Company leaders are losing focus on well-being—but their employees aren’t.
A recent survey conducted by Microsoft found that 53% of employees are more likely to prioritize health and well-being over work than before the pandemic. But as the world deals with historic change, a worrying trend has emerged: Employers scaling back support for employee mental health.
“Unfortunately, many employers are pulling back on mental health support at a critical moment of need,” says Désirée Pascual, chief people officer at Headspace Health. “Companies can no longer rely solely on traditional solutions such as employee assistance programs (EAPs),” she says, noting low utilization among workers. Traditionally, a lack of education leaves many workers unaware of the programs available to them, and even when they know of the EAPs their company offers there is often a perceived stigma around using these programs. “Our research shows that employees appreciate—and expect—a holistic mental health benefit within their benefits package,” Pascual adds.
The expectation gap
The challenge is that employers and employees see the issue in starkly different ways. A recent report produced by Headspace Health found that 94% of chief executive officers (CEOs) believe they are doing enough to support the mental health of their workforce—but only 67% of employees agree with that statement. While 71% of workers saw an increased focus on mental health during the pandemic, most have seen those efforts scaled back over time.
At the same time, stress and burnout remain a huge problem at all levels—in the same report, 83% of CEOs reported missing at least one day of work due to mental health challenges, joined by 70% of their employees. “In fact, more than half of CEOs and 43% of employees missed a full week of work during the past year due to stress or anxiety,” notes Pascual.
The top stress points for employees are COVID-19, increased workloads, poor work-life balance, and challenges with management and leadership. And the overwhelming majority—more than 80% of employees—believe that it is their employer’s responsibility to help with mental health.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that employers can alleviate stress and retain employees by simply increasing salaries and providing bonuses,” notes Pascual. “Organizations need to focus on cultivating an inclusive, flexible and supportive workplace culture where employees can thrive.”
Another result of the pandemic is the rapid adoption of well-being and mental health technologies like Headspace For Work, which offers on-demand tools for meditation and mindfulness, better sleep, more activity, and better focus, or Ginger, which offers employees access to virtual behavioral health coaching, therapy and psychiatry. In fact, more than half of employees Headspace Health surveyed worldwide have tried a technology-based mental health service, and use of digital mental health tools (such as remote therapy or meditation apps) has doubled among U.S. employees.
“Employees want care that’s based on methods deemed effective by mental health professionals—and support that is easily accessible, financially feasible, and deeply personalized,” Pascual says. Digital platforms offer easier access (often with zero wait times) at low or no cost to them and can be personalized to an incredible degree. For example, an employee having trouble sleeping due to anxiety can find tools specific to that problem on the platform.
Just as important, digital wellness platforms offered by employers can offer inclusive and culturally competent support for employees. This is increasingly important to both company leaders and employees—87% of CEOs and 88% of employees see the link between diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) and mental health.
“In 2022 and beyond, conversations will continue to shift from the ‘business case’ for DEI&B to the ‘wellness case’ for DEI&B,” notes Pascual. “Where previously DEI&B and mental health initiatives would live in separate corporate domains, now, employers large and small increasingly understand the inextricable link between these two focus areas.”
For Pascual, the changing workplace is both a challenge and an opportunity. “With the Great Resignation, employees spoke with their feet,” she says. “By recognizing and supporting employee mental health and wellness, leaders can play a pivotal role in pivoting from the Great Resignation to the Great Inspiration.”To learn more about Headspace Health’s offerings for enterprises of all sizes, visit headspacehealth.com/contact.