. 

The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic 

The mental health impact of the pandemic is long term. It has led many people to re-evaluate their lives and the ways they had been struggling in silence prior to COVID-19. SetWorking from home, home-schooling children, reducing social interactions, and working more hours under stressful circumstances have negatively impacted some people’s  physical and mental health. Effects have varied based on individual workers’ demographic characteristics, individual capabilities, and occupations. Working from home has also led to a generalized increase in working hours and a diminished ability to separate home from work.

There are competitive reasons to pay more attention to employees’ mental health. In what has been dubbed  the “Great Resignation,” record numbers of U.S. employees quit their jobs in 2021, often as a result of burnout. Now defined as a syndrome in the World Health Organization’s 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), burnout is specifically applied in an occupational context, with chronic workplace stress as the cause rather than a symptom.

Building a mentally healthy corporate culture 

Increasing numbers of people are turning away from draining and unsatisfying work and instead seeking a better future—a trend that may represent the American labor force re-examining its values. This trend will accelerate as workforce demographics change. Younger people are more likely to expect mental well-being to be part of their employment benefits—and more likely to be open about discussing it in professional contexts.  

In this way, the pandemic has prompted employers to ramp up their mental health support. For example, in a National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions survey of over 250 employers, more than half said they were providing mental health programs for their workforce during COVID-19. Another survey of 1,200 businesses found that nearly half of employers had trained their managers to recognize the signs of mental illness in 2020, with an additional 18 percent planning to do so.

Employers can deploy a range of interventions to support staff well-being, but they should also avoid seeing any individual solution as sufficient on its own, since everyone in the workforce is different and has different needs.

Steps employers can take to make mental health a priority in their work cultures include: 

  • Set the tone right with empathy: To show that you understand the mix of emotions employees are likely feeling, it’s important to acknowledge the types of personal and professional challenges people are facing and communicate the efforts you’ll make to allow for flexibility as your company moves to a hybrid model.
  • Take the pulse of your employees: Your company’s hybrid work plan will be more successful and well-formed if you can first understand employees’ immediate needs and concerns. Consider launching a pulse survey to capture feedback and give people an opportunity to voice their worries about the shift to a new work model. 
  • Communicate plans and rationale early and often: Consistent communication from your company’s managers, leadership, and human resources team can reduce some of the uncertainty employees may feel amid the transition to a hybrid workplace. Even while plans are in development, share regular updates to your workforce across multiple channels (this may include emails, newsletters, all-hands meetings, talking points for managers, and videos from leadership) to ensure messages are highly visible and reinforced.
  • Offer benefits that remove barriers to a successful hybrid workplace: Providing flexibility and supportive benefits can make a big difference in employees’ ability to adjust to a hybrid work environment.
  • Be proactive about offering mental health support and preventing burnout: With the partial return to shared workspaces, managers will be better positioned to spot signs of emotional distress or behavioral problems that were less visible when working entirely from home or if the employee was on leave. Meanwhile, for those who continue to work remotely full-time, it’s even more crucial to create explicit opportunities for employees to express areas of struggle, and to foster an environment that makes it OK to talk about emotional wellness.

Systematic thinking encourages companies to examine how work itself is a driver of mental health  problems. For instance, studies show that stress and anxiety at work are caused not so much by the quantity of work but the intersection of high demand and low control.

The evidence is now strong that mental health is associated with better physical health, more engaged employees, and lower attrition. In a tightening labor market, and with younger workers placing more emphasis on mental health, companies cannot afford to ignore this dimension of well-being

To learn more about the ROI of mental health support, download the full report by The Economist Group.


If you want help connecting with a coach or therapist, Lyra can assist you. You can get started today if Lyra is offered by your employer. Sign up now.

For employers who want to learn more about how Lyra addresses network adequacy and quality issues, download our white paper on quality or get in touch.

And check in frequently here or follow us on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter for more insights into supporting employees’ mental health.

By The Lyra Team
6 of January 2022 - 5 min read
Mental health at work
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