The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged mental health in the U.S.
Public health actions, such as social distancing, are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19 but have engendered feelings of isolation, loneliness and anxiety nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yet only 32 percent of HR professionals say offering mental health resources such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) is a "high priority" for their organization, according to a joint survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the SHRM Foundation and global health care company Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.
"In this hypercompetitive labor market, organizations need to make providing mental health resources a priority," said Rocki Basel, the report's lead researcher. "It's a win-win situation—businesses can benefit by recruiting and retaining top talent, and workers benefit by having access to resources that will improve their lives."
The survey, Mental Health in America: A 2022 Workplace Report, found that nearly 78 percent of organizations currently offer or plan to offer mental health resources in the next year. Those who do not offer these benefits can limit an employee's access to psychological services, exacerbating the mental health crisis in the U.S.
Among companies that did not offer mental health resources:
- 33 percent said their organization hasn't thought about offering these resources.
- 27 percent indicated their company is unsure which benefits to provide.
- 18 percent said their organization is unsure how to find or choose a plan.
- 21 percent said their company doesn't have the resources to address mental health.
About 83 percent of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress, and businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of this stress, according to the American Institute of Stress. Failing to address workplace stress can damage a company's productivity and morale.
"It is clear that the need to establish mental health as a top priority within our organizations is essential," said SHRM Foundation President Wendi Safstrom. "We must act now if we wish to create a world of work that allows both employers and employees to thrive and lead healthy, productive organizations."
Which Industries Are Most Stressed?
HR professionals in the health care sector (61 percent) were most likely to indicate that their workers experience more mental health problems than employees in other industries, the SHRM report indicated.
SHRM's findings align with a 2020 report by Mental Health America showing that 93 percent of health care workers reported experiencing stress, 86 percent reported dealing with anxiety, 76 percent reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75 percent said they were overwhelmed.
HR professionals who claimed that their employees are more likely to experience mental health issues than workers in other industries worked in sectors such as:
- Nonprofit (47 percent).
- Government/public administration/military (41 percent).
- Education (39 percent).
Survey respondents most frequently cited high-pressure work environments for contributing to mental health problems among employees in their respective industries.
It's Not All Bad News
Most employers see the benefits of providing mental health resources.
About 94 percent of HR professionals believed that offering mental health resources can improve the overall health of employees, 88 percent said these benefits can increase productivity and 86 percent opined that these resources can improve employee retention, the SHRM report found.
The survey showed that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered more employers to offer mental health resources. Of organizations that provided these benefits:
- 73 percent offered mental health coverage as part of employee health care plans prior to the beginning of the pandemic, with an additional 11 percent introducing the benefit after the pandemic began.
- 73 percent provided EAPs prior to the beginning of the pandemic, with an additional 10 percent introducing the benefit after the pandemic began.
- 26 percent offered workshops on mental health and resilience prior to the beginning of the pandemic, with an additional 21 percent introducing the benefit after the pandemic began.
The report stated that communication is critical in the implementation of EAPs and other benefits. Employers can leverage surveys and one-on-one interviews to learn what employees need and then adapt their action plans based on workers' responses.
Dr. Anna Gibson, organizational well-being and consultation lead for health care company Modern Health in San Francisco, said companies can no longer afford to assume that it isn't their responsibility to care for the mental health of their employees.
"Mental health impacts every aspect of an employee's ability to do their job effectively," she said. "And when considered in aggregate, the company's business goals are ultimately at risk the larger the number of employees who struggle with their mental health."
Gibson explained that mental health struggles have ripple effects across communities. Even when a single employee is struggling with mental health, it impacts other workers and business processes as well.
"Mental health does not exist in isolation," she said. "It is infused into every moment of our work lives."