With so many stressors associated with living and working in a time of COVID-19, employers are paying even more attention to the mental health of their employees. A Kaiser Family Foundation study supports this concern, citing the four in ten U.S. adults that experienced compromised mental health during the month of May alone. While the vast majority of large employers (250+ employees) offer Employee Assistance Plans (EAP) to address mental health and related issues, historically those EAPs have gone unused: less than 7% of employees access EAPs. With employers like Target and Salesforce adding more mental health services to their benefit programs, how can other large employers ensure adoption now and in the post-pandemic future?
Here’s a look at the hurdles to increasing EAP utilization, and how companies can clear them to ensure the overall health of their employees.
Lack of Awareness
Benefits are most salient to employees during their initial onboarding and annual open enrollment periods. During other times, EAPs can be easily overlooked. Reasons include being lumped together with wellness benefits or lost in the myriad other details related to onboarding or enrolling employees. What’s more, company leadership may not be aware of the benefit and therefore don’t tout it to employees.
To increase awareness and get the greatest ROI on a wellness program investment, especially during a time of heightened need, companies should:
- Promote EAPs throughout the year with continuous education and reminders: posters, flyers, webinars, emails, and other communication efforts to keep them top of mind.
- Separate EAPs from overall wellness benefit communication.
- Confirm managers are well versed in EAP benefits. After all, they can’t promote what they themselves don’t know a lot about.
- Reinforce the message to employees seeking mental health assistance is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Mental Health Stigma
Despite the ADA protection, 68% of surveyed employees worry seeking help for a mental health issue could negatively impact their job security, as revealed in a 2019 study from health benefits administrator Businessolver. There’s also a generational component to consider, as Millennials and Generation Z members being more comfortable talking about mental health issues than Baby Boomers — 62% vs. 32% respectively, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
As is often the case, leadership by example makes a big difference in employees’ use of available mental health benefits. It leverages our authority bias, i.e. the tendency to view an authority figure’s opinion in high regard and be persuaded by it. Encouraging human resources, management, and leadership to be open about how they manage their own mental health, and having them try out EAP programs themselves, has a big impact on all employees. After all, the health of your business depends on the health of your employees.
Buffer’s CEO Joel Gasciogne is a frequent contributor to the social media management company’s Mental Health Slack channel. “It’s hard to be the first to talk about mental health,” says Courtney Seiter, director of people at Buffer in a recent blog post from the Society for Human Resource Management. “To have someone like Joel say he’s going to a therapist and what he’s working on paves the way for someone else to say something about what they’re going through.” It creates a company norm, and the Slack channel invites social proof, i.e. conformity to contributing to the channel because we see others doing it.
It’s hard for many of us to ask for help, yet it’s important to understand everyone needs assistance with mental health-related issues at some point in their life. Asking for help is the first step towards relief and resolution.
Mental health is a highly individualized experience, even within a household. The source, presence, and severity of symptoms greatly differ from one person to another. Consequently, treatment is highly individualized, so too should communications be about accessing and engaging in offerings.
To meet people where they are in their mental wellness journey, communications must address individual barriers to seeking help. Lirio’s Behavior Change AI platform provides hyper-personalized communication to help employers educate and promote the utilization of health resources among employees.
Lirio’s platform learns, understands, and actively optimizes messages that overcome barriers and move employees and their families to use employer-provided health resources. Through person-centered communication, your organization can facilitate meaningful employee resource adoption and a greater return on your benefits investment. Ongoing iterations, powered by AI, allow our platform to learn people’s behavioral profiles and optimize communications to drive desired behaviors.
Watch Our Recent Webinar
To learn more about how to effectively communicate and build awareness for employee mental health programs, check out Lirio’s latest webinar, “Employee Mental Well-Being: Where Are We and What’s Next?,” featuring guest speaker Arielle Trczcinski of Forrester Research. We discussed current trends in employer mental health, the particular challenges of employee burnout, how to match resources to dynamic demand, and how to engage individual employees on the path to mental wellness.
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