Benefits Strategy

5 Tips to Help You Design Your Mental Health Benefits Support 

Supporting employee mental health and well-being today demands a new level of understanding, openness, and intentionality.

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Catherine Rusch, Health & Performance Consultant at HUB International

7 min read

We’re in a new world of workforce mental health. Just a few years ago, employees didn’t feel comfortable talking about their mental well-being, and employers didn’t think to ask (or didn’t want to). And then came COVID, illuminating all the underlying needs that weren’t being addressed—like stress, anxiety, and loneliness. The door was flung wide open, and mental health became top of mind for everyone.

Employees are much more vocal now, and they’re asking for more mental health support. Leadership, HR, and benefits teams across every industry are trying to respond. Organizations recognize that current global events as well as workplace stressors are affecting employees and their ability to perform well at work.  

But in their response, a lot of employers are a bit stuck in the past, holding on to biometric screenings or other traditional strategies that aren’t really connecting with employees. On the other end of the spectrum, we see employers wanting to jump to the next innovation—the latest, flashiest solution. 

At HUB International, what we’ve learned in serving our clients—and in tending to the needs of our own organization—is that there’s a more effective way to support employee mental well-being. It boils down to acting with understanding, openness, and intentionality.

With these concepts as the foundation, here are five practical tips that you can consider applying in your organization to help employees rebalance and begin to thrive.

5 tips for helping you design your mental health benefits support

1. Conduct an employee persona analysis and really get to know your employees

It’s easy to say, “We need an app for a challenge, or a mental health service for our employees, or a wellness box for our leaders” but do you know why that’s important? What are you hearing anecdotally from your employees? And if you’re not hearing anything, have you done an employee pulse check to understand what they really need and are asking for? That’s the critical first step in developing an effective mental health strategy for your workforce.

Equally important, do you know who your employees are 

At HUB International, we use data-driven strategies to consider your employee demographics — looking at your entire workforce through a high-level lens. Are your employees mostly older and moving towards retirement? They might prefer onsite counseling or mental health days over a digital health solution. Or are your employees predominantly Gen Zers who are comfortable with technology, but also urgently needing more human connection? A digital mental health solution combined with group discussions on current events might make the most sense for this younger population. Think about the daily experience of your workforce and what kind of solutions make them feel seen and valued as individuals, not just as an anonymous employee. 

Communication is also bidirectional. Be transparent about the benefits you’re adding to support employees – not just the how, but the why. Make sure they understand what you heard and learned from them, and how those insights guided your decisions about policies, programs, and benefits. Help employees understand how all the puzzle pieces fit together to provide comprehensive support for mental health and well-being.

At my regional HUB International office in San Diego, we have our own internal mental health subcommittee that has been listening to our San Diego employees specifically. We want to understand what it means for them to feel supported in their mental health and what that looks like on a day-to-day basis. What we heard led us to partner with Calm Business. We responded to their need for quick access to tools that help them reduce stress and anxiousness throughout the workday. 

At the same time, we partnered with Calm’s customer success management team to build awareness about the Calm app. We held a Calm “launch day” and promoted the app in specific communications. By listening to employees and collaborating with Calm, we’ve been able to drive high engagement in the Calm Business tool: we’re seeing 95% enrollment and 72% engagement.

To deliver mental health solutions your employees will use and love, you need to understand what they want and how they can integrate solutions into their daily lives.  

2. Deliver mental well-being for the whole employee life experience

It’s not just about looking at your workforce as a whole, but also seeing each individual as a whole person. At HUB, we’re helping clients understand the whole experience of employees: their social determinants of health and all the factors that may be adding or detracting from their well-being. 

Marriage, divorce, loss of a parent, adoption—these life events along an employee’s journey are more than qualifying life events; they’re an opportunity to deliver a quality employee experience when it comes to well-being. How can you better support your individual employees’ mental well-being as they face these challenges in their daily lives? Maybe they need mental health support as a caregiver of aging parents, or help to cope with infertility challenges, or bereavement support for the loss of a pet.  

Bring the data and the whole person together to guide your mental well-being strategies and deliver the solutions that will make the most impact on their daily lives.

3. Look beyond your EAP when it comes to supporting mental health in the workplace

Historically, EAPs have never felt sufficient. Even just saying the word EAP, it’s hard to get buy-in from employees. Traditional EAPs are underutilized and still need to catch up with more innovative solutions. There are some excellent elevated EAPs in the market, and you can add preventive digital apps like Calm Business to complement your EAP and drive higher engagement in your mental health resources. For example, Calm Business allows you to promote your EAP directly within the app, helping build employee awareness and make it easier for them to engage with those resources.

Burnout is also problematic. Just offering a solution is not going to address the root of burnout. When it comes to addressing burnout, benefits won’t make up for deficiencies in company culture. Do employees feel safe to talk to HR or to their managers about how they’re feeling or what they’re going through?  Are your managers creating a more stressful or less stressful environment? Shaping your culture starts with your leaders and managers.                                           

If your organization is trying to repair or recreate a culture of psychological safety, you’ll need to do more than offer new benefits. The good news is there are things you can do without spending a lot of money or needing a budget:

  • Get leadership to model healthy work behaviors, embrace mental health solutions and share examples of how they’re walking the talk. Leader buy-in and modeling are critical to showing employees that their well-being matters.
  • Train your managers on how to create a psychologically safe work environment. For example, Calm Workshops offers a Mindful Manager program to help train your leaders to regulate their emotions and create a less stressful work environment.
  • Communicate regularly about your mental health in an organic way, integrating messaging into regular communications from leadership all the way down. You can help destigmatize mental health by keeping it front and center in practical, relatable ways.

In one of our recent monthly mental health newsletters at HUB, we talked about preparing for vacation to actually enjoy that time off and not return feeling stressed, burdened or unsupported. We offered tips and tricks and helpful strategies that were relevant to our employees and shared globally through LinkedIn, spreading their impact. With Calm Business “Pathways,” you can launch a curated set of mental health tools that target specific challenges your employees say they’re struggling with, like stress or burnout.

Too often, employees are left to figure things out on their own after Open Enrollment and engagement stalls. HR and benefits teams can communicate with employees in a way that leaves them feeling inspired to use their benefits and comfortable doing so.  

Whether offering ideas for reducing stress, encouraging quick breaks throughout the workday, or simply taking a few minutes to pause and connect at the start of a meeting, you can keep mental health and well-being top of mind in relevant, accessible ways. 

4. Recognize connection is part of their mental well-being (and it also drives engagement)

With remote/hybrid work, a lot of employees are craving connection right now. Loneliness is a growing mental health issue. Many employees used to get most of their social connections in the workplace.  It’s important to recognize that building social connection is also part of ensuring employee mental well-being. 

Tying engagement and connection in your benefits programs is a win-win situation. Delivering benefits with a social angle can help drive engagement and connection at the same time. Consider a gamification strategy like a sleep challenge or a friendly competition focused on health and well-being. Let them cheer each other on and inspire their peers to get to the next level together. Kicking off your meetings with a short collective mental health break and meditation or setting up discussion groups on key topics that might be top of mind like a current event in the news can also help them form the bonds they’ve been missing. 

5. Not every flashy solution is the right one for your organization 

Employee needs are dynamic, and solutions are evolving and improving all the time. You should always approach benefits design with an eye to constantly listen to and refine what you offer to your employees. At the same, not every flashy solution is the right one for your organization. While technology can elevate your employees’ experience, you’ll want to be cognizant of some of the barriers to technology. For example, I worked with a transportation company whose employee population didn’t have smartphones, so a digital solution was challenging for them. Leadership and HR teams also want to recognize that even those who are technologically savvy might be suffering from “technology fatigue.” It shouldn’t feel like just another piece of their day on technology. It’s important to be intentional with the technologies you adopt and communicate how it will specifically benefit them. 

Keep listening to your employees and constantly refine your benefits offerings

In summary, take the time to really listen to your employees and understand who they are and what they need. Find solutions that best address their specific needs and tell employees why you’re implementing them. Ask your leaders to model healthy behaviors and share their experiences. And if something isn’t working, pivot to something else, bringing employees with you every step of the way. 

Let’s take advantage of the breadth of personalized wellness solutions to make significant and lasting changes to improve workforce well-being.

Help employees stress less, sleep better, and build more resilience with Calm Business

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