Strategies for Communicating Mental Health Benefits Beyond Open Enrollment
Workspan Daily
October 14, 2022
Key Takeaways
  • A disconnect exists. Research indicates employers are investing in mental health and well-being resources; however, employees are not aware or not accessing them at expected levels.  
  • Package your EAP. An effective strategy is to package your EAPs so they aren’t a standalone service and instead included in a bundle of well-being and mental health offerings. 
  • Frame the communication properly. Rather than communicating the program itself, communicate a specific situation and which resources or programs can assist with that situation and how to go about accessing it.  
  • Separate manager communication. Managers not only need to be capable of communicating pertinent resources to employees but also trained to be cognizant of potential signs of distress among their team members. Managers might also be most vulnerable to burnout or depression given their additional responsibilities.  
  • Organizational benefit. Providing great mental health and well-being resources supports the overall goal of being a great place to work. Being strategic in communicating these programs to employees supports retaining top talent to accomplish your business objectives.  

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on mental health and well-being, organizations have made concerted efforts to increase resources in their benefits plans for employees. However, burnout rates persist and a disconnect exists between what employers are offering and what employees perceived to be available to them.  

Ineffective communication is the likely culprit, experts say.  

“I’m not convinced there is high levels of awareness of these resources by employees,” said Casey Hauch, managing director, employee experience, at Willis Towers Watson (WTW). “There might be awareness in the sense that a resource is available, but not necessarily awareness of the full breadth of services that each resource provides and how to go about utilizing it.”  

Communication Strategy  

WorldatWork’s “Total Rewards Inventory Programs and Practices” survey from 2021 found that 80% of organizations offer a behavioral/mental health place as part of their health care plan, while 22% offer it as a standalone program. Additionally, 97% of organizations provide an employee assistance program (EAP), 87% offer seminars, webinars or literature to promote well-being and 69% offer stress-reduction programs such as yoga, massages and meditation.  

Yet, a study by McKinsey & Company found that 65% of employers report that employee mental health is supported well or very well, while just 51% of employee respondents agreed with that sentiment. The disparity was much greater when segmented for frontline employees, with 71% of employers agreeing with this sentiment versus just 27% of frontline employees.  

Hauch said employers can close this utilization gap with more consistent communication around the programs the organization offers. One effective strategy, she said, is rebranding EAPs so they aren’t a standalone service and instead included in a bundle of well-being and mental health offerings.  

These offerings, EAPs especially, are separate from what is communicated at open enrollment, thus it’s important to communicate these resources throughout the year. It’s also key, Mercer notes, to ensure your EAP is providing accessible care to employees and longer-term support is available.  

A second strategy is the way in which you frame well-being and mental health resources to employees. Rather than communicating the program itself, communicate a specific situation and which resources or programs can assist with that situation and how to go about accessing it.  

It could be something large scale, such as providing communication about mental health resources for employees potentially affected by a natural disaster (such as Hurricane Ian) or resources/programs for new parents.  

“Oftentimes in HR, we think in terms of program names and terminology,” Hauch said. “Employees don’t think this way, so you have to put yourself in an employee’s shoes and meet them where they are.”  

A final strategy Hauch offered is to have a separate communication plan for managers and people leaders. The reason for this is managers not only need to be capable of communicating pertinent resources to employees but also trained to be cognizant of potential signs of distress among their team members. Managers might also be most vulnerable to burnout or depression given their additional responsibilities, she said.  

“They’re employees as well and point person for their teams, so they might have additional stress,” she said. “So, it’s important to support managers separately.”  

Depending on the study, roughly half of the working population is remote, with Gallup projecting that 55% of employees will be hybrid (split between in-office and remote work) by the end of 2022 and beyond, and about 22% expected to be exclusively remote in that timeframe. 

Thus, the communication strategy will need to be crafted toward segments of the workforce. Digital messaging has become standardized the past couple years, Hauch said, but HR and managers should make concerted efforts to alert or remind employees of mental health and well-being resources via messaging channels and video meetings throughout the year.  

Organizational Benefit  

Various studies have concluded that burnout and mental health struggles are productivity killers and generally correlates to turnover at an organization.  

A WTW study found that 35% of an employee base believe they have depression at any point in the year, while 65% of Generation Z employees believe they have experience depression and anxiety.  

Regina Ihrke, senior director, health, equity and wellbeing leader, North America at WTW, said much of it can be attributed to low social well-being, which is a result of isolation from remote work.  

“Many people value the flexibility of remote work but don’t feel connected to the organization,” she said. “So that can result in less engagement and productivity and ultimately turnover, which is a true business outcome from not adequately addressing the issue.”  

Effective communication of mental health and well-being resources can go a long way toward staving off these potential negative outcomes both in the interim and down the road, Hauch added.  

“Happier employees stay at their jobs,” she said. “Organizations are working to attract and retain talent they need and providing great mental health and well-being resources supports the overall goal of being a great place to work. Being strategic in communicating these programs to employees supports retaining top talent to accomplish your business objectives.”  

Editor’s Note: Additional Content 

For more information and resources related to this article see the pages below, which offer quick access to all WorldatWork content on these topics: 

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