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Beyond the EAP: 6 Steps to Building a Comprehensive Mental Health Strategy

May 04, 2021 Decorative image

During the pandemic, 4 in 10 US adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder (as of January 2021), up from 1 in 10 adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The need for a focus on mental well-being is not going away anytime soon.

In fact, according to the 2021 Deloitte Human Capital Trends report, an overwhelming majority of CEOs (98%) agreed that employee mental health and well-being will continue to be a priority even after the pandemic is resolved.

Why the Current Approach Isn’t Working

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are highly underutilized; multiple studies show the average EAP utilization rate is below 10%, meaning fewer than 10 percent of employees take advantage of the EAP programs available to them.

Sharing an EAP flyer with a new employee during onboarding is no longer enough to check the “mental health resources” box. EAPs can be a great resource, and they should be available to employees and regularity promoted, but today’s employees need so much more to support their mental well-being.

You can support your employee’s mental well-being by building out a comprehensive mental health strategy.

Expanding your Organization’s Mental Health Strategy

1. Crush the stigma

8 out of 10 workers with a mental health condition say shame and stigma prevent them from seeking mental health care. This is – a problem not just for individuals, but employers as well: Untreated mental health conditions cost US employers billions of dollars every year.

The most effective way to eliminate the stigma of mental health within companies is through leadership. When leaders at all levels begin talking about mental health and showing vulnerability, they normalize the topic, opening the door for employees to feel comfortable talking about their own struggles, too.

2. Expand your mental health benefits

Even with the mental health parity act, mental health benefits are still limited for many employees. Even employees that may want to get help may hesitate because of cost, deductible or network limitations.

If you already have an EAP, consider offering more complimentary EAP sessions than only 3-4 per year. Work with your benefits consultant to make counseling and behavioral health more affordable, especially if you offer a high deductible health plan (HDHP).

There are also new virtual and 24/7 accessible counseling options that you can use to layer on top of your EAP benefit to help those that need more assistance so they can continue to get the help they need.

3. Rebrand your EAP

Many EAPs have evolved to offer more services than before. Consider upgrading your EAP to a partner that offers more comprehensive services like training, engagement strategies, and more.

Consider rebranding your EAP to help employees know it’s not just for when you’re in crisis. It’s free counseling, and many offer virtual options, on-demand videos, and training for managers and employees.

4. Upskill your managers

Managers play a vital role in the wellbeing of their team members. Yet many struggle to have conversations about personal, non-work-related subjects. According to a Harvard Business Review study, nearly 40% of global employees said that no one at their company had asked them if they were doing OK during the pandemic — and those respondents were 38% more likely than others to say that their mental health had declined since the outbreak.

Leaders can’t expect the typical manager to have these conversations without some support. It will likely require support such as:

  • Training in empathy and communication
  • Conversation guides related to mental health
  • Adding “well-being check-ins” to quarterly reviews or other formal meetings

Managers also have a role in modeling healthy behaviors as well – taking PTO for mental health days (and not working during PTO), having open conversations about mental health, and showing empathy. When mangers do this, their team members feel they can also prioritize their self-care and set healthy boundaries.

5. Revisit your policies

To help reduce work-related stress, be as generous and flexible as possible in updating policies and practices as we navigate our new world of work. For example, take a closer look at your rules and norms around flexible hours, paid time off, email and other communications, and paid and unpaid leave.

When you make changes, make it clear that you are doing so to support the mental health of your employees and your commitment to supporting mental well-being.

6. Equip employees

Now more than ever, you should prioritize proactive and preventive workplace mental health training, not just for leaders, but also individual contributors. As more and more employees struggle with mental health, it’s important to help them build the necessary skills to manage their mental well-being and have productive conversations about mental health at work.

If you don’t have the budget to invest in training or your EAP doesn’t offer this service, mental health employee resource groups are a low-cost way to increase awareness, build community and offer peer support.

“We are surely entering a new era in which corporate well-being and mental health support are no longer perks or status symbols. They are simply the requirements for doing business.” – Gallup

Don’t miss this opportunity to expand your mental health offerings when employees need it most.

Author Maddison Bezdicek, Health Strategies Practice Leader, Hylant Employee Benefits Practice