The ongoing effects of the pandemic underscore the serious need for companies to provide and promote mental health support for employees—and to proactively encourage engagement with those offerings.
For employers, the challenge becomes finding an individualized solution that provides effective outcomes. Effective solutions understand and meet each individual’s diverse and dynamic needs, yet also scale for an entire employee population. Connecting an employee with digital programming or an in-person or virtual therapist through an employer’s health benefit offerings is an important step—but realizing lasting mental health often goes beyond that.
Though this sounds like a complex problem to solve, the latest generation of health and wellness offerings enables employers to provide tailored solutions to their full workforce. These apps and programs often leverage big data analytics with high human touch to both identify and connect with employees.
Anticipating needs through data and customizing a value proposition are key elements in building a trusted relationship. Identifying who may need extra support in reaching their personal health goals makes wellness programs more efficient for employers and more effective for employees.
Rather than focusing on one health concern at a time, offerings that emphasize a whole-person health approach connect the dots between interrelated areas of a participant’s health. A whole-person approach leverages the biopsychosocial model, which links biomedical science with appreciation of an individual’s feelings and insights as well as recognizing the social and environmental reactions that shape health. The overarching objective is to reach the right people with the right support at the right time.
Here are three important ways employers can take advantage of technology to provide better, more purposeful support for the mental well-being of their employees in 2022.
Leverage data analytics and technology. Advances in data technology and machine learning offer employers the opportunity to gain a more complete analysis of their employees’ health behaviors—even ones that employees may not be able to articulate themselves. Data can underscore key indicators and predictors for individuals who may be struggling with health issues across both physical and mental health, beyond the siloed disease-state information that informs most wellness programs.
Leveraging data analytics, such as stacking multiple data models and applying machine learning to stratify an employee population, helps determine who would most likely engage and benefit from lifestyle and medication guidance. In some cases, individuals with chronic conditions, patterns of medication use or certain utilization behaviors are recognized and contacted with specific opportunities.
These data techniques have also revealed individuals who, on the surface, appear among the lowest-risk or without chronic conditions, yet may display utilization of the health system, and therefore may benefit from service offerings.
We must not lose sight of the appropriate and responsible balance between access and use of information along with respecting privacy. The key to leveraging data is determining how much of this information is necessary to form insights and improve efficiency. Data is great for forming predictions, but only through human interaction with an individual can a prediction be validated and the direction of service best determined.
Utilize personalized solutions. At the core of healthcare is the human connection. Today, wellness solutions must shift to address individual health needs. Approaching employee wellness with a manualized, one-size-fits-all solution is simply less effective at achieving outcomes, and is not an efficient use of healthcare benefit resources.
Effective solutions for employers must begin with addressing the needs of their employees. The self-determination theory outlines key wellness ingredients for individuals: autonomy, competence and relatedness.
First, an individual feels well and in control when confident and empowered to manage their health successfully. Second, an individual needs the knowledge and skills to make healthy choices and execute plans to achieve healthy outcomes. Lastly, an individual needs to feel supported, connected and safe through healthy relationships. These elements of health are not automatic for many people and require time, energy, and often, assistance. That’s where technology can play a key role.
Technology gives us the vehicles to engage on a deeper level with people who might not otherwise be able to access personalized and responsive care. The proliferation of telehealth technology makes personal connections available to those who might not be in geographic proximity to a specialist, or able to travel to a therapist’s office. Saving time away from work or family, improves capacity and allows for more frequent service, which may lead to meaningful outcomes.
A whole-person approach—considering medications, nutrition, fitness and other factors impacting wellness, like sleep and mental health—is key.
As the telehealth sector evolves rapidly into a normal part of mainstream care, it’s responsible to ensure that human connection remains at the center of a technology-enabled platform. In order for employers to implement meaningful health and wellness benefits, those offerings must be easy to access and use—fitting into employees’ lives—and meaningful enough to keep participants engaged long-term.
Employers should look for a partner that can deliver a solution employees want to engage with and can keep them engaged; and a partner that appreciates the diverse needs individuals have, can deliver metrics that measure success meaningfully and can do so without adding costs to their bottom line. Employers should ask whether their benefits partners can deliver on the ultimate goal—helping their workforce be healthier and happier—and provide data demonstrating their impact to that end.
Prioritize mental health. The Covid-19 pandemic, social and racial tension, employment and financial hardships, and restrictions to medical care have negatively impacted most people’s lives. The past two years have brought tremendous stress, often felt through a broader sense of burnout, emotional exhaustion or feeling a lack of control.
Telehealth and remote care have become a natural and accepted option within our health system to address mental health concerns. Yet mental health platforms are only as successful as their ability to support the individuals who use them. A recent study, MOBE’s 2021 Workplace Wellness Index, confirmed that 44% of respondents with mental health concerns did not visit or call a mental health specialist during the past year, despite most (77%) reporting access to a mental health benefit through their employers.
As we enter year three of the pandemic, we need to prioritize investment across the biopsychosocial spectrum of health and recognize key wellness ingredients. Workers need benefits options that address a wide range of individual needs in a personalized way. The basics—elements of quality sleep, sufficient movement, nutrition, and emotional health—remain complex challenges. Connecting people with personalized, one-to-one support can make a significant difference in helping people meet their individual health goals, which also supports a healthier, more productive workforce.