From computing and AI to the climate crisis; from the evolution of the workplace to increasing economic challenges, change is everywhere. With the ever-growing demands of the modern world, stress pervades all aspects of life - at home and in the workplace.
Speaking at a panel discussion at the 2023 CHRO Executive Summit in Vancouver, Dr. Matthew Chow, Chief Mental Health Officer with TELUS Health, stressed “we cannot afford to let up on the mental health supports we provide to employees. It’s not just about the recent health crisis, it’s about the after-effects that we continue to see and the fact that society is changing rapidly.”
Paula Allen, Global Leader and Senior Vice President, Research and Client Insights for TELUS Health also participated in the discussion, which focused on the issues currently affecting the mental health of employees, and why a rethink in the approach to workplace wellness is needed.
Decline in mental health continues.
Even as the dust from a prolonged pandemic settles, there is a sense that things have shifted.
“Employees have been taking stock, soul searching about the nature of their work, their relationships and what’s really important to them,” Chow said. “We need to be honest about the fact that the world is different. There will be continuing pressure because we are living in an era of change.”
Allen added that employee mental health risks remain at high levels. The TELUS Mental Health Index - a monthly survey of 16,000 workers around the world - indicates that the decline in mental health of working individuals remains well below pre-pandemic levels. As of May 2023, 33% of workers surveyed have a high mental health risk (compared to 12% in 2019).
“When you consider what we’ve just been through, and you look ahead to the extent and speed of change that will come from accelerated use of AI, it’s understandable that people are feeling disrupted”, said Allen. “They need to feel valued - like they have a purpose.”
Traditional approaches to mental wellness fall short.
The impact of changing attitudes, economic pressures and an ever-evolving working world on employee mental health makes these challenging times for employers.
If left unaddressed, the fallout can be higher levels of employee burnout, increased absenteeism, a rise in substance use and more health and disability claims. Productivity can decrease. Finding and retaining a qualified workforce can become more difficult.
While the traditional employee assistance program (EAP) continues to play an essential role in employee health and wellbeing, it is designed to offer short-term, reactive support for personal and work-related situations. But the EAP doesn’t address the urgent need for robust, continuous support for mental health issues, which can be complex and differ from person to person.
Modern mental health care looks at the total person.
As employers gain a better understanding of mental health, they recognize that there are many different aspects to it. When it comes to mental health care, one size does not fit all. “Individuals can’t be compartmentalized,” said Chow. “A person’s anxiety may be driven by financial worries or stresses at home. So there are many pieces to look at beyond the mental illness.”
Each employee needs to be considered holistically with solutions that support the physical, mental and financial wellbeing of that person, such as Total Mental Health from TELUS Health.
Total Mental Health offers unlimited, highly personalized, 24/7 mental health support including access to continuous counselling with qualified mental health professionals.
Counselling is available by phone, text and video as well as in-person appointments, ensuring that employees can access mental health support that works with their schedule, and according to their personal preferences. Chow notes that while digitizing has many pluses, face-to-face interactions, such as video and in-person sessions, shouldn’t be abandoned. “We can’t assume that everybody wants care digitally,” he said. “If COVID taught us anything, it’s that we crave human interaction, empathy and relationships.”
To address specific challenges, Total Mental Health includes specialty care plans such as anxiety, depression, stress (or burnout) and grief. Employees also have access to legal and financial assistance and family services like child and elder care.
Care navigators support patients through their mental health journey by determining their individual needs, booking appointments with appropriate services and more. In Chow’s opinion, they are an essential part of a mental health plan. “The care navigator is a human being who appreciates what makes us tick, the things that scare and worry us,” he said. “The care navigator also knows the system and can guide us to our best possible selves.” Not only do they support patients; they support clinicians by giving them the space to focus directly on the patient’s mental health.
Leaders need guidance.
According to the May 2023 TELUS Mental Health Index, many managers have been faced with an employee mental health-related challenge, and have struggled through the situation without seeking help.
As the ones who see firsthand the impact that poor mental health can have on employees, it’s imperative that managers and supervisors be informed of the resources available and trained to develop the necessary skills to help those who may be in distress.
Training and supporting leaders not only helps them help their teams; it also sends a clear message that management is committed to improving the quality of life at work for everyone.
Employers are prioritizing mental health.
“As the needs of the Canadian population are growing and outpacing the ability of public care systems to keep up, it’s clear that a different approach to healthcare is needed,” says Allen.
“Fortunately, more and more employers are stepping up to fill in care gaps and help protect the health of their people.”
They’re building on their EAPs with the goal being to prioritize employee mental health. They’re looking for personalized, accessible solutions that can help workers proactively manage their health, so they can feel better and happier at work - and at home.
Total Mental Health is there with engaging, meaningful 24/7 care, unlimited professional clinical support with a human touch, and care navigators that can guide employees in all aspects of their mental health journey.
It’s the right step towards helping to build a strong, resilient workforce, which may also help create a healthier future for any business.