Getting mental health help is no longer a stigma. And small employers are taking notice.
In a recent survey by benefits company Lyra Health, 84% of respondents from more than 1,000 employees and employers across the United States said mental health benefits were important to them. More importantly, 92% of employers said providing mental health support had become a much higher priority in 2021, with even more saying they expected it to stay that way for the foreseeable future. .
Younger employees — Millennials and Gen Xers — who make up the bulk of today’s workforce don’t see mental health issues as taboo. Many have suffered from depression, anxiety and apprehension due to the pandemic, and many more are still reluctant to return to work due to ongoing health issues. Thanks to celebrities like Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles and Ben Simmons, the discussion of mental health issues has become more mainstream than ever.
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“People are more motivated when their basic needs are met,” said Sam Farmer, an executive at Northern Liberties’ Roundtrip, which facilitates medical transport services for healthcare providers and patients. “That’s why it’s more important than ever for employers to prioritize employee wellbeing and mental health.”
Bob Allison, a partner at Lakewood, New Jersey-based accounting firm Holman Frenia Allison, agrees. “We are painfully aware of the impact COVID has had on the well-being of our employees, which is why our company’s mental health benefits are so important,” he said. “We have learned that when our employees feel good about themselves, they do a better job.”
Allison, Farmer, and other small business managers and owners realized that to attract and retain great employees in 2022, their companies must provide good mental health benefits. Generally, these benefits fall into three main categories.
The first is the cover. Companies should check with their health insurance companies what coverage is available for their employees who may have mental health issues and ensure that their employees are aware of these benefits. Many plans cover counseling services and medications. Major insurance companies, recognizing the growing demand, are also stepping up their offerings. But having that coverage is just the start. It is equally important that your employees know about the benefits available to them.
To do this, Farmer helped compile a “mental health resource page” for his company that includes all of the company’s benefits and even contains his personal entry “Approach to Finding a Therapist” with comments on what worked and didn’t work for her.
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“We also try to make it very clear that it’s not one size fits all,” she said. “There used to be a perception that a mental health issue only arose when there were extreme, observable ailments that people could have, but I think people are now recognizing that mental health is a spectrum and everything the world lands somewhere on that spectrum to some extent.”
Anna Ehlenberger’s business – the Converge HR Solutions consultancy in Berwyn – hosts a quarterly conference series focusing on workplace wellbeing and makes a concerted effort to educate all employees about her company’s benefits.
“Employee wellness has expanded into a holistic approach to physical, emotional, financial and social community purpose,” she said. “It was essential for us to develop better resilience in the workplace and increase the engagement of our employees.”
The second category of mental health benefits is that of services. Some companies are increasingly signing up with platforms like BetterUp, Fringe, Talkspace and Lyra that offer subscribers mental health support from trained and certified professionals who can provide advice confidentially and on their schedule. Others have hired independent psychologists and coaches to be on call for any employees who feel they need extra help.
Finally, many are revisiting the culture of their company. Today’s top employers recognize the need for flexible hours, work-from-home options, and other independent work arrangements that allow employees to determine where and when they do their jobs. These same employers provide a friendlier office environment and offer breaks, social events and other activities to counter the stress they experience at work.
Allison’s company has an in-house “fun club” made up of employees who hold regular quarterly events ranging from “employee fun days” to an annual “employee appreciation day” that brings their offices together. and allows their employees to let off steam. “We also have happy hours and outings where employees can build team camaraderie,” he said.
The farmer’s business feels good on Fridays when offices are closed and employees are allowed to disconnect doing whatever they want, from golfing to walking their dogs.
“We started this during the pandemic because we realized too many of our people were suffering from FOMO and were afraid that if they walked away they would be left out of something important.” The company also has flexible hours and an unlimited paid vacation policy that requires employees to take at least ten days off per year to prevent burnout. “It’s non-negotiable,” she said.
The pandemic has blurred the lines between work and life and for many it has also created new anxieties, which is why it is now essential for small business owners to prioritize the well-being of their employees, especially in these tight working times.
“Employee well-being is now a priority benefit,” Ehlenberger said. “And that’s not going to change anytime soon.”