Increased mental health-care coverage is here to stay for companies of all sizes. According to the Society of Human Resources Management's (SHRM's) 2022 Employee Benefits Survey, which features responses from 3,129 HR professionals, the number of companies offering employee mental health-care benefits in 2022 is up to 91% from 85% in 2021 and 2020.
But how can small-business owners, whose companies often have less financial resources, make meaningful investments in mental health-care benefits?
The answer is a combination of two essential actions: expanding what you consider to be mental health care and taking open and honest action. These tips can help your company build a tailored and competitive mental health-care benefits package.
One of the often overlooked affordable and tailored mental health benefit options is contracting with a small group practice in your area.
—Dr. Janelle S. Peifer, clinical psychologist
1. Start with company culture.
Despite the number of companies offering mental health-care benefits, there remains a stigma surrounding mental health care. When you make mental health care a part of your company’s benefits package, you’re starting a conversation that can change your company culture and societal acceptance of mental wellness.
These two actions can help you begin to transform your company’s mental health-care culture from the inside out:
Create anonymous feedback mechanisms.
A 2021 AllVoices survey of 817 individuals from the U.S. who are employed full time showed that 74% would give employers more honest feedback if it were truly anonymous. You can use free online tools to start inviting feedback at no cost to you and no risk to your team.
Implement and honor an open-door policy.
Forty-one percent of people in the AllVoices survey said they’ve left a job because they didn't feel listened to. After you receive that anonymous feedback, boost morale by creating a system to report your actions on suggestions and frustrations back to your team. If you use regular team meetings to report results, you could find that team members are happy to help crowdsource solutions, too.
2. Ask direct questions.
As a small-business owner, you have a unique advantage over larger companies: a smaller employee roster. By asking employees about the benefits that would most improve their mental health, you’ll likely some high-demand items aren't necessarily what you’d normally consider mental health care.
For example, if you have multiple working parents on your team, they might appreciate help with childcare. On the other hand, if your team is mostly college students, they might appreciate a flexible PTO policy – especially around exam time. To start gathering mental health-care-specific benefits feedback, you can:
Create an anonymous poll about your existing health-care plan.
Ask questions about how much employees value your current coverage. These responses give you fuel to potentially reduce coverage to exclude unused services or even change carriers to expand coverage next enrollment period.
Create an anonymous “sleep better at night” survey.
Build a survey filled with open-ended questions that let employees share their top stress-makers. Whatever their responses, you have fuel to add meaningful benefits to help alleviate employee stress and improve wellness, job satisfaction, and retention rates.
3. Rethink your PTO policy.
Small businesses often practice lean staffing principles to reduce costs. So when an employee is out for any reason, you have limited opportunities to backfill a shift. However, lean staffing and PTO policies that boost employee mental wellness don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Consider these steps to overhaul your current PTO policies:
Eliminate sick days.
A sick day policy tells your employees they must be physically unwell to take a day off. Consider shifting to a policy where you offer a certain number of PTO days per year that employees can use for any reason.
Implement a flexible PTO policy.
Employees are used to having to accrue days off, but consider a flexible PTO policy from day one. By offering a pool of days to all employees to use at any time without an accrual hurdle, you can let employees know they’re all equally valued and that certain employees aren’t more valuable than others.
4. Consider mental health-care apps and group solutions.
Could apps truly transform your mental health-care benefits package? On their own, likely not, but combined with other efforts on this list, perhaps. Wanda Tompkins, director of operations at Theara – a company focused on helping neurodiverse adults better engage with one another and their environments – encourages companies to explore the potential benefits of tech for employee mental wellness.
You can offer premium subscriptions to popular wellness apps at a low annual cost, and employees get the benefit of private moments to focus on their wellbeing. Some popular apps with small-business solutions include:
- Calm for Business. The app offers a wide range of guided meditations, masterclasses, and sleep stories.
- Talkspace for Business. This chat-based app lets employees text with a mental health-care professional.
- Twill for Business. This tool integrates with your existing health-care plan to offer added benefits like guiding employees to the mental health-care solutions they need.
You could also offer access to virtual support groups that give employees access to therapist-led group counseling sessions. Dr. Patrick Rowley, a licensed counselor at Sesh, which offers group support for individuals and businesses, says the company’s research found that “50% of employee users reported improved productivity, and 100% reported improved attitude and outlook after attending a mental health support session.”
5. Seek local solutions.
Your local community can also help your small business connect employees with licensed therapists – and at no cost to you.
“One of the often overlooked affordable and tailored mental health benefit options is contracting with a small group practice in your area,” she says. “Small-business owners are able to negotiate individual contracts for their employees to get a set number of sessions, often at a fraction of the cost of a larger insurance plan.” Peifer says that you can set up similar plans at two separate practices so employees have more choices where to go for care.
Beyond counseling, think back to the specific stressors your employees shares in your “sleep better at night” surveys. Peifer’s local business solutions can apply to multiple local business types, like childcare facilities, family fun centers, and more – it’s all about what helps your employee sleep better and enjoy their waking hours even more.
6. Lead by example.
Finally, as small-business owners, you can – at no cost – take meaningful action to improve companywide mental wellness by leading by example. A few small actions on your part can reinforce the importance your company places on mental wellness.
Skip the weekend emails.
When you stop sending those emails, employees can stop stressing about missing an important message from you.
Leave for lunch.
If you leave your desk for lunch, your employees see that they can leave their desks, too. You can even consider weekly group lunch outings to encourage the “no lunch at your desk” policy.
Be gracious about personal calls.
Everyone’s kids, spouse, or parent happens to ring in occasionally during the workday. When this happens to you while in a conversation with an employee, try saying, “This is my spouse. I’ll be back with you in a moment,” and take the call. Showing who you value lets your team know it’s okay to openly make time for those they value, too.
Reinforce the importance of a good night’s sleep.
Whether through a “no meetings before noon” policy or letting employees enjoy flexible start times during a specified hour range (say 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.), it’s easy to remind folks that great sleep and great work go hand in hand.
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