With a cloudy 2024 economic forecast and healthcare costs expected to jump more than 5%, employers continue to search for ways to control spending, from using centers of excellence and narrow networks to reducing marketing budgets and laying off portions of the workforce. But there’s one area HR/benefits leaders say is off limits when it comes to cutting costs: employee mental health.
Leaders know that now isn’t the time to scale back mental health benefits. In fact, it’s never been more urgent to make a bigger positive impact, because after years of intense focus on employee mental well-being, the majority of employees aren’t feeling better. Seventy-five percent of workers say their mental health is the same or worse than last year, in large part due to economic uncertainty, inflation, and labor shortages. It’s no wonder that nearly 95% of HR/benefit leaders say mental health benefits remain a top priority.
It’s one thing to say workforce mental health is a top priority, however, and another to make meaningful progress without breaking the budget. What tangible steps can HR/benefits leaders take this year to help their employees feel better?
Four strategies HR/benefits leaders are implementing to maximize mental health benefits
To explore answers to this question, Calm partnered with Reworked Insights to survey more than 400 HR/benefits leaders in organizations of 1,000 or more employees. According to our research, HR/benefits leaders are executing four primary strategies to optimize their workforce mental health benefits during uncertain economic times. The four strategies are:
1. Improve benefits navigation to make it easier for employees to engage
HR/benefits leaders continue to try to make it easier for employees to engage with the benefits they have. This year, those efforts include:
- Doubling down on driving employee awareness of the benefits they have (40%).
- Implementing a centralized, one-stop hub of well-being solutions and other benefits (40%).
- Asking vendors to step up their innovation (39%) so solutions hold more appeal and value to employees.
As part of an elevated focus on well-being, for example, global consultancy ERM created a one-stop “Wellbeing Hub” to help employees easily access an extensive range of mental health resources, including Calm, counseling resources, EAP programs, and guides to help managers identify signs of stress.
2. Listen closely to employees to inform decisions about benefits
Every year, HR/benefits leaders make hard decisions about which benefits to keep and which to retire. When budgets are tight, those decisions become even tougher. In this environment, more than half (52%) of HR/benefits leaders are making decisions based primarily on employee feedback. Other top strategies include:
- Analyzing employee utilization and engagement data (43%), although it’s important to account for the difficulty employees have in understanding and accessing the benefits they have.
- Employee health and well-being outcomes (43%).
- Impact on employee retention and attrition (42%).
In 5 Tips to Help You Design Your Mental Health Benefits Support, Catherine Rusch, Health and Performance Consultant at HUB International, recommends not just listening to employees but really understanding who your employees are.
3. Evolve mental health benefits to reflect changing workforce needs
Recognizing that employee needs are constantly evolving, most benefits professionals (68%) are planning to change their benefits vendors to improve their offerings and stay in tune with a diverse workforce.
However, Rusch cautions, not every flashy solution is the right one for your organization. HR/benefit leaders should make sure benefits decisions are grounded in a solid understanding of what their employees need, who they are, and what their roles look like.
4. Leverage mental health preventive care to optimize your benefits
In today’s economic climate, 61% of HR/benefits leaders say that preventive solutions for mental health and well-being have become a higher priority, according to our survey. Investing in preventive tools to help the majority of your employees manage their stress, anxiousness and sleep can help ensure these challenges don’t escalate to more serious conditions. Moreover, studies show that for every $1 invested in prevention, employers can expect to save $4 in downstream healthcare costs.
Find out where your organization’s mental health benefits stand
Our peer insights research also showed a spectrum of mental health benefits across organizations:
- On the “advanced” end of the spectrum (level 3), high-growth organizations take a holistic approach, offering a wide variety of mental health programs to meet the diverse needs of employees.
- In the middle of the spectrum (level 2), low-growth organizations say they offer foundational mental health benefits with a few mental health initiatives, such as policies for work-life balance and mental health breaks during the workday.
- On the “basic” end of the spectrum (level 1), organizations offer foundational mental health benefits—including an EAP, digital clinical therapy benefits, and preventive mental health tools—but no mental health initiatives.
As you look to evolve or scale workforce mental health benefits, consider the four strategies HR/benefits leaders are using and the best practices of organizations similar to yours. As a first step, assess your organization’s mental health benefits using our “Blueprint for Workplace Mental Health Benefits: 4 Strategies for Success.“
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