The costs and payoffs when it comes to employee mental wellness
By Guest Columnist JUNIOR HAREWOOD, CEO of UnitedHealthcare GA& AL Employer & Individual.
Mental health statistics in recent years are as staggering as they are varied. For example, nearly 20 percent of adults are experiencing a mental illness. That’s almost 50 million Americans. Given that one-third of our lives are spent at work, it comes as no surprise that workplace statistical data follows suit. In fact, 31 percent of workers reported a decline in mental health over the past year (up from 24 percent the previous year). Additionally, neuropsychiatric disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States.
Rising trends like these result in a growing number of costs for both employees and the companies for which they work. This can come in the form of higher medical bills and insurance rates, or in some cases, long-term loss of worker livelihood, resulting in lower organizational tenure. Workplace mental health is at an all-time low, and employers must respond. Put simply, they can’t afford not to do so.
Premiums, prescriptions and paid leave are quantifiable, but there are also intangible prices to pay in the form of decreased productivity and worse overall company morale. Furthermore, poor mental health is known to potentially affect physical health, compounding the problem (and the price). Neglecting employee mental health affects more than family household budgets and company bottom lines. So, what can be done? There is no one answer, but together, we can begin working on a way to bridge the gap between raising awareness and providing more solutions.
Creating an inclusive work culture — free from mental health stigma — is a critical first step to supporting workforce well-being. Acknowledging May as Mental Health Awareness month is a great way to open the conversation, but it is one that must be continued throughout the year. Employers frequently boast about benefits packages, but how often are mental health benefits not only included, but highlighted, as such? Employers must communicate this information.
A few ways that can be done include:
- Education. If putting a program in place that includes employee mental health benefits is important, education about it is vital. Mental health issues left unchecked can compound, but knowing what resources are available can help, even prevent, further illness.
- Leadership. Employers can make mental wellness a priority by dedicating organizational leadership in this area. As with any leadership initiative, best practices flow from the top down. Include mental health breaks and exercises into wellness programs, tips into daily communication, and consistent reminders as with all other human resource initiatives.
- Measurement. Employers have an opportunity to deepen measurement and accountability for mental health outcomes. Potential measurable effects of enhanced mental health support include fewer missed workdays and increased return-to-work rates.
By implementing and initiating corporate communication about mental wellness, employees perceive a safe and supportive environment, which can lead to overall wellbeing for them, and increased productivity for your company. Additionally, all parties involved spend less and gain much more.
The data clearly displays a growing demand by employees for behavioral health services. This, in turn, creates a need for companies to provide access to care that is both timely and effective. How are you answering this call? I’m proud to say that UnitedHealthcare is leading the charge. From AI, to employee assistance programs, to self-help tools like crisis lines and virtual therapy, we’re continuing to advance our mental health-related provisions.
Industry-wide change will never be simple to implement, but it’s in the hands of organizations, especially those in healthcare, to prioritize their employees’ mental wellness.
Would you like to write a guest column for SaportaReport? The SR team strives to uplift and amplify the diverse perspectives in our community, and we want to hear from you! Email Editor Derek Prall to discuss the specifics.