- Walmart is offering all of its U.S. store associates and their families — including dependent children up to age 26 — up to 10 free counseling sessions to address certain emotional well-being concerns, the retailer announced Wednesday.
- The offering enhances the company's previous counseling benefit by "more than tripling" the number of no-cost sessions, Lisa Woods, Walmart's vice president, physical and emotional well-being, wrote in a blog post. Woods told HR Dive allotment of 10 sessions is provided on a per-concern basis; an employee with anxiety and depression, for example, would receive 10 no-cost sessions to address each concern.
- Woods said the counseling benefit may be accessed in a variety of ways, including via text message, chat, video or voice. It follows Walmart's previous decision to waive certain co-pays for medical-plan participants accessing mental health services through telemedicine platform Doctor On Demand.
In an October 2020 report, the American Psychological Association called the stress resulting from the disruptions of the past year a threat to U.S. citizens' mental health, describing a "growing national mental health crisis." Most, if not all, employers have had to mitigate rising levels of stress and anxiety in their workforces.
Walmart's benefit covers a range of conditions and concerns, Woods said, including stress, anxiety, depression, grief, relationships, family conflict and several others. "We know that the global events of the past year have affected everybody's lives," she added. "We know that people are in need of support to get help through challenges that they're facing. That's really where this comes from."
Most employers have shifted their talent strategies in response to the trends, according to a March report by Gartner. The consulting firm's survey of 50 HR leaders found more than half said their companies provided new well-being offerings to support employees. A separate survey of 5,000 employees found 49% of respondents whose employers offered mental well-being programs said they took part in such a program last year.
But employers also may recognize some limitations in the current offerings. A January survey of employers by Willis Towers Watson showed fewer than one-third of respondents said their well-being programs were effective at supporting employees during the pandemic. The firm observed that some respondents cited the short-term nature of certain programs as a potential factor that contributed to those programs being unsuccessful.
Sources have previously identified that mental health challenges will remain a long-term challenge for organizations even beyond the reopening of physical workplaces. Consistent implementation of safety measures and protocols such as social distancing may lower the risk of anxiety or depression in some settings, according to an October 2020 study published in Occupational Environment Medicine. But employee benefits professionals still may need to explore counseling and other options that take advantage of technology and that allow employees to seek help in ways convenient to their personal situations.