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Rethinking Employee Health Benefits to Combat Stress & Burnout

For nearly a year now, professional and personal life has looked very different. Millions of employees have been working remotely and the timeframe for returning to offices is still unclear. This ongoing period of uncertainty and isolation has contributed to exhaustion, stress and burnout as crisis after crisis weighs heavily on employee mental health. Being stuck in a remote-first work environment is only compounding that stress. A recent survey by Willis Towers Watson found that nearly six in 10 workers (59%) are currently working from home. Companies surveyed expect over half of their workers (52%) to be doing so through the first quarter of 2021, if not beyond. [1] The need to expand employee health benefits is more important now than ever before.


This period of isolation and remote work is costly to employee well-being. Workers are missing the collaboration and connection that foster high performance and engagement. There may be long-term effects, too: a 2020 trends report found that loneliness was becoming a global epidemic and that its impact on physical health was comparable to obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. [2]


Rethinking employee health benefits to combat unprecedented stress and burnout can help, now and in the future. The right health benefits can help employers support employee health and well-being. On top of that, communicating about these benefits matters: trust and perceived support are both significant predictors of mental and physical health, job satisfaction and turnover intentions. [3]


The Impact of Stress and Burnout


The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Characteristics of burnout include feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, reduced professional efficacy, and fatigue. [4]


Fatigue in turn, worsens employee stress and burnout, trends that were rising even before last year’s crises set in. Remote work only exacerbated the consequences of an always-on work culture. And remote workdays are long. In fact, the average workday is almost 49 minutes longer than pre-pandemic and meeting times have lengthened by over 12%. [5] Remote-first work also requires a different kind of concentration and makes different demands of the brain, contributing to fatigue. [6]


Another factor contributing to stress and burnout is multitasking all day­ – as many parents, for example, navigate the dual demands of work and remote school schedules. For many, this period has become a grind without a distinct finish line in sight, which in itself can create feelings of being overwhelmed.


There are also other factors indirectly contributing to workplace stress and burnout, like doomscrolling and 24/7 news consumption. Doomscrolling, refers to often seeking out and constantly reading negative news on social media. While it’s human nature to want to stay on top of developing stories, a constant oversaturation of this news can be detrimental to employee mental health, and can be difficult to tune out during the workday.


Employees are indeed enduring a barrage of loneliness, isolation, stress and burnout. There is good news, though: many see work as a steady familiar comfort in a sea of change. This is where employers can use innovative employee benefits to give workers the support they need for better mental health, now and in the future.


Traditional Approaches Fall Short


As we enter 2021, many employers have begun making changes to their health insurance programs by expanding or adding access to mental health benefits. Although this has been accelerated out of necessity, it was a shift already underway. Even before the pandemic, 62% of employers viewed providing a wide range of employee health benefits as an important strategy for meeting employees’ diverse needs. [7]


Not all mental health benefits are created equal, though. Traditional Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) may be cost-efficient but fall short in providing the coverage and accessibility necessary to get employees the support they need. Most EAPs do not provide employees with care navigation and are shockingly under-utilized. 90% of employers offer EAPs, but as few as 3% of employees actually use them. [8] When EAPs are used, employees may have to go out-of-network for care, which can drive up out-of-pocket costs and create financial stress.


Putting the Right Employee Health Benefits in Place to Support Mental Health


What do effective, robust employee mental health benefits look like? Employers and advisers should consider benefit flexibility and compatibility as well as supplemental solutions that combine carve out coverage and support:


  • Coverage for mental health, including doctor visit and prescriptions.

  • Coverage for wellness treatments like massage therapy, acupuncture and more.

  • Access to well-being and behavioral health coaching.

  • Navigation to treatment resources for mental health or substance use counseling.

There are also larger themes that advisers and employers should tune into. The first is that mental health issues have long been stigmatized, discouraging many employees from seeking treatment altogether. Another is that employers have the opportunity to strengthen employer employee relations during and after this time. It’s a powerful force that can help employees feel supported, appreciated, and valued.


If more employers prioritize and encourage seeking treatment for mental health issues, and they provide the proper mental health coverage, more employees will seek the help they need, reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health. And treatment works. 80% of employees treated for mental illness report improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction. [9] This is a win-win that ultimately protects the bottom line.


It’s important to tackle healthcare issues proactively, especially when it comes to mental health and well-being. ArmadaCare’s can aid in that goal, as it’s characterized by the aforementioned support systems: Coverage for mental health and wellness treatments, access to well-being and behavioral health coaching, and navigation to treatment resources. WellPak encourages use and can help combat employee mental health issues of all sizes without the stigma. Providing employees with the care they need is critical when it comes to protecting the bottom line, and ArmadaCare’s wide range of including WellPak, can help in closing coverage gaps for employers of all sizes.


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