April is Stress Awareness Month. As the pandemic continues and employers report high levels of stress in the workforce, the International Foundation’s Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Benefits survey report reveals informative data on challenges and solutions facing organizations across the U.S.
According to the survey, 96% of respondents stated that their workforce is stressed, either very (38%) or somewhat (58%). In addition, nearly nine in ten (88%) stated that the stress of their worker population is more now than it was just two years ago.
I spoke with Julie Stich, VP of Content at the Foundation and she said that returning to in-person or hybrid work is increasing this spring and summer. This shift could exacerbate mental health issues, demands on caregivers’ time and stress for employees. Additionally, the long-term effects of the pandemic are still with us. With the return to the office, mental health challenges and substance use disorders may be more difficult to conceal while face-to-face with coworkers.
While organizations continue to enhance their mental health/substance use disorder (MU/SUD) offerings, workers and organizations still face barriers. The top two commonly cited barriers are worker fear that admitting a problem may negatively impact job security (36%) and worker fear about confidentiality (35%). About three in ten responding organizations note that workers do not acknowledge or are not ready to address their problems (29%), while a similar amount cite discomfort among supervisors in addressing the issue with workers (28%). One in four cited management concern about breaching workers’ privacy (25%) as a barrier.
A key first step is making employees aware of the mental health/substance use disorder benefits offered by their organization. Some of the top ways employers are increasing awareness is through:
- Access to online resources and tools (81%)
- Information posted in paper format or online (64%)
- Newsletter or other communications (53%)
- Educational/informational sessions offered at the worksite (44%)
- Leadership openly discussing issues (31%)
- Manager/supervisor training (29%)
- Mental health crisis training (26%)
- Peer champions openly discussing issues (13%)
Employee assistance programs (EAPs) offer a wide range of services, many that can support stress management and mental health challenges. Survey results show that EAP use increased to 9.2% in 2021 from 7.4% in 2019.
Julie noted that one approach to increase utilization of an EAP is for executive leadership to use the service, so that they can share the experience with their teams. It isn’t necessary to disclose why they used the EAP, but it is important to be able to look an employee in the eye and say, “I called the EAP and found it helpful.”
Frequently offered EAP services that can help stressed workers include mental health assistance/counseling (93%), a crisis hotline (83%), caregiving assistance (65%), support for managers (53%) and on-site speakers to teach workers about mental health and substance use disorder issues (48%).
Organizations that provide mental health and substance use disorder benefits offer a number of preventative initiatives. Some of the most common include:
- EAP or similar program (86%)
- Wellness programs that include a mental health and substance use disorder component (53%)
- Mindfulness/meditation tools/resources (45%)
- Formal stress management program (39%)
- Gratitude/appreciation initiatives (24%)
Julie also shared that whether employees are suffering from stress or facing more complex mental health issues, fostering resiliency skills has been shown to be effective. The preventive tools offered help build those skills.
Learn More About Mental Health Benefits
To access the full report: Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Benefits: 2021 Survey Results, visit www.ifebp.org/mentalhealth2021.
For more information on mental health and the workplace, visit the International Foundation Workplace Mental Health Resources webpage. Just a note—The survey report breaks down data in the following categories: Corporations/single employer plans (including nonprofits), public employer plans, and multiemployer funds. This blog post features data from the “corporations” category.
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