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How businesses are improving their mental health benefits in an era of worker burnout

Posted by Kanika Sinha

August 4, 2021    |     3-minute read (693 words)

More employees across age groups, roles and industries are reporting mental health struggles, pointing to what some HR executives say is a burnout crisis. 

For example, over 44% of the 2,800 employees recently surveyed by staffing firm Robert Half said they were more burned out at work today than they were a year previous. A FlexJobs survey found 56% of employees had experienced burnout during the pandemic.

This isn’t a new trend. A January 2021 study found a 50% rise in depression and a nearly 60% drop in focus among U.S. workers. And a December 2020 Gallup survey suggested a record slump in mental health and emotional well-being of Americans, which were found to be at their lowest levels since 2001.

It’s tempting to write this off as a pandemic-induced predicament, but it’s more than that. While COVID-19 has no doubt taken a toll on people’s psychological well-being, it is important to note that employee mental health was already one of the most wide-reaching workplace issues of 2019, before the pandemic set in.

These mental health issues are unlikely to dissipate on their own. Recognizing the potential risk to productivity and morale, some companies have catapulted employee mental health to the top of their list of concerns and are rolling out programs to address the expanded need.

Why is mental health a priority in the workplace?

A March 2020 Gallup survey indicates that mental well-being is associated with engagement, productivity and the bottom line of the workplace.

Meanwhile, other studies such as this one suggest that a higher incidence of poor mental health in the workplace has a pronounced negative effect on profits. Not surprisingly, the same study found that employee mental health problems contributed to higher absenteeism and reduced productivity. 

In these trying times, prioritizing employee mental health is likely to impact everything from retention to recruiting.

How employers are responding

A June 2021 study from The Hartford reveals that 70% of U.S. employers now recognize mental health as a significant workplace issue. Many employers who already had mental health benefits on the books are expanding and simplifying access to them. 

Some are providing mental health awareness workshops, while others are training leaders to destigmatize mental health through open communication with employees. Below is a recap of some interesting workplace mental health programs that have recently come to fruition.

Salesforce: The company’s employee assistance program includes free counseling sessions, and Salesforce recently began providing access to Thriving Mind’s articles and webinars on emotional health.

Zendesk: The software firm has partnered with mental health care provider Modern Health to offer therapy, coaching and videos for employees.

PwC: In support of employees’ mental health, the accounting firm has set a companywide goal of shortening meetings by 25% and will pay employees to use their vacation days. Employees are also being encouraged to block out their calendars every Friday after 12 p.m. local time, a period of uninterrupted time they can use as they choose.

Calm: The Meditation app gives employees a monthly wellness stipend for services like therapy, spa visits, gym memberships and nutrition programs, as well as a home office stipend.

Target: The retailer is offering its U.S. employees access to free online mental and physical health resources. Staff receive a free one-year subscription to the Daylight therapeutics app and the Sleepio digital sleep-improvement program.

Starbucks: Employees who work 20 hours or more per week, along with their families, get 20 free sessions a year with a therapist or coach.

What else can be done

While many employees are struggling with their mental health, not all of them want or need a therapist. The majority would likely benefit from basic support to help address needs such as stress management or support for caregivers. Broadening the spectrum of employee benefits to include access to subsidized care resources could help them cope better, for example.

Also, employers could accommodate the evolving needs of their employees with greater flexibility. Allowing a shift from the traditional 9-to-5 work hours even after resuming work in the office would suit many employees, such as parents with school-aged children.

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