How to Encourage Staff to Take Advantage of Mental Health Benefits
Employer-provided mental health programs improve staff well-being on and off the job. However, these resources often go untapped by employees. An expert shares how cultivating a culture of support and education can encourage staff to use these benefits.
Last December, Employee Assistance Professionals Association CEO Julie Fabsik-Swarts, MS, CFRE, CAP, made the decision to close the EAPA office between Christmas and New Years.
“We’d been on overdrive,” Fabsik-Swarts said. “We recently had our annual conference, transitioned to a new website, and moved everything to a new database program.”
While giving staff time to recharge is one way to prioritize employee mental health, organizations should also focus on making sure that employees know about and are using their employer-provided mental health benefits. According to One Medical’s “The State of Workplace Health Report,” 64 percent of workers reported struggling with mental or behavioral health issues in 2022, but only 19 percent of employees used their mental health benefits.
“When employees use these benefits, we see an increase in productivity and a decrease in employee turnover and presenteeism,” Fabsik-Swarts said.
She shared how associations can encourage their staff to make use of mental health benefits by reminding employees of their availability, providing regular education, and having leaders and managers share their importance.
Onboarding and Onward
Fabsik-Swarts recommends educating new staff on the association’s available mental health benefits during onboarding. Taking a few minutes to review the benefits can have a big impact on employees.
“Don’t review the benefits as though you’re checking items off a list, talk about how employees can actively use these benefits,” she said. “Getting the message across will show employees that you embrace mental health as part of your culture.”
In addition to the onboarding process, associations should offer educational sessions on these benefits at least once or twice a year. The sessions serve as important reminders for new and seasoned employees about what the programs entail and how they can use them.
“Associations need to make sure staff have the information about these benefits and are encouraged to use them,” Fabsik-Swarts said.
A Culture of Caring
Another reason employees may not be using mental health benefits is if their personal health—both physical and mental—is getting pushed to the backburner.
In these situations, organizations can prioritize mental health by giving employees time off or encouraging them to take mental health days. The time away can help employees decompress or get the care they need. After the EAPA annual conference, for example, staff receive one day off for each weekend day they worked. Fabsik-Swarts also can choose to close the office as she sees fit without staff having to take vacation.
“Taking time off, especially after a large conference, isn’t up for debate because they’ll burn out,” she said. “Staff need time to relax, be with family, go on walks, whatever it takes to make the mental health conversation positive.”
Support From the Top
As organizations continue to emphasize mental health in the workplace, leaders should work to normalize seeking support for mental health.
“If you broke your leg, no one would think twice about taking time to recover, but people worry about how it will look if they take time off for a mental health crisis,” Fabsik-Swarts said.
She recommends managers have open conversations with employees about the importance of using mental health resources. If comfortable, leaders may consider sharing occasions when they’ve used employer-provided programs or sought outside help.
“Employees need to feel that these benefits are embraced by everyone in the organization,” Fabsik-Swarts said. “This openness sends a message from the top down that mental health is health, and that the organization wants employees to take care of themselves physically and emotionally.”