May 16, 2023
Mental health remains a priority for employers around the world – but is timely care being provided when employees need it? To further explore this topic, on May 8, 2023, more than 50 Business Group on Health members met to discuss ongoing strategies and opportunities designed to improve mental health access, quality and integration for global workforces.
The following provides a summary of some key themes and approaches shared during the conversation.
Employers are leveraging communication campaigns to inform and engage employees with new and existing mental health resources.
When polled, a majority of employers on the line indicated they are running mental health campaigns in May in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month. Employers shared a variety of creative communication and engagement strategies, including:
- Global ”We All Care” days, which included health fairs, mental health promotions and activities with vendor partners on topics like relaxation, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mindfulness;
- Recorded lunch-and-learn video calls that employees can listen to as a way to engage with a diverse group of internal and external speakers;
- Associate Appreciation Week, which included activities like a panel entitled “Changing the Conversation Around Mental Health” with leadership; and
- Healthy habit challenges via the well-being platform, with points awarded for activities supporting mental and emotional health.
Other communication tactics used by employers to increase awareness include peer-support groups, partnering with vendors to host events promoting mental health offerings and leveraging the intranet, newsletters, employee resource groups (ERGs) and social media channels to drive engagement. To address stigma, one employer on the call created T-shirts that said, “There’s no Health without Mental Health,” and designated a day for all employees to wear the shirt.
Lifestyle spending accounts (LSAs) are another emerging approach being implemented by some employers to expand mental health support for employees. For example, an employer that recently implemented an LSA in the U.S. leveraged its May Mental Health Awareness Month communications to promote this new benefit. Employers on the call noted that one advantage of LSAs is that they are able to meet a more diverse set of mental health needs by offering employees greater choice and flexibility. A few of the mental health expenses one employer allows include meditation and mindfulness apps, personal growth coaching, gender-affirming items not covered by the health plan (such as wigs and binders), sleep aids and materials for hobbies like art and gardening. LSAs may also play a positive role in supporting employee mental health if implemented globally, since the accounts allow for more choice and variety that incorporates cultural and/or regional nuances.
Several employers are considering or already partnering with mental health provider network platforms to improve their global capabilities and access to support.
Some employers on the call emphasized the importance of going beyond employee assistance program (EAP) utilization to provide transparency and insights into quality and access concerns. Multiple employers noted the value of partnering with enhanced mental health network platforms, including improved data analytic capabilities. Employers stressed the need for vendors to track metrics that go beyond traditional utilization to include datapoints such as access to providers, time to next appointment and whether a provider is accepting new patients. As the availability of meaningful data evolves, employers need to continue to reevaluate what metrics and outcomes define success in this space.
In addition to what’s provided by vendor partners, employers are leveraging other tools to track employee mental health and emotional well-being globally. For example, two employers on the call are currently using Harvard’s Flourishing Index. One employer shared that employees are required to fill out the questionnaire at least once a year, but they can participate up to four times per year. Findings from the employee responses revealed that those who participate in mental health coaching have higher well-being scores than the cohort of peers who did not participate in coaching.
Employers remain steadfast in supporting employees in the U.S. and recognize the importance of championing employee mental health globally.
It is clear that employers have a great opportunity to build upon their existing framework to set global minimum standards for mental health benefits. While many strategic initiatives are defined at the global level, employers understand the importance of incorporating local nuance, especially in the mental health space, where there are varying degrees of stigma around the world. Many employers have put a global framework into place that allows flexibility for local offices to personalize activities.
When asked, most employers on the call indicated that they have internal training available to support mental health globally. A few employers shared takeaways from their efforts to implement mental health first aid (MHFA) training—though many were unable to implement the full training due to time and bandwidth requirements. Despite facing roadblocks to offering a full day of MHFA training for all employees, many employers are nevertheless offering shortened versions and awareness training where able.
Another area of opportunity is the need for an organizational toolkit to help employees navigate available mental health resources. While many employers expressed interest in creating a toolkit, they also expressed obstacles, including confusion around vendor branding and assisting employees quickly in the moments that matter. For acute crisis care, a toolkit may not be an ideal approach, especially since more immediate action is probably needed. Employers acknowledge that having a comprehensive mental health resource guide is a goal to support mental health awareness and prevention, but due in part to existing market/network complexity and limited team capacity, employers are still in the early stages of doing so.
Throughout the employer-to-employer sharing call, one overarching theme was evident: Employers continue to support workforce mental health needs through strategic, thoughtful communication efforts and education initiatives. Moreover, employers recognize that they need to make space for local and cultural nuances to continue to build upon their global mental health support frameworks. In forging the path forward for their global mental health strategies, employers are poised to utilize partnerships, along with education and communication campaigns, to ensure that employees, no matter where they reside, can access available mental health resources.