Why benefits managers should review mental health offerings.

Most post-pandemic workplace plans include strategies to keep employees physically safe, but it’s important to take a second look at how you’re keeping them mentally healthy as well. Whether you’re planning a full return to the workplace, a mostly remote workforce or a hybrid, the mental wellness of your employees will play a key role in productivity, engagement and retention.

Mental wellness under pressure.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the Canadian workforce, both for workers who remained on the front lines in essential roles and those sent home way back in March. In fact, a recent poll finds that half of Canadians say their mental health has worsened during the lockdown and 10% say it’s much worse than before.

More than four in ten Canadian employees are struggling with worry (44%) and anxiety (41%), while 30% are battling boredom. Depression and financial struggles are each reported by 16% of workers, and women of all working ages are experiencing the greatest mental wellness impact.

Getting ahead of new challenges.

It’s important to take these changing mental health concerns into consideration as you plan new ways of working and new ways of supporting employees over the next few months and years.

There are many components to a robust mental health support model, including mindfulness training, mobile apps and one-on-one therapy. A comprehensive benefits strategy will draw on a variety of options to address a wide range of concerns. You can learn more about different support models from this presentation by Dr. Karen MacNeill.

A good place to start is by thinking about access to care. More than five million Canadians say they need help with their mental wellness, yet almost half of people with depression and anxiety have not sought treatment. Worryingly, up to two-thirds may not actually be getting the right treatment.

Good mental health is good business.

Much of the focus in current workforce planning centres on productivity. While leaders work to understand how to measure and sustain productive team members, benefits managers can support the effort by reducing the impact mental health concerns can have on productivity.

When workers are suffering episodes of depression or anxiety, daily productivity can fall by more than 50%. Add to that the billions of dollars employers pay each year in lost productivity due to the absenteeism and presenteeism that results from mental illness.

Another difficult element of our new ways of working is how we can engage the workforce, particularly when we can’t see them. In contrast to the popular stereotype of the bathrobe-clad remote worker who sleeps until noon, the reality in recent months has been difficult.

More than half of remote workers say they are feeling anxious and report they are working almost a full extra week per month. On top of this is additional pressure from financial worries and uncertain futures, which means there is a strong need for employers to find ways to help employees manage stress and its profound effect on overall engagement.

Providing easy access to care will be key, which is likely why so many benefits managers have turned to virtual care models in recent months. When employees can access quality care by phone, video conference or using a mobile app such as Akira by TELUS Health, they are more likely to seek support. Benefits administrators should take a close look at how well current offerings address these long-term needs of remote workers.

When it comes to talent acquisition, many employers are taking advantage of downsizings and workplace changes to find and snag key talent from their competitors. Poor engagement and a lack of mental wellness support may prompt some of your high-potential talent to seek greener pastures.

On the other hand, a robust and responsive benefits offering that supports good mental health could be key to retaining your top talent and, possibly, attracting some new people to your organization.

While the future remains uncertain this is a perfect time to reassess how well your mental health benefits align with changing workforce and workplace realities.

Tools such as virtual care and on-demand access to trained practitioners can help extend mental wellness support to your remote and in-person workers. These simple investments now can pay significant dividends in greater productivity, increased employee engagement and retaining your best people.

Learn more about supporting mental wellness for your employees in our latest webinar.

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