How to Encourage Employees to Use Mental Health Benefits

Employers can do better when it comes to educating employees about the use of the mental health resources available to them — a message that is especially important given the increasing pressure employees are facing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, human resources consultants say.

As employees choose their benefits for the next year during the open enrollment season and take time to think about the next year during vacations, they may be receptive to communication about untapped mental health benefits.

Demystifying EAP Offers

Communication about what benefits are offered and how they are used is the first step, said Kara Hogensen, senior vice president of special benefits at Principal, a global financial investment management and insurance company.

Employers can highlight how employee assistance programs (EAPs) work by providing examples of the types of support EAPs provide and the value they can provide, as well as describing how they are used.

“Often, employees believe that these services are only available in crisis situations,” Hoogensen noted. “However, EAP benefits can help employees overcome stress and anxiety about general concerns they face, such as work-life balance, paying bills or health issues. It is also important to emphasize the confidential nature of mental health programs accessed through EAP software so employees feel more comfortable using it.”

Despite growing concerns about mental health and a growing interest in mental health resources, EAP experts remain unfamiliar to many employees.

“Some don’t realize that they have access to these benefits,” Hoogensen said. “Communicating often about EAPs and other benefits—whether it’s through digital, mobile, or otherwise—keeps the conversation going. Keeping employees on the pulse through surveys and one-on-one meetings with managers also helps.”

Retention of workers

HR Consulting Mercer 2021
Health On Demand The report, based on a global survey of 14,000 employees conducted earlier this year, shows that:

  • 42 percent of employees with access to mental health benefits said they were more likely to remain in their current organization than if they did not have these resources.
  • 44 percent of those not receiving mental health benefits said they did not feel supported by their employers.

Looking at the United States, where 2,000 workers were surveyed:

  • Fifty-nine percent of employees said they feel some level of stress, and a quarter reported experiencing severe or extreme stress — the highest among the 13 countries surveyed.
  • Forty-eight percent of employees rated employer support for mental health as high value or very important.
  • However, 40 percent of employees said it is difficult to find and get good mental health care. And among those with lower wages, that number rises to 47 percent.

Mercer stated that the ability to access mental health care virtually — including virtual visits with a counselor or therapist and digital support tools and resources — has become a valuable option for many employees.

“With the significant shifts in attitudes toward sustainable mental health and digital healthcare over the past year, employers must evolve their health strategy to reflect a modern workforce that prioritizes flexibility, choice, a culture of care and digital access to support their health and well-being,” said Kate Brown, leader of the Mercer Center for Health Innovation.

prevailing conditions

In another mental health survey, 91 percent of a total of 421 reward professionals in large North American organizations said the challenges of mental health and substance use disorders among workers have increased during the pandemic.

These findings were reported by the International Corporation for Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) in its report
Benefits of mental health disorders and substance use: results of the 2021 survey Report.

“Mental well-being was a huge challenge before the COVID-19 pandemic, and concern is only growing as our workers grapple with the ongoing unknowns of the pandemic,” said Julie Stitch, Vice President of Content at IFEBP. “Employers are working to effectively communicate with and provide benefits to employees, from offering more digital tools to facilitating peer support groups to expanding mental health crisis training initiatives.”

Specific benefits for increasingly prevalent mental health include access to online resources and tools (delivered by 87 percent of respondents) and remote psychotherapy sessions (72 percent).

When asked about the prevalence of several mental health/substance use disorders, the top five cases (either “severe” or “prevalent”) reported by employers, based on the data collected, were:

  • Depression (52 percent).
  • Anxiety disorders (49%).
  • Sleep deprivation and sleep disturbances (32 percent).
  • Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (23 percent).
  • Alcoholism (17 percent).

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