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Employer Role in Addressing Mental Health

Among the many concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, employee mental health and well-being are near the top.

There’s been a higher percentage of people reporting mental health symptoms and mental health providers are struggling to meet this need across the United States. Vaccine rollout is well underway and there’s optimism that normalcy will resume in a matter of months, but the lingering mental health effects are still problematic.

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Advanced Recovery Systems, which operates a network of addiction treatment facilities across the country, surveyed 2,000 employed Americans about their mental health and use of drugs and alcohol in the past six months.

Note: Some questions asked respondents to select each option that applied, so in a few instances, the total percentage will be greater than 100.

A staggering 75% of these employees reported experiencing mental health symptoms, including 76% who cited feelings of anxiety and nervousness. Additionally, 66% reported feeling stressed, 64% reported depression or loneliness, 61% have had sleep issues, 41% have had problems with anger or agitation and 54% have been diagnosed with and/or treated for a mental health condition.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. workforce was already facing a mental health challenge. To wit, a reported 78% of employees said they miss work due to mental health concerns. Employers have responded by improving their awareness and investment in employee mental health because more than 80% of employees treated for mental illness reported improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction. Additionally, a Deloitte study found that companies implementing major mental health preventative programs received a 162% return on their investment over three years and a 218% return for programs lasting more than three years.

Advanced Recovery Systems’ survey found that employers are currently assisting their employees in a variety of ways:

  • 64% of survey participants said their employers offered some type of mental health resources.
  • 47% said their employer provided mental health resources as a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 55% reported using provided mental health resources.
  • 89% would be comfortable using the provided resources.
  • 60% said they would be comfortable talking to their boss or employer about a mental health challenge.
  • Almost 75% said their company’s culture supports their health and well-being.

The survey results indicate up to 32 million workers don’t have access to employer-offered mental health resources. Even though mental health symptoms were widely reported, 40% — up to 64 million workers — said they would not be comfortable sharing a mental health challenge with their boss or employer.

Closing the Gap for Frontline Workers
Workers across the board reported experiencing adverse mental health symptoms, but there were big differences when comparing the available resources and perceptions of individual contributors and managers and above. Employees that are managers or above were more sure of the resources available and more comfortable using them.

  • 70% of managers and above said their company offered mental health resources compared to 57% of individual contributors.
  • 22% of individual contributors were unsure if mental health resources were offered compared to just 9% of managers and executives.
  • Just 31% of individual contributors reported using the available resources compared to 70% of managers and above.
  • 83% of managers/executives knew their insurance covered those resources compared to 57% of individual contributors.
  • 32% of individual contributors were unsure if their insurance covered the available mental health resources compared to just 8% of managers who were unsure.
  • 69% of the manager/executive group reported they were comfortable speaking with their boss or employer about a mental health issue compared to 48% of individual contributors who said the same.
  • 67% of individual contributors agreed that their company culture supports their health and well-being vs 80% of managers and above.

These results suggest there’s much more to be done to support the mental health care needs of individual contributors with the potential for a huge positive impact. A Harvard Business Review analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics labor data found there were 111 million American workers who are not managers, supervisors and administrators in 2014.

“It’s possible that these frontline employees may not be aware of the full suite of options their companies are providing to support mental health and simply increasing communications can help close the gap,” Advanced Recovery Systems noted in its release. “Employers can also take a hard look at the available resources they’re offering at all levels of the organization and make sure they’re adequately investing in their frontline workforce. Given the larger share of the workforce these employees occupy versus management, employers have an opportunity to make a big impact on the health and productivity of the team members.”


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