Employers Expect to Invest More in Mental Health in 2024
Workspan Daily
February 22, 2024
Key Takeaways
  • Renewed focus on mental health benefits. In 2024, employers may be gearing up to bolster mental health benefits more than ever before.
  • Seek to prevent, not just react. Employees point to the need for adjusted work practices to help prevent burnout, as opposed to benefit packages that only address already-existing mental health issues.
  • Listen to your employees. Before adjusting or adding to your mental health benefits in 2024, survey your employees and find out what they need.

From the mental health needs of frontline workers to return-to-office mandate backlash, the well-being of employees remains top of mind for employers. In a 2024 mental health trends survey of 250 U.S. benefits leaders by Lyra Health, 94% of respondents said that offering mental health benefits is “very important” to prospective employees. This number is nearly triple the rate of benefits leaders who said this a year ago (36%). 

The time is right for increased proactivity and investment in mental health benefits, as employers have been able to examine their current well-being benefit offerings for at least several years, said Sarah Gunderson, senior consultant of clinical consulting at Segal. 

“There is a shift from bare promises to tangible commitment,” she said. “Mental health benefits are not new; wellness benefits are not new. We're seeing that organizations did a first pass and put something in place and thought they checked the box. Now, years down the road, a lot of them are finding that they're not meeting all of their employees' needs.” 

The current workforce's youngest members are changing the landscape of mental health benefits as well, said Peter Rutigliano, partner and behavioral health practice lead at Mercer. “How people perceive therapy and mental health is way different now than it was 20 or 30 years ago,” he said. “There's a greater openness and awareness. We're seeing this change because people are demanding it.”

Evolving Mental Health Benefits 

Successful mental health and wellness benefit programs have three facets, Gunderson said. 

1. They are evidence based and offer research-backed interventions.
2. They are effectively implemented and promoted.
3. Leaders and influential members of the company offer buy-in. 

“Telling employees what's available, how to use it and that they should use it at all — that often gets totally missed,” Gunderson said. “It's more than just the program you pick; it's how you support it.” 

Seek employee input before offering benefits, she added. For instance, offering free massages for a day at work may be “salt in the wound” if workers consider the gesture a poor measure to address a toxic or stressful work environment. On the other hand, having a policy of offering employees a paid day off to run errands or mentally recover after a particularly busy period or a long stretch of overtime — without counting against their PTO — could be a helpful tool to stave off burnout. 

“To find out what your employees need, you need to ask them,” Gunderson said. “Now that we're listening to what employees want and hearing what they're saying, we're realizing that mental health benefits aren't as comprehensive as we thought.” 

Although companies have long offered Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), many are implementing more progressive EAPs with a wider variety of offerings, Rutigliano said. 

He identified three features of a progressive EAP: self-help training such as videos, articles or computer-based cognitive behavioral training; coaching services that offer ideas or resources; and increased access to therapy, such as more covered sessions. 

Although employees recently surveyed by Mercer did say enhanced EAPs would be helpful, more still pointed toward adjusted work practices to prevent burnout altogether. Top requests included more time off, reduced workloads, better resources and more flexibility. 

Much like an untreated cut can become infected and cause greater health issues down the road, mental health issues that are not addressed early can worsen over time, Rutigliano said. Businesses need to train managers to recognize and address workers' mental health needs, but also train employees to recognize those needs in themselves — and then provide them a simple and accessible path to get help early with an “easier on-ramp.”

Action Items for Employers 

Both Gunderson and Rutigliano offered the following guidelines for employers to better address the mental health needs of employees.

  • Directly ask employees what mental health benefits they need through an anonymous survey and examine already-available data from employee engagement surveys, such as questions addressing burnout, workloads, work stress and work-life balance.
  • Learn the modalities employees prefer for their benefits — while some individuals with transportation challenges or family needs want access to telehealth for mental health treatment, others prefer in-person appointments.
  • Check with your EAP firm to see if they have new features or services you can add, or consider a new firm that offers more services.

The key is honing a robust package of mental health benefits and backing it up with a supportive workplace, Gunderson said. 

“The union of great benefit programs plus organizational change is where we see good outcomes and good employee satisfaction," she said. “In the past, we siloed those two pieces, and now we're realizing the importance of bringing them together.”

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