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Mental Health - The Hottest Employee Benefit Now

While living in Silicon Valley I visited the Facebook headquarters and was fortunate to get the grand tour by a friend and executive that worked there. I was in awe of the campus and the amenities offered to their employees. It seemed to me that the employees lacked nothing and led an idyllic work life.

Over the past several years, the tech companies have driven a trend of offering countless perks to their employees. Perks like unlimited PTO, paternity leave, personal refrigerators filled with beer and wine, complimentary bicycles to ride on campus, on-site car repair, dry cleaning, massages, game rooms and the like. This trend was driven by the fiercely competitive space of attracting top talent to organizations both in the U.S. and abroad.

Many of these perks sound pretty appealing. But when you peel back a layer or two, you realize that, while generous, this system also provides the companies with employees that rarely leave the campus. Yes, of course this is convenient for the employee, but it is also incredibly efficient and strategic for the company. By doing this they encourage staying on campus even in your ‘off’ time, and working longer hours which reduces time spent at home with loved ones or a life outside of work. It blurs the lines between work and personal time and keeps the employee a bit captive. If you’ve not seen the movie The Circle, I would encourage it as it seems a realistic depiction of life on campus at many of the large technology firms. For me personally it is just a little unnerving.

Fast forward to this past year and we have seen a different kind of work/life blurring as more remote employees have been learned to navigate working from home along with their spouses and children while juggling their schedule to get it all done.

This is only part of the challenge that has presented itself regarding our workforce. The lack of face to face human contact and socialization has done major damage to humankind. God designed us as social creatures. With that basic need torn away from us, it helped to catapult us into an unprecedented increase in depression, anxiety, PTSD and burnout which, parallel the increases in domestic violence, suicide and alcohol & drug use. We are a nation and a people in peril with the most urgent matter being the state of our mental health as a result of the pandemic.

So what is in store for 2021 and beyond? Companies large and small are grappling with how best to keep their employees healthy, well, engaged, productive and happy. That is a tall order given the fact that so many companies are remaining remote for 3-12 more months. What is the solution when most of our daily interactions and in-person events have now pivoted to remote as well?

We have already seen a major Increase in access to mental health counseling through telemedicine and apps. These are certainly part of the puzzle. The Global Wellness Summit met in November for a hybrid event, live and virtual audiences. Their findings - the mental health economy is an anticipated $121 billion dollars! From this they say that employers will keep that economy humming by increasing the spend on mental health technology for their people over the coming years. They also noted the leading Telehealth company, Amwell was valued at $4 billion just this past September and surged to a $7 billion dollar valuation in November!

In short, the demand for access to virtual mental health consultations and applications providing stress relief are skyrocketing and will continue to grow. For companies of all size there is now a critical need to truly focus on the well-being of their employees. It is no longer an option or a fluffy culture. Need more proof? #Wellbeing and #mentalhealth are some of the most popular hashtags on social media. And what exactly is the meaning of well-being you may ask; According to Miriam Webster, well-being is a person’s overall state of being happy, healthy or prosperous: welfare. Well-being at work is increasingly more important since burnout became a medical diagnosis code in 2019. We could all use a big dose of well-being right about now.

Gone are the days when the Human Resource department can put in place a simple quit smoking or weight loss program and call it a day. They have been digging deeper and finding creative ways to care for their employees and the need for more innovative and impactful solutions to engage team members (whether virtual or in person) with meaningful discussions and possibly event offerings surrounding stress management, mental health, and burnout has never been more critical.

With this deeper focus placed on mental health and well-being, what privacy issues will need to be revised? If employees are encouraged to come forward and not be ashamed or fearful about exposing their mental and emotional state, how will that be perceived by upper management?

A myriad of questions leap to mind when considering this quandary. Meanwhile, while we are figuring this out, we need to implement programs to ensure our people are healthy and well; mentally and physically.

The competitive landscape of attracting and retaining employees is enhanced by how well a company navigates the new standard of wellness and well-being offerings.

My sense is that the stocked refrigerator and dry cleaning on-site may not be driving factors for a candidate. Instead, I believe mental wellness benefits will be added to the top considerations when an employee chooses a company; ranking right up there with salary, insurance, and 401k. These are some of the challenges companies are facing as we speak; how to rapidly put in place the most needed benefits in our new world of employees working while recovering from trauma and other attacks on their well-being.

If you are an entrepreneur just starting out, (and the numbers below indicate that you may be) these are critically important considerations for you to be aware of surrounding the human resources and benefits you put in place for your employees. Take the time to build the company and culture that will serve your employees and your customers well rather than try to fix it later. The stakes are too high and the competition for quality employees is too fierce to neglect such important components of your business model.

According to the quarterly report from the U.S. Census Bureau new business applications in the U.S. rose 74% in Q3 over Q2 of 2020 to 1,566,373. Of those applications 79% are labeled High Propensity, meaning they are likely to employ personnel.This dramatic increase in business applications may be a result of the pandemic but is also an ode to how this country was built and why so many people still flock here to get a taste of the American dream. With all of the negative economic impact we have experienced in 2020, the climbing rate of new businesses is a bright spot for the nation and its economy.

As an eternal optimist, I have also found this emphasis on well-being to be an exciting time. With everyone scrambling to find resources and programs to manage stress and anxiety, now more than ever we are emphasizing the human in Human Resources and focusing on the thing that matters most, caring for the greatest assets of our businesses - the people.

Cheers to the well-being of your people and the success of your business!

Linda Mullins can be reached at:

Inspired Leadership Group

Office: 707-722-7032

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