Companies must adapt to the ever-evolving workforce and expand wellness benefits to support employee needs.
By Dr. Beth Pausic
The Pew Charitable Trust recently published its annual installment of Trend Magazine, “Fall 2023: The Age of Anxiety.” In an article titled America’s Mental Health Crisis, the author cites a report in JAMA Health Forum noting 38% more people are in mental health care since the start of the pandemic, a CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation poll revealing 90% of Americans feel we’re in a mental health crisis, and an unprecedented White House report stating “our nation is facing a mental health crisis among people of all ages.”
Considering this jarring insight, companies should consider developing and expanding wellness benefits. That or they should begin responding to employee needs with appropriate behavioral health benefits. After all, the National Safety Council has reported employers get a return of $4 for every dollar invested in mental health treatment. Further, a Gympass survey has found company revenue and well-being are directly linked and “very important” or “extremely important” for employee acquisition (78%), satisfaction (88%), and retention (79%).
When it comes to managing the modern workplace, promoting mental health and well-being offers an immediate win-win for employees and employers and a potential solution for the future.
Anticipating What’s Ahead
The massive move to remote work spurred by the pandemic has created the most competitive global workforce in history. As a result, candidates are looking beyond traditional benefits packages, and companies must consider expanding well-being and behavioral health services. With increasing levels of anxiety and depression, those not offering comprehensive support will end up with dissatisfied employees who may struggle with behavioral health issues themselves, further impacting an estimated $1 trillion in lost productivity globally every year.
Gen Z has influenced the modern workplace most of all as of late. Those born between the late 1990s through 2012 represent about 6% of the workforce. However, by 2030, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects their numbers will swell to 30%. As HR leaders try to envision the future workplace, Gen Z is a good bellwether of what to expect, so it’s important to understand what motivates them.
Gen Z understands what matters most to them and will often evaluate jobs based on criteria that have little to do with the position itself. They care deeply about employer values, sometimes even more than what the company offers. If a job is unfulfilling, they could very well leave, even if it’s not the best career move. They’re also interested in diversity, inclusion, and social and environmental responsibility and will seek out companies that back up their expressed values with real action.
Most importantly, Gen Z places a high value on healthy work-life balance. They’re the first generation to care deeply and speak openly about mental health and well-being. In fact, a report from Johns Hopkins University on how companies should adapt to Gen Z in the workplace advises: “Companies must establish stigma-free work cultures and integrate mental health across the business through policies and programs that care for people and respect their personal and professional wellness to achieve these interests.”
Embedding Mental Health
Gen Z doesn’t just want awareness of mental health and well-being, they’re pushing for resources to help them. Our own survey revealed 60% of HR directors are seeing more demand for related services. And given that Gen Z is composed of digital natives, mobile access needs to be a priority. Support should be embedded in every organization – and the following tips can help make it happen.
- Build company culture: Employers want to reduce workplace stress and create a non-judgmental environment supported by leaders who aren’t afraid to discuss mental health and recognize individual needs. To that end, make mental health check-ins a part of all one-on-one meetings, performance reviews, and general dialogue. Ensure mental health is also a part of the decision-making process.
- Provide access and tools: Be sure employees know what’s available to them and options for accessing support. This could mean anything from an anonymous, text-based service to face-to-face therapy. Personalized Wellness Action Plans (WAPs) can also help employers understand what it is that keeps an individual at their job, while enabling employees to take accountability for their own mental health.
- Perfect policies and procedures: Policies should emphasize employee well-being and focus on reducing workplace stress via manageable workloads and opportunities. Be sure to provide a mechanism for employee feedback and offer flexibility to account for individual circumstances.
- Communicate clearly: Effective communication across an organization is vital. Be sure managers are clear on how to talk with employees, ensuring they come across as open, understanding, and transparent. HR leaders should offer guidance on how mental health is promoted, championed, and spoken about by leadership.
A Healthy Head Start
The traits of Gen Z are an effective indicator of how mental health and well-being should be handled for all employees and their families. Regardless of the many varying opinions that different generations have about workplace issues, all can agree Gen Z is setting a very healthy precedent, one that’s also far more sustainable.
For savvy companies, prioritizing awareness and access to mental health and well-being resources now offers a healthy head start for managing the demands of a future workforce.
Dr. Beth Pausic is a clinical psychologist and vice president of clinical excellence and safety at Kooth Digital Health.