Recognizing job-related stress, employers zero in on mental health benefits

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More employers are concerned about the effects job-related stress is wreaking on their employees — and are beefing up mental health benefits as a result.

That’s according to new research out from Mercer, which found that workplace stress and depression or anxiety are the top workforce behavioral health concerns. Of the 523 employers the consulting firm surveyed, more than half said those issues are a big concern for their organizations, citing issues with productivity and cost. Among larger organizations with 5,000 or more employees, 69% of those respondents said that workforce depression and anxiety was a concern in their organization, compared to 28% of employers with fewer than 500 employees.

“A shift is occurring right now and I am hopeful that the focus and energy to do better in this space continues,” says Sandra Kuhn, principal of total health management at Mercer. “The delivery of behavioral health services is complicated and challenged with many issues, such as cost of care, inconsistent quality and standards, access to care, integration with medical and of course stigma.”

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A renewed focus on mental health comes as employers acknowledge employer-provided access to behavioral health services is inadequate. Almost two-thirds of employers say that adequate access to outpatient behavioral healthcare is lacking in some or all of their locations. For large employers, adequate access is a concern at some or all locations (20% say at all locations); among small employers, with fewer locations to manage, 43% say access is a concern.

As a result, more employers are aiming to improve access to mental healthcare, including offering on-site counseling and online programs to address anxiety, depression, sleep and pain.

Given that most employers already have an employee assistance program in place, many have chosen to start there, Mercer says. About half (48%) have enhanced the services offered by the EAP within the last two years, or changed EAP vendors to provide a more robust offering. Expanded EAP offerings include onsite counseling services, online programs using cognitive behavioral theory to address anxiety, depression, sleep and pain.

Other steps include rolling out tele-therapy programs (37%), conducting network analysis to identify gaps (12%) and adding a third-party vendor to broaden access options (7%).

See also: The challenges employers face with mental health — and how to address them

Acknowledgement that mental health issues need to be addressed is the first positive step, though.

“Really looking at the culture of the organization and assessing the ability to support greater awareness around behavioral health is key,” Kuhn says. “Training managers and supervisors can make a significant difference in how programs are viewed, and how willing employees are to access them — either for themselves or their families.”

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