employee mental health programs

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The Deeper Benefits of Employee Mental Health Programs

Rewind for a minute to the pre-pandemic state of your company culture. How did you measure up in terms of morale? Recruiting? Retention? How about employee engagement, productivity, presenteeism, and positivity? These are all critical attributes companies increasingly evaluate for their value on investment (VOI), a progressive alternative to ROI. In many organizations, the use of VOI is gradually changing the way employers assess the impact of their people programs, including employee mental health programs.

Of course, companies had begun to rethink their approach to employee mental health and well-being before COVID-19. Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly life was more about surviving than thriving.

There hadn’t been time (or much interest) before we all went into sheltering in place to call the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). And there certainly wasn’t time during, what with homeschooling and back-to-back Zoom meetings. We all seemed awash instead in apps for meditation and calmness.

Measuring Employee Mental Health Programs: ROI or VOI?

But as the dust settles and work life finds its new sense of normal, HR, talent leaders, and the C-suite are all certain to return to putting a finer pencil to the cost of these programs and well-being initiatives. This begs the traditional question: Where is the ROI?

What HR and benefits will quickly learn is that the ROI of mental health programs is at best an elusive target. At worst, ROI is an impossible metric to nail down. But this is not the first time category leaders in a company have faced this quandary.

For example, learning and development has been buzzing with the need to hire and train for “soft skills” for at least two decades. But as important as those skills are for the way work gets done today, L&D leaders still struggle to prove the ROI of those traits. They also struggle to quantify the programs intended to build soft skills. Yes, learning has found ways to produce data that draws a line (if often indirect) from soft skills development to changes in productivity and ROI. But the objectivity of the data, and the authenticity of the reports based on that data, are often questioned.

Of course, connecting the dots and measuring the true ROI of employee benefits and programs that offer financial planning, better nutrition, mindfulness, and improved mental health faces similar challenges. So what if, instead of ROI, you shift your focus to a whole-person, whole-organization approach of employee mental health – and consider its value on investment (VOI).

Defining Employee Well-being and VOI

Consider a clinically-based approach that addresses mental health proactively from the standpoint of physical, social, and psychological well-being — the three spheres that psychologists and healthcare providers agree make up the whole person. It isn’t just about treating the 1 in 5 Americans who have mental health issues. It’s about proactively reaching and educating every employee about mental health. Because just as everyone is somewhere on the yardstick of physical health, we are all also somewhere on the continuum of mental health.

And what supports our mental, physical, and social well-being? What — speaking of VOI — can add value to our mental health?

Science says there are seven aspects of daily life to consider: happiness, sleep, fulfillment, coping, calmness, health, and connection all influence employee mental health. When one area is off-balance, an employee — and ultimately their coworkers and the company — are directly affected. Your company’s performance, culture, and reputation are all on the line. At the same time, studies show current programs to support mental health are under-utilized. EAPs, for example, are hugely underutilized with an average 3% to 4% engagement rate.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one size fits all” mental health solution that can add value to your organization by optimizing the use of well-being programs you’re already paying for, improving employee performance, and positively affecting your company culture and brand.

Four Benefit Areas with Measurable Outcomes

You need a platform with expert guidance, scientifically-backed tools, and data-driven outcomes. And, you must take a proactive approach that inspires and empowers your employees to take matters into their own hands. You need a platform that speaks to the employee experience and adds value to the organization. You can prove that value by focusing on these four areas critical to any organization — and have measurable outcomes.

1. Strengthen existing well-being payout

Our first goal: Close the gap between an employee having a problem and the employee going to the EAP to solve that problem. For example, trouble sleeping doesn’t lead employees directly to their EAP. But with a better understanding of what mental health truly means, how a sleepless night might indicate a more significant issue exists, and with support to navigate them to existing programs and services — employees feel knowledgeable and safe. They’ll reach out to their EAP — and get the right care at the right time.

2. Improve performance

It’s no secret that a thriving workforce leads to better performance. Providing employees with the tools to manage their individual challenges equips them to make incremental changes in their well-being and job performance. With that comes fewer sick days, less presenteeism, and fewer accidents on the job. Once you empower employees to take mental health matters into their hands, understanding and measuring progress becomes natural.

3. Strengthen company culture

Mental health is not binary; it’s more than being OK or not OK. Move away from mental well-being programs that offer checklist or check-the-box approaches. Shift the mindset to where everyone’s on the spectrum — because we all have mental health. Forget “show up, be your best, and get rewarded.” It contradicts the culture of well-being and taking care of oneself. And it certainly isn’t a culture that supports openness about mental health (or much of anything else, for that matter).

4.    Enhance company reputation and brand

When it comes to the most in-demand traits of employers, a company’s mission, sense of values, and providing support for total well-being have surpassed compensation. Job seekers now look for companies ready to protect and care for people — including offering programs to support their mental health. Enhance your company’s reputation and brand by taking a proactive approach to  — and a vocal stand on — mental health.

Employee Mental Health Programs: Next Steps

Advocate for what matters. VOI does that and will help sell a whole-person, whole-organization approach to employee mental health up the ladder. Choose a vendor you trust. Invest in technology that delivers or optimizes what you have. Research, research, research. Then, ultimately, prioritize what truly matters.