1 in 5 adults in the US today is dealing with a mental health condition. This has a direct impact in the workplace for both employees and employers. The Depression Center at the University of Michigan found that depression is a leading cause of U.S. productivity loss with an annual cost of $44 billion to employers. The important role employers have in helping to support the mental health of their employees is more critical than ever, especially as our latest Global Employee Benefits Watch 2017/2018 research found that a concerning 64% of US employees feel that their workplace has a negative or very negative impact on their wellbeing. So how can employers better support their employees’ needs?
The need for a tailored, comprehensive benefits program
Many employers struggle to recognize the importance of their benefits offerings in fostering mental health. Companies need to evolve their benefits programs to meet the shifting needs of today’s employees. Our research found a disconnect between the support offered by employers, and the support employees actually want. This disconnect is especially pronounced in areas affecting employee wellness.
We can no longer view physical, mental or financial health in isolation. These different aspects of health all interconnect and influence employees’ sense of wellbeing. Workers who are anxious or ill are unlikely to operate at peak performance, and this can hugely impact a business’ bottom line.
Take mental health, for example: 56.5% of American adults suffering from mental health illnesses do not receive treatment. For those who sought out treatment, 20.1% reported they still had unmet treatment needs. Providing a health care plan that offers free or low-cost mental health treatment is imperative for helping to address these unmet needs.
When it comes to improving general wellness, 63% of the workforce has the goal of getting fit and healthy, yet only 30% think that their employer supports them in reaching this goal through their benefits program. That’s one of the reasons why many companies are turning to ‘wellness pots’, including us at Thomons, to give employees the flexibility to spend a set amount of money on anything that helps improve their wellness. We also offer Yoga classes on a Monday, boot camp on a Wednesday and Zumba classes on a Thursday to help promote and cultivate wellness. Getting moving and healthy together as an office has short-term endorphin payoffs and helps build and promote a culture of wellness within the workplace.
When considering which benefits best suit your employees, it’s important to consider generational differences. Younger employees in particular aren’t receiving the support they’re looking for from their employers. Traditional financial benefits such as a 401K are deisgned to meet the needs of an older workforce, which differ greatly from those of millennials. Buying a home is a goal for 74% of 18-35s – yet only 4% feel that their benefits scheme supports this. Employees who feel unsupported by their employer are less likely to engage with the business and their work. In order to avoid a lack of engagement from their staff, employers need to reassess the type of support they offer younger employees.
How to take action
To start, employers need to take steps to thoroughly understand what employees’ want in regard to wellbeing, and commit to supporting these wants through their benefits program. After the new benefits are in place, companies must effectively communicate them to their people. Employees can only engage with wellbeing benefits if they’re aware of them. Therefore, employers need to take into account whether their employees are more likely to read a text, pick-up a flyer or take part in a one-on-one chat. Finally, employers need to consider how best to encourage benefits take-up. The best way to do this is by providing a positive user experience. Mobile-first, easy-to-understand software is critical for engaging employees in their benefits plans and improving their overall perception of their employer.
With more Americans than ever before suffering from serious psychological distress, it’s clear that today’s employees are dealing with an unprecedented number of mental health issues. Employers need to play their part in addressing it. Helping improve employee mental health does not have to be a complicated task. Simply adjusting benefits in a strategic way can positively impact employees’ experiences, therefore improving how they feel and perform in the workplace.
When wellbeing is addressed correctly, the picture is much more positive. Employees who say that their benefits needs are met receive 76% more wellbeing initiatives and have 58% more life goals supported from their employer. This loyalty pays off, as these employees are twice as likely to recommend their employer to a friend, say they have a positive experience at work, and be proud to work for their company. The message for employers is clear: prioritize offering the best wellbeing benefits for your workforce, and you’ll reap rewards in employee engagement, attraction, and retention.