The Covid-19 pandemic drove home the need for employers to address workers' mental wellness.
The "Great Resignation," also called the "Great Reshuffle," is showing that not following through could send employees walking out the door.
Millions of Americans have quit their jobs over the past year, including a record 4.5 million in March alone.
Many attribute their decision to being burned out. Some 89% of those who either recently left their job or were planning to do so said they felt burned out and unsupported, a survey by education tech firm Cengage found. The survey, conducted in November 2021, polled 1,200 U.S. adults age 25 and older who either quit in the last six months or said they plan to quit in the next six months.
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Meanwhile, the pandemic has had serious repercussions on people's mental health. More than 30% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder from March 30 through April 11, according to the National Center for Health Statistics' Household Pulse Survey. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, that number was 10.8%.
Many companies are stepping up to address the issue. Some 87% of U.S. employers said enhancing medical health benefits will be one of their top priorities over the next two years, according to a survey by benefits consulting firm WTW, formerly known as Willis Towers Watson.
"Mental health is in the forefront of employers' minds because the understanding of how much need we have is much better than it was a short while ago," said Jeff Levin-Scherz, population health leader at WTW and a medical doctor.
Yet even when employers think they are delivering help to their employees, workers don't necessarily agree, a separate survey from insurance firm The Harford found. While 82% of employers said their workforce has more access to mental health resources than in previous years, 50% of workers said the same. Some 79% of employers said mental health had improved thanks to the company's resources, compared to 35% of workers.
"There is a big disconnect," The Hartford CEO Christopher Swift recently said at the 25th Annual Milken Institute Global Conference.
"There's … opportunity to still to have rich dialogues in organizations on really what the needs are and how employers can contribute to those needs."
What employees want
To address the mental health challenges of employees, companies are often expanding employee assistance programs, which means perhaps providing more visits to those who seek help, Levin-Scherz explained.
There is also more access to mental health care now that virtual visits have become common, he said.
However, addressing mental wellness goes beyond access to care. It's also about how employees are treated in the workplace, said Steve Pemberton, chief human resource officer at HR tech company Workhuman.
Burnout is still a big issue, he said. Almost 40% of workers strongly or somewhat agree that they're on the verge of burnout, a survey by Workhuman found.
Support for mental wellbeing can even help workers before they reach that stage.
"More than half the people we surveyed said that their approach to wellness has changed and that they're expecting more from their employer," Pemberton said.
While 40% would like better mental-health benefits, 53% said providing mental health days would help and 47% cited workplace flexibility.
"Mental health days are not only accelerating, but very quickly becoming a staple," Pemberton said. "You're seeing the reconfiguration of offices to provide break moments."
The benefit to employers
To be sure, employers believe that helping employees with also help the company.
Fully 88% of human-resource professionals believe offering mental health resources can boost productivity, while 78% said those options can increase the organizational return on investment, a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation found.
It also is useful in the war for talent, with 86% of survey respondents believing the benefits can increase employee retention. Meanwhile, 58% of employees surveyed by the SHRM Foundation said a healthy work/life balance is more important than financial compensation, and 35% believe mental health benefits are more important than salary or higher pay.
"Employees want to see that their employer is treating employees well," Levin-Scherz said.
"Employers are recognizing that," he added. "They are looking for employees to be very satisfied with their benefits and to tell others they are."
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