COVID-19 seriously impacted employee mental health. Many need your help more than ever. Here’s what’s changed – and what HR can do.
Mental and behavioral health requests jumped 100% since the onset of the pandemic, according to research from TouchCare. The pandemic apparently hit one generation particularly hard: Gen Z increased its use of mental healthcare benefits by 300%, the study found.
So many employees turned to their benefits options to pursue mental and behavioral health care for the first time ever in 2020. And most found what they needed. (Kudos to you HR pros who tirelessly pursue the right benefits for your employees!)
“This certainly heightened [employees’] awareness of the resources available to get care,” LaHayne says.
But you can’t stop there. In fact, It’s more important than ever to guide employees to mental health resources, considering 26% of adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, according to research from John Hopkins Medicine.
Here are seven ways to help employees get the most out of your mental and behavioral benefits.
You likely have a solid mental and behavioral benefits plan. But it’s always helpful to work with employees to make sure it hits the mark.
“Communicate with employees to find out what they feel they need,” LaHayne says. “For instance, ask Gen Z, many of whom might be working from their parents’ homes, ‘What would you want?’ Or you might have a young mother with young kids, and she’s one of two parents working from home. Ask her, ‘What would you want?'”
Even if it’s not the time of year you look at or can change benefits, you can get feedback that’s valuable when it is time.
More than 40% of employees say their companies had no support or programs to help them deal with mental health issues. Another 11% had no idea what was offered, if anything, a Workplace Options survey found.
That’s not because employers didn’t offer mental and behavioral health. It’s because most employees just didn’t know what their companies offer.
Employees haven’t used their mental and behavioral health resources because they don’t know enough about them. HR needs to do more to spread the word.
The annual enrollment meeting to introduce the benefits package isn’t enough. Schedule monthly meetings to cover different parts of your benefits plan. Then make mental and behavioral resources a quarterly subject. Communicate the same messages across several channels – email, social, voice mail messages, etc. – to increase the likelihood every employee gets it.
Lean in to virtual
Many employees who contacted TouchCare, a healthcare concierge service, about mental and behavioral health benefits were looking for a provider. And as the pandemic wore on, mental healthcare professionals were so busy they couldn’t take more patients.
So many employees turned to – and embraced – virtual health care.
“Now’s a moment HR can lean into virtual care,” LaHayne says.
If you don’t already offer employees access to virtual health care, you’ll want to look into it. If you do offer it, it’s time to regularly emphasize how employees can use the benefit.
The good news, many people will likely try it.
“We’ve seen an increased adoption and acceptance of telemedicine,” says LaHayne. “Folks who were less willing to adopt telemed before the pandemic are willing to do it now.”
Make it easier to access
Half of employees say their employer doesn’t offer any free stress management support such as tip sheets, mindfulness programs, exercise plans and time management tools, according to another Workplace Options survey.
Try to create a library of stress management tools and regularly send tip sheets and details on how to access everything. Also schedule events to help employees reduce and prevent stress – such as yoga and meditation sessions, finance and time management courses, walking programs, walk-in counseling, etc.
Increase the outlets
When employees worked together and on site, they had more outlets to help reduce stress and/or get relief when they were overwhelmed. For some, that might have been a lunchtime book club. Others might have had a close knit group of friends who talked about problems and helped each other resolve them. Some people might have been able to “quiet the voices” (as my workout buddy likes to say) by participating in a softball league, running club or another kind of group exercise activity.
Now, if they’re home, or working in a socially distanced situation, they don’t have those mental health relief outlets.
What can you do to give them access to stress-busting tools? Try to move formal and informal meetings – such as employee resource groups, diversity and inclusion clubs, exercise classes, hobby groups, etc. – to virtual meetings. Give employees time and access to tools to continue engaging with each other on a more personal level.
Some employees don’t seek or accept mental or behavioral healthcare options because they don’t know if it’s covered by their insurance provider. Even when you share information about mental health benefits, many employees won’t use what’s available … unless you offer incentives.
Compound your communication and engagement efforts with incentives to use services. For instance, you might create a wellness challenge that gives employees points for each task they complete – things such as getting annual checkups, participating in mental health screenings and signing up for nicotine cessation events. Then give away prizes centered on mental wellbeing – such as subscriptions to meditation apps or virtual counseling – when employees accumulate points.
Help break the stigma
The increase in mental health care can help break a stigma that often goes with mental health issues. HR leaders can help by starting initiatives to increase awareness and acceptance of mental health issues in the workplace.
Point employees to confidential mental health screening and assessments. Post information throughout your facility and in the company communication tools on how to access help quickly. And make sure employees have appropriate time off to get to necessary appointments.