Mental health benefits as part of a total rewards strategy can go a long way in boosting productivity and engagement while ensuring that employees get the care they need when they need it. However, even the best mental health benefit offerings won’t matter if they aren’t clearly and effectively communicated.
By utilizing some of today’s tech advances, employers can blend effective messaging with emerging tech spurred by the ubiquitous use of smartphones and other portable devices.
Mental health is a serious problem within the American workplace. Each year about 43.6 million American adults suffer from a mental illness including depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In addition, SAMHSA’s report found approximately 9.8 million adults experience “serious” mental illness, which can render them unable to work.
Apart from productivity loss due to behavioral health issues, there is cost. Employers foot a major part of the medical tab for mental illness. One study found that mental disorders topped the list of most costly healthcare conditions, with spending at $201 billion. As far back as 2008, the National Institute of Mental Health found mental illness costs the US resulted in $193 billion in lost earnings annually.
What can employers do?
Apart from adding or improving existing mental health benefit programs, employers need to clearly communicate their offerings. Outside of their normal mental health coverages, they can offer and emphasize employee assistance programs (EAPs) to meet a wide range of mental health concerns, including illness (depression, etc.), stress, substance abuse, grief counseling and managing relationship issues. Employers, of course, need to be very attuned to the fact that employees often worry about privacy and mental health-related stigma, so it’s especially important for employers to emphasize confidentiality of services in any communications effort.
Tech solutions for communication
Among other options, smartphones combined with cognitive technology and artificial intelligence (AI) may provide a way for employers to understand and manage mental health, which could translate to the workplace. For example, Tess, an AI-based mental health solution from X2.ai, offers a “personalized psychotherapy, psycho-education, and health-related reminders, on-demand.” According to X2.AI, interaction with Tess is solely through conversation via existing communication channels, including SMS (text), Facebook Messenger, Web Browsers, and several other platforms. Also, Apple’s ResearchKit leverages smartphones to aid medical research, including mental health. This could mean using sensors, facial recognition or GPS tracking to discover underlying causes of mental health issues.
Bruce Cameron, a licensed mental health professional, and executive coach, explains that employers can offer telemedicine approaches in which an employee could, for example, use a phone-based app to find a therapist in real-time, avoiding the typical red tape, long waits, etc.
“There are apps where employees can log in and get a consultation and then a care provider is dispatched on the app,” he says. “This can increase the effectiveness of the much-needed mental health care benefit, as it can deliver quick access to providers.”
With so much change happening on the mental health benefits front, it’s critical to keep employees up to speed on what’s available and how to access it. Be sure to properly educate managers about how to help employees who may have behavioral health issues, especially avoiding and allaying any “Big Brother” fears. Most of all, keep it simple. Instead of giving employees too much information, communicate early and often, use a well thought-out internal marketing campaign on what benefits exist, and leverage technology to both help employees and measure program success.
For more information on effectively communicating mental health benefits, visit here.