Since the pandemic, business leaders have expanded their mental health benefit offerings to make their teams feel more comfortable and capable. Still, in many cases, employees are not taking advantage of them. Instead, more people than ever are choosing to voluntarily leave a company to take their chances somewhere else, driving unprecedented levels of disengagement and turnover.
According to a new study from Lighthouse Research & Advisory and LifeSpeak, there's a significant gap between employers and employees concerning the perceived value of existing mental health support in the workplace. And the data shows a clear correlation between this misalignment and the recruiting and retention challenges most companies currently face.
Employers Receive an 'F'
The 2021 Employer Mental Health Report Card surveyed more than 1,000 large employers and more than 1,000 employees across all industries in the United States. As part of these surveys, each cohort was asked to assess their company's workplace mental health support on a scale of 1 to 10. The results reveal substantial disparities between employers and employees when it comes to their perception of company-provided mental health support. This was clearly demonstrated in some of the study's most significant data points:
- 4.4 - The average score employees gave their organization when asked to rate the mental health support they receive.
- 7.6 - The average rating employers gave themselves when asked to rate the mental health support they provide.
"In the 10 years I've been doing research on employer priorities, this is the first time I've seen this big of a gap between the reality that workers and employers perceive," said Ben Eubanks, chief research officer at Lighthouse Research & Advisory, and primary author of the study.
Despite receiving an extremely low grade from the workforce and giving a relatively modest grade to themselves - an "F" and a "C" using academic grading scales - the research shows that employers are making an effort to address mental health challenges. Among employers surveyed, 58% said they made significant positive changes to their mental health and wellbeing support over the past 18 months.
Eubanks says looking at these datapoints in their entirety indicates that "employers are trying to implement solutions to support mental health needs for the workforce, but the reality is these efforts aren't being seen, felt, and received by many of the workers they are meant to support."
3 Strategies to Addressing Gaps in Workplace Care
Nearly half of the surveyed workforce indicated the presence of a relevant mental health program would make them more inclined to remain at their current job and recommend one to a friend.
"Senior leaders are realizing the enormous business value in doing right by their workforce and ensuring they have the mental health support they need," said Michael Held, CEO and founder of LifeSpeak.
It is more important than ever that business leaders align with their employees on what mental health benefits they desire most. When probing for the best methods to support mental health, the research found consensus on three strategies:
1. Access to qualified experts
Despite being part of their job description, most HR, training and benefits leaders are not certified mental health professionals. Workers have expressed that a critical component of perceived support is making experts available for education, guidance and advice on the topics they care about.
2. Leaders openly supporting mental health conversations
Fostering a strong culture of mental health support starts at the top. The most successful business leaders exhibit openness, honesty and authenticity, and the discussion surrounding mental health should be no exception.
3. Providing relevant training and education
Mental health training and education should consist of high-quality, carefully curated, and relevant content that enables employees to get support in a flexible manner. This can range across a variety of subjects, such as stress management, resilience, anxiety and depression.
Employees need a culture of acceptance and support surrounding mental health. There is a wide gap between offering a mental health benefit and creating a workplace that provides employees with the mental health support they most value. Business leaders must embrace mental health as an organizational priority and meet employee expectations to have a meaningful impact on workplace culture and business results.