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Employers Expand Mental Wellness Support

The pandemic has destigmatized caring for one's psyche.

A woman is sitting at a desk with her hand on her face.

​Mental health is overlooked by many people and stigmatized by even more. But attitudes are changing and the pandemic has accelerated that shift.

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In the past year, I’ve been called upon five times to discuss mental health as the principal tenet of well-
being. Everywhere I’ve gone across the world of work, business leaders have expressed one key question: How do we destigmatize self-care and mental wellness?

As a psychologist and researcher, I wondered why this question was being raised. Many attribute this focus to the pandemic. A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey supports that assumption and sheds light on how the public health crisis continues to affect people.

SHRM surveyed more than 500 working Americans in 2021 as the pandemic entered its second year. These employees shared insights about their mental health and the workplace. Overall, they felt worn down. Six out of 10 respondents said they were exhausted when leaving work. Four out of 10 said they were burned out from work. And 3 out of 10 said their workplace’s culture was making them irritable at home.

It was this last statistic that gave me pause. Workers’ feelings about work were affecting other aspects of their lives. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon, which typically results from prolonged periods of stress, as the spillover effect. It is a serious issue: Behaviors correlated with the spillover effect can include substance misuse, domestic violence and criminal acts.

With the SHRM data in hand, I pondered what employers were doing about their workers’ frayed mental health. Using the traditional employee assistance plan as a primary resource, could employers really stem the tide of increased mental health needs? I knew the answer likely was no. But I discovered that employers are finding other ways to support employees, including through the use of: 

  • Mandatory, incentivized ­mental health days. Employers are mandating the use of mental health days apart from personal time off and providing incentives to use them. For example, some employers have experimented with unlocking additional paid time off if employees have used their mandatory mental health days as prescribed.

  • Mental health scheduling ­support. Some employers are ­leveraging resources to help schedule mental health services for their workforces. This helps to eliminate the burden of seeking the right provider and reduce barriers to quality care.

  • Subscription services for mental wellness. Many employers have discovered that mental health issues can be mitigated with early intervention from a helpful ear. Vendors including Talkspace and BetterHelp are seeing an increase in their employer-based engagements—all with the aim of addressing mental health needs before they become severe.

This is the first time in my 20-year career that employers have engaged in this level of creativity for mental wellness. Executives are discussing mental wellness as being at the core of a healthier employee experience. It warms my heart to see such focus without stigma. One can only hope this approach will continue well into the next age and beyond.  

Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP, is chief knowledge officer for SHRM.


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