Employee Benefits 6 min

Prioritize Employee Wellness With These 8 Mental Health Benefits

As employees place more emphasis on their well-being, savvy execs have bolstered mental health benefits to support their team. See what they offer…

by Barbara Michelman on April 26, 2022

QUICK TAKE

  • Only 24% of employees believe their company cares about their well-being

  • Compassionate leaders have already invested in mental health benefits

  • Mental health benefits include free access to counseling, additional days off, retreats and access to meditation apps

Crank up your employee wellness efforts, because the majority of your team thinks you don’t care. Only 24% of U.S. employees said their company cares about their well-being, according to a February 2022 Gallup survey of more than 15,000 workers. 

Disgruntled employees will quit, leaving you short staffed. Conversely, employees who strongly believe their employers are invested in their well-being are 69% less likely to look for a new job. Gallup’s research also found teams who feel the organization cares achieve higher customer engagement, profitability and productivity scores. 

Benefits are one way to show your team that you are invested in their mental health and well-being — both in the workplace and outside the office. See teams that are leading the pack with above-and-beyond wellness benefits. 

1. Free, Online Mental Health Counseling 

Burnout, pandemic fatigue and the demands of daily life have had a huge impact at every organization. Rosa Diaz de Leon, national director of team and culture at catering marketplace HUNGRY, leveraged her organization’s wellness survey to understand how her company could help. “Even though 95% of the participants say they experienced love, joy and fulfillment in their lives, we identified [that]…COVID has created new challenges for our employees’ mental and physical health,” she says.

As a result of the survey, HUNGRY now offers virtual mental health counseling through First Stop Health at zero cost for both employees and their families, in addition to regular health benefits. That includes access to counseling 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

2. Dedicated Mental Health Days

Employees are afraid to use their paid time off to tackle mental health challenges. In a survey of 2,000 employed Americans, 62% said they feel their boss would judge them if they requested time off for mental health care. The survey, conducted by OnePoll, also found that 54% feel mental health struggles are not a good enough reason to call out.

Victoria Espinel, CEO of software trade association BSA, tackled the stigma at the height of the pandemic by setting aside dedicated time for mental health. Starting in June 2020, Espinel mandated that employees take one mental health day per month — separate from employees’ guaranteed PTO. On mental health days, Espinel says, employees are not allowed to respond to work emails or texts. (If an employee were “caught” doing either, they were instructed to schedule another mental health day for that month, she recalls.)

While this benefit was only intended to last during the pandemic, Espinel says her team is looking for ways to adapt the popular policy moving forward. “It’s very important to take that time to relax and recharge,” she said. 

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3. Early-release Fridays

Well-intentioned execs encourage their employees to leave early after a long week. However, taking the time to rest can be challenging if other team members have booked time on your calendar. 

Global consulting firm PwC encourages its employees to allocate Fridays after 12 p.m. in their geography as protected, non-bookable time on their calendars. Employees have the option to use this uninterrupted block to focus on work or take time off, without fearing that they will miss a meeting or a deadline. Sage Therapeutics runs a similar program, says chief people and experience officer Erin Lanciani, closing the virtual office at 12 p.m. on Fridays. That allows employees to begin their weekends early, get organized for the week ahead or get a jumpstart on vacations, she says.

4. Allocate a Meeting-free Day 

During check-in calls with individual members of her team, The Boss Up CEO Britney Turner learned that her staff members were skipping lunch and neglecting to take breaks. This led Turner, whose company provides social media consulting for entrepreneurs, to create “Wellness Fridays.” No client or internal meetings are scheduled for Fridays. If a work emergency arises, Turner handles it herself without involving anyone on her team. 

Instead of meetings, the team has access to wellness-driven activities. Turner may send individual care packages to her employees. She has also organized picnics in the park for the team — all of whom worked remotely during the pandemic — to allow for bonding and relaxation. 

5. Wellness Retreats for Your Team

Burnout has affected the healthcare sector, leading to increased attrition and low morale. To combat the high-stress environment, Dr. Treca Bourne set up a wellness retreat for her team at Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, the largest publicly-funded, behavioral healthcare provider in Virginia. 

Bourne, a talent development leader for the healthcare organization, says the retreat was broken into a four-part series of two-hour-long sessions. Run by wellness company Project Passport, each session started with a grounding or relaxing activity, then transitioned into a topic-based activity (such as learning how to manage individual stress). At the conclusion, participants were given time to reflect on the experience and share how they could use tools from the retreat moving forward.

After participating in the retreats, staff reported feeling more prepared to deal with their family issues and balance their work- and home-life. Productivity increased by 58%, and overall job satisfaction also went up by 42%, Bourne says. 

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6. Financial Wellness Programs to Alleviate Money-management Stress 

Employees stress out 51% more in 2022 about their personal finances than they did during the height of the pandemic, according to a survey by financial services provider SoFi. The same survey reported that employees spend a quarter of their workday fixated on money worries, and that 45% of respondents don’t feel that their company cares enough to do anything about it. Finance management apps and programs can help your employees combat this worry. 

To assist with money management, the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST) began a pilot program of Enrich, its new financial wellness app. Got credit card debt? A kid who needs to go to college? Wondering how to prepare for retirement? Enrich allows employees to log into the platform, take a quick survey and receive a personalized playlist of learning modules based on their specific financial needs. 

Treasurer of Arkansas Dennis Milligan has already signed up his employees to participate as one way to alleviate stress related to finances. 

7. Mental Health and Meditation Apps 

Mindfulness practices, including meditation and guided breathing, can help alleviate stress. Many companies have offered their team free access to some of the most popular meditation apps to increase relief. 

Sage Therapeutics offers the Calm app to its employees. Company data show 46% of employees used the mental health app in 2020. Care.com also offers its employees free access to the mental-health app Headspace, which offers guided meditation and mindfulness practices.

8. Wellness Stipends 

Mental health and wellness will look different for each of your employees. Some might be looking for therapy. Others may benefit from access to a gym or workout classes to alleviate stress. Others may look forward to massages or a chiropractor visit. In addition to free coaching and therapy sessions, fintech company Marqeta offers a $500 annual wellness stipend that employees can use for expenses related to their physical and mental well-being, says chief human resource officer Sunaina Lobo. Employees have already used this stipend to purchase at-home gym equipment and cover the cost of acupuncture

What mental health benefits does your organization offer? Reply to share. 

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