Chris Russell

2 min read

Human Resources

Mental Health Benefits Are a Recruiting Edge

Well before the Covid pandemic, the importance of mental health benefits was becoming apparent to both employers and workers. 

Employers expanded coverage and began offering stress reduction and access to mental health counselor and other programs as part of the growing focus on workplace wellness. Still, as late as 2019, mental health benefits were only just moving from perk to benefit, as an article on the Society for Human Resource Management website said.

Now, mental health benefits have gone from “from a nice-to-have to a true business imperative,” write two CEOs in the Harvard Business Review. Citing data from surveys conducted in 2019 before Covid and again in 2021, the authors report a rise in mental health related attrition, especially among millennial and Gen Z workers. 

Mental Health Challenges Among Employees

The pandemic, the authors observe, has exacerbated stresses of all types. “Mental health challenges are now the norm among employees across all organizational levels.” 

Employers have responded by improving and broadening their mental health programs.

Reporting on how businesses responded to the mental health impacts of the pandemic, the Kaiser Family Foundation said, “The social and economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have placed an unprecedented level of stress on people all over the world. Many employers took steps to assist employees and family members facing these stresses.”

mental health benefitsIn a survey of companies with more than 50 workers, the Foundation found that 39% have made changes to their mental health benefits since the start of the pandemic.

Among firms with more than 200 employees, 49% made improvements:

  • 5% increased coverage for out-of-network services
  • 8% waived or reduce the cost to employees for these services
  • 17% developed new resources such as an EAP program.

By far the most popular change was to expand access to mental health and substance abuse services: 36% of business under 200 employees and 43% of larger ones added new services such as telehealth and direct access to counselors.

Mental Health Benefits Often Limited

These resources, most often through online mental health providers, supplement the often limited coverage in typical employer health plan.  

For example, Learn to Live is an online provider that uses cognitive behavioral therapy to help employees with anxiety, depression and some other mental health issues. Clinicians conduct live coaching sessions and access is 24/7.

Another online service, Talkspace matches users with licensed mental health workers for therapy, medication, assessment and healthy living support. Citi, Lionsgate and the LPGA are among the company’s customers.

Lyra Health works with companies like eBay and Morgan Stanley offering a broad range of mental health services. Employees can work online or in-person with a therapist. Therapists are also available to work with individuals and groups of employees on-sire. Coaching for short-term support, medication and supportive mental health tools are also available.

Since Covid, the numbers of employees using mental health benefits has increased by double-digit percentages. The Kaiser survey found that overall, companies have seen a 12% increase in the number of workers taking advantage of these services. At companies with more than 1,000 employees, 38% more workers are taking advantage of the mental health benefits their employer provides.

Despite the attention employers are giving to mental health benefits, workers say it’s not enough. An October Calm for Business survey of 3,000 full-time workers found 40% feel their employer hasn’t done enough to support their mental health. Ironically, workers are hesitant about taking advantage of even the simplest of self-care. The Calm survey found three-quarters didn’t take a metal health or sick day in the last month even though they knew they should have. 

With just a little encouragement from management, 78% said they’d find time during the workday to take a mental health break.

Perhaps the most telling point for employers is the importance of mental health benefits in recruiting: 76% of workers in the Calm survey said metal health benefits are one of the critical factors they consider in evaluating a new job.

Contributions by John Zappe

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