- Employees continue to face rising stress, burnout and other negative impacts on their well-being during the pandemic, and that may be reflected in a recent Willis Towers Watson survey finding that 86% of employers consider mental health, stress and burnout top priorities for their organizations in 2022.
- However, nearly half of the 322 U.S. respondents in the October 2021 survey had not yet formally articulated a well-being strategy for their workforces. Instead, employers were at various stages of responding to separate well-being concerns; 48% said they were planning or considering strategies or plans for behavioral health, for example, while 34% were doing the same for financial well-being.
- Employers commonly used financial rewards to encourage better well-being behaviors, but these strategies "have often failed to change employee behavior," Regina Ihrke, senior director, health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson, said in a statement. That has led to alternative approaches, such as redesigning employee assistance programs to increase limits on visits or targeting financial well-being programs to specific decision-making points.
In 2021, employers identified mental health as one of their most important concerns. A Verizon Media survey of HR executives conducted last year found 87% believed mental health to be the top impact of the preceding year on their workforces. Yet, as Willis Towers Watson's survey results show, the response to mental health issues has not been uniform.
Organizations and their employees have encountered stubborn barriers to well-being support despite the emphasis placed on getting and obtaining appropriate care. Forty-two percent of workers in a 2021 survey by LifeWorks said they had not used any mental health services offered by their employer, with one-quarter of this contingent stating that they did not do so because they either did not know how to do so or because of cost or confidentiality concerns.
That may explain why some companies have specifically targeted the financial aspect of access. HR technology vendor Phenom announced last month it would offer $1,000 to its U.S. employees to put toward mental health. And as Willis Towers Watson noted, many employers have decided to take steps like increasing the number of no-costs visits employers have under their employee assistance programs, said Dr. Juliette McClendon, director of medical affairs at mental health provider Big Health.
But increasing that number will not meet the full needs of an employee population, McClendon said. Employers, she continued, may need to seek broader well-being strategies that include training on mental health access for executives and management; a diverse set of solutions employees can use to find care; and a process by which they can determine whether mental health benefits lead to positive outcomes for workers.
Employers also need to listen to workers about their preferences; "if it's not really addressing their needs, they're not going to engage," McClendon said. She recommended employers talk with internal resource groups and the leaders of those groups to get a better sense of what employees need.
Previously, sources who spoke to HR Dive also noted the impact of smaller initiatives, such as discouraging employees from sending emails after hours and instead asking them to schedule work time and personal time to avoid conflicts.