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Health & Well-being

Updating Employee Wellness Offerings to Combat a Tight Job Market

March 1, 2022

As populations attempt to move beyond a pandemic mindset, employees are reshaping their attitudes toward work, benefits and life-work integration.

Throughout the pandemic, workers have suffered through financial hardships, employment challenges and diminished mental well-being. In response, their focus when considering a company’s benefits has expanded. Employees realize the importance of working for an organization that has a benefit package reflective of its concern for employee – and the various dimensions of well-being, not just physical health.

With the tight job market, high percentages of workers are considering changing jobs. In an environment where employers are fighting with one another to hire and retain the best workforce possible, a rich benefits package that supports employee mental health and well-being makes it easier for companies to get the best employees. Companies can take a proactive approach to supporting mental health by:

  • Giving employees a voice: Solicit employee feedback on company benefit offerings
  • Improving employee benefits to include richer mental health and well-being offerings
  • Giving employees more flexibility: Offer more flexibility in work hours, well-being days and other time off options

More and more people are being influenced by strong health offerings and other complementary benefits when they choose an employer. According to Future of the Industry Report 2021, 34% of employees are considering changing companies for the sake of their mental health.

Give Employees a Voice

Employee feedback surveys help decision makers understand the way employees think about things like company processes, ethics, mission and even benefits offerings. Surveys are mutually beneficial. Not only do they send a positive message to employees that their feelings are valued, but they also allow leadership to receive valuable input into how they can better engage with their staff.

By incorporating benefits-focused questions into an employee survey, in combination with reviewing prior year benefit usage, key data can be gleaned to provide the benefits, such as mental health and wellness benefits, that foster an environment of inclusion and can improve your company’s ability to attract and retain top talent.

Before sending out employee surveys, it’s important to take into consideration a few factors:

  • Prepare frontline managers with advanced information about the rationale for conducting the employee survey and how to respond to questions
  • Ask questions within the survey that will yield answers on which management can act
  • Set expectations concerning how leadership plans to follow up on results

If surveys are not the right format for your organization or your employees are suffering “survey fatigue,” consider soliciting feedback back in other ways such as through managers or supervisors or with an organized focus group(s).

Improve Employee Benefits to Include Mental Health

Nearly 40% of employers updated their health plans to expand access to mental health services over the last two years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2021 Employer Health Benefits Survey.

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically increased the need for mental health benefits. Many companies offered mental health programs and benefits before the pandemic but were still unprepared for the increased need. Many employers are continuing to explore ways to make mental health benefits more affordable and accessible, but there is still work to do and progress to make.

In the KFF annual report, only a small number (4%) of companies surveyed waived or reduced cost-sharing for mental health services, and just 3% increased coverage for out-of-network providers. Meanwhile, just 6% of employers surveyed increased the mental health and substance abuse providers considered in-network.

Expanding provider networks and increasing out-of-network coverage are critical steps to making mental health and substance abuse services more affordable and accessible. About one in four patients report they don’t have access to an in-network therapist, while just one in 10 do not have an in-network medical specialist, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Upgrading and expanding the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offered to employees can provide more mental health support. The typical EAP offering provides 3 sessions per year; consider increasing this number to allow for more free counseling sessions.

Behavioral telehealth can also provide great access to mental health benefits. Like so many other areas of health care, behavioral health changed significantly due to the pandemic, and mental health providers can now offer and get reimbursed for behavioral telehealth services.

Lastly, many employers are offering additional layers of mental health support to complement their behavioral health benefits. These include partnering with vendors to provide services such as mental well-being coaching, manager trainings for supporting their employee’s emotional well-being, or 24/7 access to a licensed counselor.

Many employees want their employers to do more to help alleviate these mental health burdens. About four in 10 workers report their employer hasn’t done enough to support their mental health during the pandemic, according to a survey conducted by Calm for Business. In fact, mental health benefits could start to become a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining talent. Calm’s survey found that 76% of workers say they consider mental health benefits critical when evaluating new jobs. Lastly, the stigma associated with mental health can discourage employees from taking advantages of these benefits. Focusing on reducing the stigma through leadership support and anti-stigma campaigns can help encourage employees to utilize their mental health resources.

Give More Flexibility

To support the company’s success, employers need to look for ways to help their employees strike a balance between work and rest. A growing trend in how to accomplish this balance is with well-being (or self-care) days.

Well-being days are designed to address employees’ psychological needs by giving them time to rest in hopes of keeping them healthy, happy and productive. They can be implemented in myriad ways, from an extra day off at the end or beginning of the week to give employees a long weekend to recharge or a random day off to help employees work towards striking a balance between work and rest. And fortunately for employers still worried that offering their employees more time off is counterproductive, studies reveal that less working hours have actually been tied to greater productivity because employees are focused on working more efficiently versus working longer(Forbes).

Another time off option, and one growing in popularity, is Shared Leave Programs. These time-off banks give employees the option to donate their leave to the benefit of those in need who are facing a medical emergency and require more leave than they have available. These types of programs give extra paid time off that otherwise would have to be taken unpaid and reduces the burden on the employee during an already delicate time.

And then there are mental health days. Time away from work to tend to one’s mental (and emotional) health is just as important as time spent recovering from a physical illness. Providing employees ample time to rest and care for their whole person is essential. Ultimately, it can lead to lower attrition rates, higher engagement levels and increased employee productivity because employees feel more valued, are less stressed and are more renewed upon return.

Paid time off can be used as a resource to combat workplace burnout and other health factors. And companies that act on the interconnectedness of well-being and time away from work will attract more employees.

If your company is interested in learning more about how to take a proactive approach to support your employees’ overall well-being, reach out to your Hylant representative for further information. Don’t have one? Contact us here.

The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your employee benefits broker or trusted advisor for insurance-related questions.

Holly Wahl Health Strategies Practice Leader

As Health Strategies practice team leader, Maddison supports the Health Strategies team with technical resources, team training, and project management to ensure Hylant is offering innovative health & well-being strategies to our clients.

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