The collateral health impact from the spread of COVID-19 is having a long-term impact on organizations and severe consequences for employees. Feelings of anxiety, loneliness and stress are on the rise and as a result, employee well-being is gaining greater importance on the corporate agenda.
The health of employees is integral to the health of a business, so firms must step up and manage their people risks. This means building new strategies that protect their workforce’s physical, social, mental, and financial well-being. In a recent survey conducted by Mercer Marsh Benefits in MENA, deteriorating mental health ranked as a top five risk for organizations. The increasing importance of mental health has alerted many employers to the significance of having a comprehensive health strategy in place that also supports mental health, and we are seeing that 47% of employers plan to add mental health benefits to their benefits program. This is supported by the recent announcement by the Dubai Health Authority, on July 7th this year, that mental health and psychiatry benefits will be included in the Essential Benefit Plan.
While many employers have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place, they may not cover new solutions, such as those that have a more preventative focus aimed at creating a healthy and resilient workforce, as well as digital services that make it easier for more employees to gain access to mental health benefits.
Since the pandemic, many employees have experienced higher levels of stress due to financial pressures, health concerns, remote working, and increased workloads. Mercer’s Healthy Minds at Work report notes that 83% of employees say they are working overtime three times a week, which has a negative impact on their personal relationships. The report also notes that employee pressure has increased three fold since the pandemic, and that the high mental workload and multi-tasking are the top contributors to stress. Employers should therefore consider reassessing their well-being strategy to ensure that they are offering a comprehensive strategy that considers both physical and mental health support.
When building a comprehensive strategy to support mental health concerns, there are three key items to keep in mind:
Employers should analyze trends using data from their existing benefit offerings such as medical, disability, EAP and health screenings to understand the unique mental health needs of their population. The insights from these analyses can help employers evaluate the main behavioral issues among their workforce and implement the most appropriate programs and resources. Once mental health solutions are in place, data on the uptake and outcomes of those benefits should give organizations some insight into how well the programs are working.
A one-size-fits-all approach to mental health has never been optimal. Organizations should consider tailoring programs to address the specific needs of their workforce across the spectrum of mental health concerns. Along with data analyses, active listening sessions can help employers determine what is best for their workforces. Conducting virtual or in-person focus groups, stakeholder interviews and surveys can help employers gain input on mental health needs in order to offer mental health benefits that are appropriate for their employees and will provide value.
Employers should equip managers and supervisors with the skills to identify early warning signs of stress and mental health issues. Manager training is a good place to start, as managers are best placed to first notice mental health concerns, changes in behavior, mood, productivity or engagement, or when one of their team members might be depressed or stressed. Employers should implement a well-structured communication strategy and use leadership initiatives to advance the conversation and remove the barriers around talking about mental health. Creating a platform where mental health concerns can be openly discussed helps reduce stigma in a company’s culture.
A strong mental health strategy allows an employer to set a framework, identify gaps, address employee preferences and cover needs across the entire spectrum of mental health conditions. Digital innovations also help make a wide range of appropriate resources readily available. When assessing your mental health strategy, use these four categories to ensure that you are offering a wide variety of mental health benefits:
Prevention – digital solutions that build skills in areas such as resilience and mindfulness, educational campaigns on mental health topics, open communication to reduce stigma around talking about mental health concerns
Access, treatment and coverage – Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), health plan networks, virtual health options and tools, holistic well-being strategies
Support at work – Colleague manager training, peer-to-peer support, professional training and upskilling, return to work programs
Support away from work – Flexible working hours, remote working, disability return to work coordination, financial well-being solutions
The health and well-being of your employees determines the health and resilience of your business, something that has been clearly demonstrated over the past 12 months. Employers that proactively attend to well-being challenges - including mental health – through targeted interventions and culture can drive positive business outcomes.
 Mental Health Foundation. “Wave 9: pre-Christmas 2020,” available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/wave-9-pre-christmas-2020
 Mercer Global Talent Trends 2020-2021 Survey
 Mercer. “Healthy Minds at Work - Asia Assessment,” available at https://www.mercer.com.sg/our-thinking/health/2020-healthy-minds-at-work.html