Meditation apps and a few more vacation days are not enough to address the mental health challenges caused by a worldwide pandemic and extended remote work, according to a new survey. Workers give their companies an F in terms of supporting mental health. Managers are equally grim: they rate these efforts with a C.
According to the report, employers have to walk the talk about mental health to really have an impact on employees:
“…if the culture doesn’t actually support open and frank discussions about the mental health needs of the workforce while they are at work, then no amount of allocated days off or other approaches will truly impact the workforce in any meaningful way.”
Lighthouse Research & Advisory and LifeSpeak, a mental health and wellbeing platform for employee and customer-focused organizations, released the 2021 Mental Health Report Card this week. Lighthouse surveyed 1,000 organizations and 1,000 workers and asked for a grade on how well employers support mental health and well-being.
On a 10-point scale, business leaders gave their efforts a 7.6. Workers gave the same efforts a 4.4. HR leaders rated wellbeing work with a 7.8.
Unlike other key workforce challenges, awareness of the problem is low as shown by the lack of adoption rates of mental health benefits across all industries, according to Sina Chehrazi, co-founder and CEO of Nayya, a benefits personalization company.
“Making the deficit more complex, the ROI on mental health is a long-term proposition in a world increasingly focused on short-term cost containment,” Chehrazi said.
Chehrazi recommends that mental health spend represent the largest source of investment across the benefits continuum, along with chronic care and diabetes management.
“Workers don’t just want flexibility in their work environments as an answer to mental health needs, but rather see the greatest impact from accessible care to experts,” he said. “Ignoring mental healthcare is not an option.”
Half of all employees have thought about leaving their job over the last 18 months because of mental health issues. As other surveys have found, women are feeling this extra stress more so than men with 34% saying their companies have not made positive changes to support well-being over the last year and half. The Lighthouse survey found this makes them 2.5 times more likely than men to make this assessment. Meanwhile, the same survey found that 87% of employers say they have made improvements.
The report card authors noted that the number of negative and hopeless comments from employees was “staggering.” There were some neutral and positive comments, but the majority were negative, including these:
- “There is no focus on how workload or unreasonable deadlines affect mental health,” banking industry employee.
- “We are overworked and understaffed. We have no one helping us during these hard times and nothing to look forward to as employees,” healthcare worker.
- “They are taking money from each check to support an 800 number that they have provided no info on,” insurance industry employee.
The problem seems to be in implementation and perception by the workforce, according to the report card.
Understanding the mental health disconnect
Both employees and employers agree that mental health benefits can improve productivity and performance and encourage people to stick with their current jobs. The problem is that the workers feel “detached and disregarded by their employers when it comes to support for mental health.”
The survey asked HR and other corporate leaders to describe their company’s culture of mental health. The most common response across all company sizes was:
“The company offers employees tools and services to deal with mental health challenges but I wouldn’t say it’s emphasized or built into our culture.”
This common approach is reflected in employee assessments in talking about mental health problems with their managers:
- Workers ages 54+ are the least comfortable talking about mental health at work, with nearly half of those individuals saying they couldn’t discuss their mental well-being with their manager or colleagues.
- One in two women in the study said they would not be able to talk about these topics at work comfortably.
The survey also asked what benefits are the most effective in supporting mental health and well-being. Employees listed flexible work schedules as the most important benefit with access to qualified mental health experts a close second. Employees were also much more likely than employers to list fitness options as an important benefit.
Employers rated access to qualified experts as the most effective benefit with company leaders openly supporting mental health conversations and relevant training as the most important benefits.
Workers were 39% more likely than employers to list flexible hours as important. The report card authors recommend that employers find out exactly what employees are looking for in flexible hours. Surveys, focus groups and skip level meetings can help leaders understand what flexibility means for their teams. This benefit might be easier to provide than leaders think:
“Employers often assume the worst and most expensive option when it comes to requests from the workforce, but those inquiries are often quite reasonable if workers are given a chance to speak freely without fear of repercussions.”