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The landscape of employee mental health as a workplace concern has undergone a remarkable revolution in just a few short years. HR and other workplace leaders spearhead this ongoing shift, centering mental health in benefits packages and employee assistance programs. This evolution continues to take shape in 2024 as new solutions and strategies emerge.
HR leaders who stay informed about changing employee needs and how they can be met through benefits offerings have a competitive edge in attracting and retaining top talent. They’re positioning their organizations as desirable places to work and creating a healthier and better-functioning workplace culture.
Benefits are differentiators
When employees are looking for their next place of employment or considering whether to stay in their current job, the full benefits picture is an essential factor. One recent employee survey found that four out of five employees believe mental health benefits are as significant as physical health benefits, while 81% actively look for workplaces that offer mental health benefits.
Along with attracting employees, organizational health and wellness are other upsides to focusing on quality benefits packages. Ensuring that the right mental health benefits are in place to support employee productivity and engagement lowers absenteeism and presenteeism, keeping companies healthy and running smoothly.
This focus on mental health has led to many emerging strategies, benefits, technologies, and solutions. As we embark on the new year, let’s consider three trends shaping employee benefits in the upcoming months: maximizing healthcare savings, addressing social determinants of health, and unifying benefit ecosystems.
Maximizing healthcare savings
The first trend, which will likely be central this year, involves maximizing healthcare savings, lowering health spend, and ensuring that mental health benefits are effective.
As mental health support remains at the nexus of employee well-being, there’s an increasing concern about return on investment (ROI), as inflation poses a challenge for workplace leaders. Understandably, companies want to ensure their mental health benefits spending shows results with both clinical outcomes and ROI.
These circumstances have led to a dynamic where employees are asking for and using mental healthcare benefits at increasing levels, while employers are trying to meet those needs and still keep spending under control.
Access and affordability go hand in hand
It’s often the case that when healthcare costs go up, employers and health plans may instinctually restrict access to mental healthcare to cut costs. But by driving better access to quality mental healthcare, it’s possible to address rising costs and maximize healthcare savings.
Untreated mental health conditions are proven to drive overall medical spending. If an individual has diabetes, cancer, or a heart condition, medical spend is two to three times higher for those individuals who also have an untreated mental health condition or substance use disorder.
So, what will drive quality mental healthcare in 2024?
Data-driven care is central to better clinical outcomes
If we know that treating mental health conditions and substance use disorders lowers overall health spend, then the care people receive must be effective. Access to care that doesn’t work won’t reduce health spend and hurts the individual needing help.
This is one area where data can be used to ensure better clinical outcomes in workplace mental health solutions through the following mechanics:
- Data-driven provider matching that takes social determinants of health into account
- The use of measurement-based care throughout treatment
- Using systems for better tracking of treatment outcomes
This leads us to the next trend, which involves addressing the social determinants of health in benefit solutions—a critical component of well-being that ensures employees are getting their basic needs met.
Addressing the social determinants of health is foundational
Social determinants of health (SDOH) are nonmedical factors that affect health outcomes. They encompass the circumstances and environments in which people live. Put simply, is an individual able to get their daily needs met?
- Economic stability
- Education quality and access
- Healthcare access and quality
- Neighborhood and built environment
- Social and community context
It’s easy to assume that if someone’s employed, their basic needs are being met. The reality is, this isn’t true. Addressing SDOH is a workplace concern.
How are SDOH related to workplace mental health?
Workplace stakeholders are beginning to recognize that the ability to fulfill basic needs affects how people function at work and their overall mental health and well-being.
An employee is much more likely to need costly and intensive physical and mental healthcare down the road if they are:
- Sleeping in their car
- Don’t have access to adequate or nutritious food
- Can’t afford medicine for a physical health condition
- Don’t have access to a therapist who can help them with a mental health condition
Ignoring SDOH can increase employee health spend
When people aren’t able to get their basic needs met, their mental health, physical health, and well-being suffer. Consequently, they have worse overall health outcomes. Previously, this causal relationship has rarely been acknowledged in mental and physical healthcare. Fortunately, this is beginning to change.
In the coming year, new technologies will help HR and workplace leaders access more data about SDOH regarding their employee populations, giving them insight into strategies for aligning benefits to address related health outcomes.
Unifying and integrating benefits ecosystems
Now that we’ve identified two ways benefits might evolve over the next year, let’s discuss the final trend.
HR and benefits leaders do a lot of work on identifying, implementing, and developing benefits programs. So, when employees don’t know that they exist or are frustrated with how structurally fragmented their benefits are, it becomes costly and disheartening for employers and employees alike.
One survey shows that over a third of employees (28%) are either unable to access or dissatisfied with their ability to access their benefits from a single platform.
In the next year, many employers are looking to streamline and better integrate benefits with the end goal of higher employee engagement. Employers will find that better engagement entails better clinical outcomes for mental health benefits. Employees can’t get help for mental health challenges if they aren’t engaging with care in the first place.
Bettering employee engagement and satisfaction
It’s frustrating for an employee to seek help for something they believe is covered in their benefits package and can’t gain access. At that point, they may be discouraged from using their benefits, and unhappy with their organization for allowing barriers to exist.
Many companies are moving toward unifying their benefits packages to encourage easy access and engagement, such as using a single front door and seamless data-sharing between benefits.
Engagement leads to better mental health outcomes
There is clear data correlating the amount of time and effort an individual has to invest to obtain care and whether they engage in care.
In other words, if someone has to make multiple phone calls and jump through hoops to find a therapist that’s covered under their benefit while also experiencing a mental health challenge, the likelihood that they end up entering care is significantly lower.
But if someone asks for help and gets it quickly without hurdling many barriers, they are more likely to enter care and follow through with a treatment plan, leading to better outcomes and lower overall health spend.
Communicating the value of mental health as an employee benefit
As conversations around employee benefit strategies for this year are taking place, HR leaders are in a position to convey the value of quality mental health benefits to stakeholders by foregrounding data.
Showing the ROI of addressing your employees’ mental health, the clinical outcomes, and the associated boost in workplace productivity, engagement, and retention builds a strong case for including a quality mental health solution in employee benefit packages.
There’s never a wrong time to invest in employee health and well-being, especially since this has a clear ROI for both organizational and employee health.
Explore the emerging 2024 mental health trends, spanning from the impact of technology and global strategies to family mental health support.