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A Holistic Approach: How Employers Are Supporting Employee Mental Health (Part 2 of 2)

By Thomas Martel, EVP of Partnerships and Strategic Accounts

More than ever, companies are prioritizing employees’ mental health with benefits intended to connect workers with therapists, encourage mindfulness and enforce work-life boundaries. Employers understand that supporting mental health—especially during these times—is essential.

When workers receive treatment for mental health issues, it helps lower healthcare costs and increase productivity. In our second installment of our Mental Health Awareness series, we’ll discuss some additional strategies that employers can implement to promote better mental health in the workplace:

Reevaluating Benefits, Coverage & Provider Networks

In light of the pandemic, some employers chose to reevaluate coverage of behavioral health and mental health services. Many chose to expand their Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Others wanted to ensure that out-of-pocket expenses weren’t a barrier to access. Others reevaluated provider networks to ensure that they had sufficient behavioral health and mental health providers, as well as the right specialists.

With the pandemic, there has also been increased access to and use of digital behavioral health solutions. These solutions allow employees to connect virtually with providers over phone or video. More health plans are providing access to virtual therapy sessions, and more behavioral health and mental health providers are offering appointments in this manner. Investments in digital behavioral health solutions has certainly skyrocketed in the past year and will likely become part of the new norm.

Grace and Understanding

During COVID times, employers have tried to be as flexible and understanding as possible. They’ve updated policies to facilitate flex schedules, paid time off, and the ability to switch to part-time status if needed.

As more employees are vaccinated, circumstances will likely continue to evolve. Managers should continue to check-in with employees, particularly around transitions. For instance, if a company is starting to welcome employees back to physical offices, leaders will want to get a sense of how employees feel about the change. Some employees may be fearful of returning and feel more comfortable with a hybrid work situation, still spending some time at home before they make a complete shift. Remember that employees may need different things at different times. When and wherever possible, take a customized approach, while setting proper expectations for the future.

Community Service

Finally, employers might want to give staff the time and opportunity to volunteer in the community—either by offering flexibility around work schedules, time off, or organizing company-sponsored events.

Research shows that volunteering provides a boost in mental health. It reduces stress and provides social interaction. If employees have been staying at home, volunteering gets them reconnected to the community, and these interactions can ward off feelings of depression.

Recently, studies have shown that volunteering also provides many physical benefits, such as lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan. Certainly, by helping others, people get a sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment, referred to as a helper’s high.

During the pandemic, I myself found it gratifying to help others. With food insecurity rising in the Boston area, I volunteered at a local food bank. It took my mind off rising cases and deaths due to COVID-19, and it gave me a tangible way to give back to the community. It warmed my heart to provide support, even in small ways, stacking cans of food or putting groceries in bags. Our local food bank sustained about 75 families on a weekly basis, and we assisted other nonprofit organizations, like the local women’s shelter.

Mental Health Forecast: Uncertainties Ahead

Today, the number of vaccinated continues to rise, and with that, we get ever closer to herd immunity and closer to the life as we once knew it. However, we’re still operating under a great deal of uncertainty and unresolved losses. Many are still reeling from the financial hardships brought on by COVID-19. As we reach critical milestones in the months ahead, employees will still face struggles. Hopefully, we’ve learned the lessons of the pandemic and are well equipped to help employees navigate these challenges with compassion, flexibility, and the right solutions.

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