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From wellness to wellbeing: Why benefits plans need to evolve

Virtual consult on a laptop

Employers understand the need to invest in a healthy workforce, and employees increasingly look to employers to help them manage their overall wellbeing. When it comes to mental health, many employers have been taking a look at new ways to support plan members’ journeys to wellbeing.

Wellness or Wellbeing?

Most employee benefits plans are designed around helping members become well or stay well, but may stop short of supporting overall wellbeing. What’s the difference? We asked Dr. Diane McIntosh, Psychiatrist, and member of the TELUS team, who offered this definition: “It’s helpful to think of wellness as the absence of sickness whereas wellbeing is the presence of resilience.”

A focus on mental wellbeing also looks at building confidence, preventing illness and using proactive self care. This perspective also considers other factors such as financial wellbeing. With about one-third of people in Canada saying they were worse off financially in 2021 than in the prior year, supporting fiscal wellbeing should be on plan sponsors’ radar.

Other wellbeing areas of focus could also look at stressors such as family caregiving. In fact, Canada’s 8 million unpaid family caregivers, which include 35% of the workforce, are struggling with pandemic-related mental health declines. In addition to caregiver support, employers may also want to add legal services to their Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to help reduce the stress of buying a home, ending a marriage, dealing with wills and estates and other stressful situations.

Rethinking the EAP.

Employee Assistance Programs offer many ways to support wellbeing among plan members. Modern EAPs go well beyond simply directing employees and their families to a list of resources. These programs are staffed by trained social workers or counsellors who can assess the individual needs of each person and connect them directly to the specialized support they need.

These care advocates stay in touch with plan members to support their holistic wellness needs over time. For example, they can connect people to paramedical practitioners, such as dietitians or to financial or legal experts. Look for an EAP that also offers resources such as webinars, articles and fact sheets plan members can access directly.

Revisiting virtual care.

While the full mental health impacts of the pandemic will not be known for some time, one outcome is the rapid adoption of virtual healthcare services across Canada. Virtual access to physicians, therapists, pharmacists and other practitioners grew in popularity, with nearly three-quarters of Canadians reporting at least one virtual healthcare interaction between 2020 and 2021.

Virtual care is becoming a solid addition to Canada’s healthcare network. In fact, 90% of people who used virtual healthcare said they were satisfied with the visit, and about the same number found that it saved them time and money. When it comes to mental wellbeing, consider adding specialized virtual care tools such as a digital cognitive behavioural therapy solution. Studies show that up to 90% of patients show long-term symptom improvements using this approach to therapy.

Other benefits, such as virtual pharmacy services, can also support wellbeing by offering on-demand consultations with pharmacists to discuss medication, managing side effects, and lifestyle changes that can support mental and physical health. For caregivers and people taking multiple medications, look for a virtual pharmacy that can provide special packaging to support prescription adherence, along with the convenience of ordering online.

Supporting wellbeing for all.

In the face of rising claims for mental healthcare, a competitive labour market and new ways of working, plan sponsors should be reviewing their benefits offering to assess whether it is meeting the current and future needs of employees and their families.

To help you get started, download our new eBook: Employees’ mental wellness needs are evolving: Are your benefits evolving with them? This brief guide provides an overview of new ways to support wellness and profiles some Canadian employers that are taking a more strategic approach.