Mental Health Challenges are Costing Employers

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL ( – Providing resources to help deal with increased stress during the pandemic doesn’t work if employees don’t know they exist. Statistics show higher numbers of people are facing mental health issues and it’s costing employers in lost workdays and reduced productivity. Employers need to make sure they have programs in place and their workers can access them to get the care they need, according to two experts.

Impact on Employers

“Currently we’re in the middle of a mental health crisis,” said Christopher Jackson, Partnerships director for Lyra Health. “It’s been going on for quite some time. With the pandemic we’ve seen that start to worsen and increase.”

A report from the company shows the impact of the pandemic on mental health, what organizations are doing, what is working and what needs to be done. It’s based on surveys from more than 1,000 employees and hundreds of benefit leaders throughout the country.

“Forty percent of workers report dealing with one or more mental health conditions,” Jackson said. “Previously, you may have heard the stat that’s been out there for a long time, that one in five people will face a mental health condition in any given year. Those numbers have increased dramatically given where we are today. And at the same time almost half of employees (48 percent) are saying that those mental health conditions they are facing have impacted their work.”

Prior research has shown that higher levels of stress are more likely to result in missed days of work, and employees are 10 times more likely to report being dissatisfied with their jobs.

“With the pandemic, we are seeing a range of distractions that workers report are impacting their ability to concentrate at work,” said Erin Tatar, SVP of Fidelity Workplace Consulting at Fidelity Investments. “There’s absolutely a burning platform for employers to address these issues to support their workers in a different way.”

Surveys Fidelity conducted of employees during the Fall of 2020 found twice as many respondents said they felt intense stress at the end of 2020 compared to 2019. Among the stressors were such things as the election, their family’s health, and, of course, the coronavirus. “Of those who said they were stressed by seven to 12 issues, one-third of them said it was impacting their ability to work,” Tatar said.

Awareness of Resources

The Lyra report shows employers by and large believe they are offering appropriate resources to help their workers. And yet, employees are not getting the care they need.

“From the employees’ view, there are three main buckets that are impacting them,” Jackson said.

  • Only 19 percent of employees have seen a mental health professional, even though many are reporting a mental health issue.
  • Of those who do see a mental health professional, many are going out of network and often pay out of pocket.
  • Nearly one-third of workers know their employers offer something but they don’t really know what it is or how to access it.

“If we’ve learned anything in last few years and especially in last few months it’s that you can’t just throw an EAP out there and check the box and assume you’ve done what you need to support your employees’ mental health,” Tatar said. “It’s as much about that participant experience through the process of seeking care as getting to the care itself in a lot of cases.”

Employees and their family members who try to seek care for depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges are often stymied by the process. “They hit just barrier upon barrier; that creates friction in the process. ‘I have to get this code,’ and ‘I can’t actually click through to try to make an appointment,’ or ‘I need to call five different therapists during business hours and half of them aren’t in the network anymore’ or ‘half of them aren’t actually taking new patients or at least not during hours that I’m available,’” Tatar said. “All those things add up to this huge drop off in those actually getting the care that they need.”

Promoting Mental Health Programs

Employers are advised to look at the process holistically. Getting the word out to employees about the mental health programs and resources available needs to be a constant, targeted marketing effort.

One way is to leverage culture groups that exist in organizations, such as groups of employees who talk about parenting, or racial stress or other issues. “We’ve seen employers start using those employee resource groups to communicate with them in a different way and make it unique and specific to their individual trends,” Jackson said.

“It might be the exact same webinar but the message is coming not from HR or Benefits but the leader [of one of the groups], with slightly tailored messaging,” Tatar added.

Another option to increase employee awareness and engagement in mental health services is to use life events. Financial problems, reorganizations at work, taking on new caregiving responsibilities, the birth or adoption of a child are all events that affect wellbeing.

“We know as employers if a person is experiencing one of those events,” Tatar said. “They are more likely to listen and engage in mental health programs when they are experiencing one of those events. So taking advantage of one of those events to market is a real opportunity that I think most employers are missing.”

Linking mental health resources directly to diversity and inclusion efforts is another way. “Mental health is foundational to D & I,” Tatar said. “Someone who does not feel like they are a part of an inclusive workplace is going to suffer on the emotional front. As you design a strategy you have to consider the diverse needs of very different groups within your workplace.”

Business challenges, such as the end of a quarter for a sales-driven workforce provide additional opportunities for organizations to promote their mental health programs to employees. Mergers and acquisitions are another stressor that can lend itself to better engagement of workers in mental health resources.

“Use those opportunities to further promote your wellness resources, as opposed to just mental health week or mental health month or enrollment,” Tatar said. “Obviously you want to use those too, but also look at your workforce and what is taking place.”

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