Mental Health and Emotional Well-being: Key Insights from May 2021 Industry Benchmarking Calls

In honor of Mental Health Awareness month, Business Group on Health hosted calls among 11 different industry groups to discuss employers’ plans to support employee mental health and emotional well-being. This set of key insights will recap employers’ top mental health priorities and share examples of new programs and initiatives aimed to improve employees’ emotional well-being and mental health, including those addressing anxiety, burnout, depression and other mental health conditions.

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May 31, 2021

In honor of Mental Health Awareness month, Business Group on Health hosted calls among 11 different industry groups to discuss employers’ plans to support employee mental health and emotional well-being. Though employee mental health was already a priority for most employers, the difficulties experienced in 2020 because of the pandemic has placed additional strain on the mental and emotional well-being of their workforce, bringing mental to the forefront of priorities.

This set of key insights will recap employers’ top mental health priorities and share examples of new programs and initiatives aimed to improve employees’ emotional well-being and mental health, including those addressing anxiety, burnout, depression and other mental health conditions.

Top Mental Health Conditions

Depression, anxiety, burnout and stress were cited as top mental health conditions of concern for members across all the industry calls. Substance use disorder came up during several different industry calls (e.g., pharmaceutical/biotech/medical products, grocery-consumer products and transportation & shipping industries). Suicide (specifically for on-site workers in the transportation industry) and sleep disturbances were noted as significant mental health conditions as well.

2021 Mental Health Strategies

During the benchmarking calls, employers shared a variety of evidence-based and innovative strategies being utilized to address mental health conditions and improve emotional well-being in the workplace, including initiatives focused on increasing access to counseling and treatment, connecting employees to valuable mental health resources, combatting stigma, providing access to virtual well-being programs, fostering a positive mental health work culture, and implementing mental health trainings for management and leadership. Specific approaches, including examples, are described below.

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#1Ensuring access to mental health counseling and treatment

Employers reported concerns over the rising of number of mental health conditions among employees. Employers are working on initiatives to address barriers to care, like cost, value and access, as well as expanding their employee assistance program (EAP) capabilities and services to meet current employee needs. To accomplish this, employers are utilizing the following strategies:

Transportation and Shipping

A transportation company is making improvements to its EAP to better serve its global employees and dependents under 18, alongside its partner, Ginger. Ginger is a virtual emotional support vendor that offers employees on-demand mental health coaching, video therapy sessions, guided access to resources and psychiatric services.

Technology

One technology company recently launched a pilot program with an EAP that offers a 24/7 concierge. This confidential advocate helps employees connect with the mental health resources they need by contacting available providers and then following up to ensure that the employee got an appointment. In addition, the company is training these advocates to refer employees to all the resources – including those not under their umbrella. Though there is no conclusive data available yet, employees are utilizing the program, and so far, it seems to be going well.

consumer products

One company hosted EAP webinars globally for all employees. This company is also working with its equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) team to connect employees with other available resources and has changed its plan design to cover out-of-network mental health providers.

Aerospace and Defense

A transportation company will begin to offer mental telehealth care that is within medical benefits along with a mobile app that focuses on providing peer support for employees. The app was implemented by its HR and Benefits team to make sure employees had remote access to health care services and resources during the pandemic, when travel and face-to-face interaction was very limited. Reportedly, by the end of April 2021, over 7,000 employees had downloaded the app.

Multiple Industries

Several members are leading initiatives to provide more access to on-site mental health support and resources.

Technology

One technology company is utilizing a data-integrated EAP alongside mental health benefits to track employee mental health conditions. When an employee calls the EAP about counseling, the EAP automatically triages employees to care and anonymously sends that data back to employers. The data help keep employers continuously informed about the top mental health conditions experienced by employees. The company stated that the data-integrated EAP is being utilized by many employees to obtain the support they require.

#2 Promoting a positive mental health culture and addressing mental health stigma in the workplace

Combating stigmas and encouraging mental health awareness were already priorities for many employers before COVID-19, but the pandemic has reemphasized the importance of these goals. The industry benchmarking calls revealed that employers are working to improve the narrative on mental health within their own companies and to normalize seeking mental health care. To achieve these objectives, employers have launched anti-stigma campaigns and adjusted their return-to-worksite approach to be more flexible and understanding of the differing effects the pandemic has had on the mental health and emotional well-being of their employees.

pharmacy

One pharmaceutical company is conducting an “Erase the Stigma” webinar series to support mental health awareness and to diminish the stigmas related to mental health among their employees.

pharmacy

Another pharmaceutical employer is launching an organization wide “Make it Ok” campaign. The campaign uses personal storytelling among employees to normalize and lead further conversations about mental health and to reduce the stigma associated with receiving mental health care.

Technology

A technology employer is establishing a campaign to educate employees on how to maintain a healthy work/life balance every year. The campaign also plans to inform leadership on how to recognize the warning signs of an employee with an unhealthy work/life balance and then effectively direct them to further resources

Multiple Industries

Another employer announced that it plans to launch a 4-week emotional well-being challenge with MyEvive that focuses on self-care skills. The challenge will kick off by inviting employees to share a picture of what brings them joy and happiness; the company hopes to compile all submitted pictures and create a piece of art with them. All benefits-eligible employees can participate, and employees enrolled in the medical plan can also earn incentives. In addition, this company also implemented a 15-minute emotional well-being break for employees during work hours.

Transportation and Shipping

One transportation company is encouraging a positive mental health culture in the workplace by launching a “Year of Resilience” campaign. This employer also implemented “Operation RedBlock,” an initiative that allows employees who are impaired (by drugs and/or alcohol) to call into a phone line to let employers know they are unable to work safely that day. Then the employer follows up with a call, and depending on the legitimacy of the reason, that particular day is removed from the employee’s attendance record, and no PTO is used.

#3Mental health trainings for people leaders

One of the exciting changes employers reported making was to train their supervisors, managers and people leaders to be more supportive of employees’ mental health needs. Through strategic education and engagement, people leaders learn how to have sensitive conversations with employees about mental health and share strategies to reduce burnout, particularly during stressful periods. By implementing this top-down training approach, employers are helping to cultivate greater employee awareness about available resources and create another referral engine to point employees to well-being supports that could help them.

Financial Services

One employer in the financial services industry announced that it is rolling out a mental health learning toolkit for managers this year (first in the U.S., then everywhere else). The goal of the toolkit is to help build awareness for managers and provide them with tools to assist employees with referrals. Training for managers is currently virtual, but this company is considering a live program for the future.

retail

A retail company has implemented evidence-based leadership training via webinars, created weekly leadership action goals and offered a multitude of informative webinars that help leaders recognize mental health symptoms.

#4Restructure mental health communications

Several employers report that by restructuring their mental health communications in a more clear, consistent and unified way, they are helping to facilitate employee utilization of available mental health resources. By using sensitive language and increasing awareness of the programs already available, HR and leadership teams are better able to direct employees and dependents to the care they need—or at a minimum, make them aware of supports available for future challenges.

Multiple Industries

One member company is conducting surveys to identify which resources are being utilized by employees. The survey findings will then be analyzed and used to determine how to make mental health resources more accessible (for example, creating download buttons for resources).

Technology

One technology company created a more robust mental health resources webpage located on the employees’ benefits site. This strategy streamlined and simplified the search process for employees by utilizing the intranet and creating one central mental health page. This page provides easy access to all mental health resources, which are organized by employee needs (e.g., burnout, stress related to COVID-19, pregnancy, childcare and caregiving demands).

manufacturing

To increase engagement, one employer created new EAP promotional flyers with informative and real-life examples that demonstrate the emotional and mental well-being support its EAP offers. The content in the flyers varied depending on location and the differing needs and cultural norms of various employee populations.

#5Virtual mental health and emotional well-being programs

Many employers have plans to offer more virtual mental health and well-being programs for employees. Several large employers report high utilization of these virtual programs by employees. One company shared that because of the success of these new virtual programs, it is completely revamping and replacing its existing EAPs with virtual mental health and emotional well-being programs.

pharmacy

To address the stress caused by having kids at home during the pandemic, one member in the pharmaceutical/biotech/medical products industry rolled out a virtual babysitting and tutoring service for employees with free membership and 5 hours of care.

Transportation and Shipping

One company in the transportation/shipping industry reported that it is creating a partnership with Ginger to offer a text-based teen counseling program to address mental health challenges of dependents.

Technology

One technology company offered a sleep program, Sleepio, for employees, as many were reportedly suffering from sleep disturbances, pandemic fatigue and burnout.

pharmacy

One pharmaceutical company offered the mental health app Headspace for employees to utilize any time from their home.

Multiple Industries

Another employer described its success with Lyra in 2019 to launch a virtual well-being program. Use of Lyra has since skyrocketed, with 30% of all employees registered. Furthermore, Lyra has completely replaced this company’s EAP. The program offered 25 session per year and utilized rewards to promote it; those that took the initial assessment received a $50 reward.

Technology

Another technology company is providing mental health and well-being support by collaborating with Talkspace, a behavioral health and well-being app that offers online therapy for its employees.

On the Horizon for Mental Health Strategies and Returning to Work

During the pandemic, members experienced a huge spike in mental telehealth utilization. What implications does this have for employers and return-to-work plans? Across all industry calls, employers affirm that supporting mental health and emotional well-being will remain a top priority—especially as it pertains to the development of future return-to-work plans.

Employers are also focused on gathering employee feedback through surveys to assess employee sentiments and concerns regarding potential return-to-work plans. Issues employers are focused on include how to best address employees’ transitional mental health issues, such as separation anxiety due to more time spent away from children and pets, stress over the commute, caregiving needs, social anxieties, and on-site health and safety concerns.

In conclusion, the May 2021 Industry benchmarking calls revealed that many employers are still in the planning process regarding return to work. In fact, many have not yet communicated a comprehensive return-to-work plan to employees. As employers develop their plans, they are striving to keep employees informed about their thoughts and to consider employee concerns carefully.

Please join us for our next round of Industry Benchmarking calls!

Contact us to learn more.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Top Mental Health Conditions
  2. 2021 Mental Health Strategies
  3. On the Horizon for Mental Health Strategies and Returning to Work