Measuring the success of mental health initiatives

‘We see a lot of folks saying, ‘Well I’m checking the box because I talk about it as being important.’ But they’re not necessarily measuring the impact to their business.’

Measuring the success of mental health initiatives
Only 24 per cent of employers say mental health and well-being measures are integrated into leadership decision-making, finds a survey.

Employers are talking a lot about prioritizing employees’ mental health. Unfortunately, they are not measuring the success of their programs on that end.

While 93 per cent of organizations say mental health is a key pillar in their wellness strategy, only 24 per cent assessed and measured the value employees got from their current benefits within the last year, according to data from Forrester, a research and advisory company in the U.S.

Also, while 83 per cent of firms say that senior leadership visibly advocates for the importance of mental health and well-being for their business, only 24 per cent say mental health and well-being measures are actually being integrated into leadership decision-making. At the same time, only 14 per cent of leaders and 10 per cent of managers self-assess how well employee mental health is supported by their company.

“You can’t monitor what you can’t measure. At the end of the day, that’s the key takeaway. And so if you’re investing in your employees, you need to understand what the returns are in that investment. And I think it’s really powerful to see just how expensive the impact of mental health is on your business,” says Arielle Trzcinski, principal analyst at Forrester.

“We still see a lot of folks saying, ‘Well I’m checking the box because I talk about it as being important’ or ‘I’ve directed my employees to free resources,’ for instance… But they’re not necessarily tying and measuring the impact to their business.”

Employer programs focused on improving employee wellbeing are good for business overall, according to a separate report. And one in five (18 per cent) Canadian employers have raised the maximums for their psychological service benefits since the pandemic began, according to a separate survey.

Barriers to mental health care

Without these measurements, employers cannot determine how mental health issues are affecting their business. And well over a year into the pandemic, employees still face barriers to access to mental health care, says Trzcinski.

Arielle Trzcinski

“Things like cost. Thinking about supply shortage, so geographic barriers where there just may not be a clinician that’s close by. You could be driving a hundred miles to go and find a clinician, and that is after you get an appointment, which has significant delays before you get an appointment. And so that does not work for everyone. What if you don’t have a car? What if you can’t afford it?” she says.

“There’s all these… systemic or infrastructure barriers, but there’s also significant stigma. So let’s say that there’s one clinician or psychiatrist in town. Maybe you don’t want your car sitting in the parking lot and have people know that you’ve gone to seek help. So there’s a lot of stigma still around mental health.”

Start with culture and training

To address mental health issues, employers need to commit to multiple efforts. And it starts with a culture change, says Trzcinski.

“So how do we change the culture? Culture is going to come from creating a more open conversation around reducing the stigma around mental health as an employer. So how do we make workers comfortable in conversation and sharing if they need help for instance? So that starts, in many ways, with executive sponsorship. Executives coming and saying ‘It’s been a hard year for me’ for instance. And ‘I dealt with anxiety last year and I needed professional help, here’s what I did’. And sharing stories,” she says.

“There’s a sense of executive vulnerability that is really powerful in helping employees recognize that it’s OK to not be OK.”

Workers are becoming more reluctant to speak up to their colleagues and managers about significant subjects relating to work, judging by a recent survey.

Training is also key, says Trzcinski.

“There also has to be a sense of training that has to be emphasized. So we think about managers and people managers. Typically, the average age of managers is roughly 30 years old. The first time that they get training is when they’re 42. And that’s just training to manage people, [without even considering] how do we identify signals of burnout?... So how do I ensure that [managers know] what signals to look for,” she says.

“We also need to make sure that we do training around how do we help folks have the right language… thinking about how do we ensure that people can have an open conversation about how they are feeling. Sometimes people need the right language to know what terms they can and can’t use.”

Ultimately, it’s about removing the barriers to access to mental health care, says Trzcinski.

“How do we meet employees where they are, whether through virtual mental health capabilities or even providing someone on site and in person. Perhaps employees can’t do virtual mental health at home because of internet issues, perhaps their home is not a safe space. [It’s about thinking] about how do we overcome those barriers and meet our employees where they are.”

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