Companies are recognizing value of mental health supports

A roadmap is available to help chart the best path forward

MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS  provides an opportunity to recognize the constructive role that the business community plays in addressing the mental health needs of workers and highlights practical new opportunities to improve the lives of our colleagues and their families.

COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruption of business for employers, but its impact may be even greater and more lasting for our employees. As companies grapple with changing business conditions, evolving guidelines on COVID-19 precautions and new hybrid work arrangements, employees are experiencing the disruption at an intensely personal level. More than two years of chronic stress—and often loss—at home and in the workplace, is taking its toll.

The issue is top of mind both in board rooms and on Beacon Hill. According to the US Department of Labor, nearly 48 million people resigned from work in 2021, alone. Mental Health America, one of the nation’s leading community-based nonprofits dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness, cites burnout, inflexibility, and re-evaluation of life priorities as top reasons for this exodus. At the State House, a sweeping Mental Health ABC Act passed the Massachusetts Senate in November and is awaiting action in the House. Among its provisions, the bill requires employer-based health insurance plans to provide a free mental health “checkup” each year, on par with free preventive physicals.

We applaud this effort as a fundamental workplace support for employees, but also acknowledge the need to address how this new mandate may impact an already-burdened mental healthcare system.

Expanding mental health treatment capacity will be critical to meeting the ever-increasing volume of health care needs, particularly for those employees facing serious mental illness. The crisis of emergency room boarding for those in acute mental health distress has become a public health emergency. Shortages of appropriate care across the spectrum of mental health needs will take time, investment, and commitment to resolve.

In the interim, many companies are stepping into the breach by increasing mental health support for workers who may not require intense acute care, but whose mental health nevertheless has been frayed by two and a half years of the pandemic.

The Massachusetts Business Roundtable’s newest Future of Work survey shows a clear recognition of the urgency of this need, and employers’ commitment to addressing it. Eighty-nine percent (89 percent) of responding members indicated that their company offers mental health and wellness programs to employees, which was among the most-cited efforts companies are making to support recruitment and retention—in addition to flexible hours, increased salaries, and tools for hybrid work. Employers surveyed said that launching such programs helped them demonstrate empathetic leadership and the value employers place on their workers.

In response to this survey, we want to ensure more companies have access to resources to support the delivery and implementation of mental health and wellness programs in the workplace—so employees know they have additional resources and employers have tools within their toolbox to retain talent. In fact, it is well-documented that investing in mental health can also have a significant positive impact on absenteeism and presenteeism, as well as worker satisfaction. The National Safety Council recently found that organizations see a return of $4 for every $1 spent, and has created a cost-calculator for employers.

Many companies have expanded offerings this year to include mental health supports, health and fitness discounts, supports for childcare and caregiving that may help relieve stress, and flexibility to pursue other wellness activities. However, most are doing it without a roadmap, assessing and responding to needs as they emerge.

Employers may not know that such a roadmap actually exists, one that lays out performance benchmarks and goals. It is called the Mental Health America Workplace Mental Health Bell Seal, and we urge Massachusetts companies to consider applying for this distinction. Employers are assessed on workplace culture, health insurance and other benefits, wellness programs and community engagement. Mental Health America offers Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum designations, recognizing companies for their efforts at different levels, and providing invaluable insights about areas for improvement.

An employer who attains this certification will be recognized nationwide as a workplace that values mental health and a mentally healthy work environment for all employees.

Meet the Author

Lauren Jones

Executive vice president, Massachusetts Business Roundtable
Meet the Author

Richard Pops

Chairman and CEO, Alkermes
It is going to take a coordinated effort across public and private sectors in Massachusetts to confront the panoply of workers’ mental health needs. The business community is demonstrating its commitment to this issue, both because it is the right thing to do for employees, and because it is vital to recruitment and retention of talent in the post-COVID workplace.

Mental Health Awareness Month is the perfect time for employers to take stock of how they are supporting their employees’ mental health and create a roadmap to determine where they go from here.

Lauren Jones is the executive vice president of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable and Richard Pops is the chairman and CEO of Alkermes.