From Burnout to Balance: Transforming Mental Health Support with Flexible Benefits


Between responsibilities at home, feeling overworked, and worldly factors, mental health is a prevalent problem for today's workers. In fact, 51% of employees say they've experienced a mental health issue in the last year. Among the common triggers are stress, burnout, and financial stress (48% of employees cite financial stress as a cause of lower mental health). 

Employers are looking for ways to offer their employees more mental health support. One way is by providing flexible benefits that support a healthy work-life balance and reduce the impact of mental health stressors.

Mental health in the workplace

While the emphasis on mental health has increased over the last few years, it also has become more widely accepted to talk about in the workplace. Before the pandemic, discussing mental health in the workplace was considered taboo. The pandemic helped de-stigmatize mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. 

As a result, employees are making their mental health needs more known at work, whether disclosing mental health conditions, asking to take mental health days, blocking off time for therapy, or bringing emotional support animals to work. Compared to three years ago, 65% of employees are more likely to talk about their mental health challenges, and 80% believe that people are more receptive to therapy than before the pandemic. 

However, there is still a disconnect regarding mental health—43% of employees don't feel that their employer talks about the importance of mental health, and 88% of HR professionals believe it's essential for senior leadership to openly discuss mental health issues. Yet, only half of them feel safe enough to reach out to someone at work when they are having a mental health crisis. 

Mental health support stems from empathy and care 

Many in leadership roles view mental health benefits as non-essential. It's up to HR to make the case for HR benefits. For mental health, ROI is less about tangible metrics and more about people-focused outcomes. Offering mental health benefits shows that a company prioritizes and cares about its people

Only 65% of employees say their organization cares for them, yet 88% of employers think caring for their employees is essential. In simple terms, employee care is when employers demonstrate an interest in their overall well-being—including mental health. Employees who feel cared for are more engaged, productive, and loyal than those who don't feel cared for. 

Employers—especially HR leaders—need to come from a place of empathy. In fact, 84% of HR leaders believe empathy is undervalued in today's workplace organizations. While holding them accountable, they must empathize with employees' decision fatigue, burnout, and mental health challenges. The key is creating a culture where employees feel supported and empowered.  

How employers can offer better mental health support 

There's a disconnect between the mental health benefits offered in the workplace and what employees say they need. These gaps result from differing expectations or a lack of awareness about the company's benefits offering. 

Moreover, the traditional way of providing mental health support through an employee assistance program (EAP) isn't cutting it anymore due to the demands of their workforce. Typically, employers will offer a set number of free counseling sessions through an EAP. Employees want a more comprehensive solution that goes beyond free counseling sessions. This can be providing therapy as a direct benefit or offering a way for employees to transition from EAP sessions to receive therapy with in-network providers. 

Additionally, employers can foster a culture of mental health support by equipping HR with clinically vetted information on mental health topics to share across the organization. They can also promote virtual classes or counseling sessions for employees as needed. 

Another way to increase mental health support is through flexible benefits. 

Flexible benefits for mental wellness

Flexible benefits demonstrate employee care, which translates into happier employees, promotes stability and optimism, and creates more reasons for workers to stay in their jobs. 

Employees who feel cared for are more likely to have non-traditional, flexible benefits. Expanded benefits are one way employers can show they care about employees at work and in their personal lives. 

Here are a few examples of flexible benefits and how they can facilitate mental wellness: 

  • Life planning accounts (LPAs). LPAs are a type of employee spending account that is used specifically for wellness benefits. Employers can customize them to meet the needs of their workforce. Typically, companies offer LPAs for benefits and programs like subsidized gym memberships, nutrition coaching, and more. 
  • Convertible PTO. With convertible PTO, employees can turn unused PTO into custom benefits that meet their needs. Employees can put their unused PTO toward financial wellness and social initiatives, such as charitable donations, HSA contributions, student loan repayments, and travel. 

Flexible benefits options like LPAs and convertible PTO can help employees focus on increasing their work-life balance and get the help they need, whether with financial wellness or mental health support. 

Support your employees' mental health 

Employees want to know they are cared for and feel supported, especially regarding their mental health. By offering flexible benefits, employers show their employees that they care for them as people and their overall well-being. Learn more about how PTO Exchange can help you provide flexible employee benefits.

Published on Sep 15, 2023 by Josh Reinhard

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