Published July 2, 2021
8 minute read
Obviously, COVID-19 turned everyone’s attention towards physical health. However, it also shed new light on mental and emotional health that had previously been lacking, especially in workplace policies and practices.
Archetype Solutions Group recently co-hosted a roundtable discussion in conjunction with Informed Consulting with insurance carriers and mental health providers to explore how employers and providers can continue and expand their mental health support as workplaces reopen. Several recurring themes were present in this dialogue as to the best ways of capitalizing on tactics to create better outcomes for individuals and increase workplace productivity in the long term.
We have compiled these ideas into a list of things that carriers, employers, employees, and vendors should be focused on to improve mental health in the workplace.
Being more proactive with prevention
One leader at an insurance company shared that most EAPs only have 3-5% utilization maximums. This is ineffective when it comes to driving awareness and prevention prior to claims.
By the time that someone has made a disability claim, they are already in a state of ill health. Even then, it can still take a long time to get them in front of the best and most accurate type of clinician to help manage their mental health.
Long-term integration opportunities are offering a potential means of preemptive support. For example, if someone goes out on maternity leave then they can be provided with information and resources to deal with post-partum depression before that becomes an issue.
Moving away from broader-based PPM solutions to those that are priced through utilization
Since the traditional EAPs have not proven effective at engaging employees and providing them services they comfortably and consistently use, there is a need for a different strategy. Insurance companies are turning their attention towards pricing services based on how much they are used instead of based on the total number of members covered to better reflect the gap between the two.
Mental healthcare is cost-effective, but it’s hard to get employees to use it. Representatives and managers need to become better at articulating how resources can be applied. On a similar note, one vendor shared that many of their clients are asking for ongoing webinars that highlight the tools and uses of the services they provide so members can learn how to use them before they need them.
Gathering and reflecting on feedback and data to understand what tools really help
When it comes to collecting data, providers should always do what’s best for their patients and practice. For our conversation, providers talked about using net promoter scores. Net promoter scores are one of the more common means of evaluating how a solution impacted the user. However, an insurance leader shared that getting reliable results through these scores often takes too long and they have had a better understanding of how effective programs are through using clinical assessments. Publicly available tools like the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 are used to gauge mental health and indicate potential conditions. These can be taken quickly and easily by users to identify issues and measure progress.
Identifying at-risk populations
Many of the participants emphasized that it is necessary to look at mental health as a continuum. This means it fluctuates over time and it is important to be observant of changes but not over-analyze them.
It is crucial to be able to tell the difference between when employees’ mood are lower due to situational factors and when it becomes a clinical disorder.
Contributors emphasized the need to avoid pathologizing all variations in mental health while remaining vigilant of serious changes. This is another area that the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 assessments come in handy. Since they can be accessed online the user can take them in a few minutes without leaving their home. The results can then be connected to an app and analyzed by a health professional who can direct the user towards the proper resources or treatment.
Making sure employees know they can talk to someone
Loneliness is a predecessor to many mental health issues. An important aspect of combatting this and thus preventing costs down the line, is ensuring that employees know where to turn with their problems.
Part of this is fostering a workplace community where people feel comfortable discussing what is happening in their lives.
Participants shared that they are focusing on training managers to talk to their employees about their wellbeing and focus on how to best support them. And when that is not the case or when personal topics are too sensitive, it is all the more important to provide outside resources that employees trust and can confide in. A participant mentioned that frontline workers reported that if their employer frequently emphasis resources and outlets then they will be more likely to use them. One vendor mentioned that when an employee is facing housing or food insecurity but still has a job, then that is a really difficult thing to share with their employer. In cases like this, it is crucial that the individual has a third party that they can identify and get support from.
Navigating re-integration with these keys in mind
The COVID-19 pandemic had employees facing similar situations transitioning to full remote work. However, now people are returning to the office there is less predictability in what employees are going through.
The pandemic has made a lasting impact on the mental and behavioral health as well as overall lives of most workers. It is essential that employers realize this when planning for returning to the office and allow for individuals to have a say in their work environment.
There is a lack of social determinants of health data and because of this, employees need to have access to services for monitoring their quality of life and satisfaction. Changes to these are known to preclude worsening mental health so it is important employees feel comfortable talking to someone about them. This helps risk factors for mental health issues to be caught and the individuals to be pointed towards the appropriate resources before those factors significantly affect their life and work.
The overwhelming consensus from this discussion was that COVID-19 provided a valuable time for employers, vendors, and providers to rethink how they support individuals and transition from just treating mental health conditions to preventing them as well. Companies that try to revert to the same way of operating as pre-pandemic without those considerations are missing out on opportunities to better care for their employees.