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The Work-Life Issue

The Benefit of Benefits—Mental Health Improves When Employers Show They Care

Key Takeaways

  • Workplace benefits can support the mental health of employees.
  • To navigate the stress of the pandemic, staff may rely on workplace benefits even more than before COVID-19.
  • Workplace benefits that align well with the needs of individuals may entice staff and keep them in roles long-term.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in November 2021 4.5 million individuals quit their jobs, the highest figure recorded since December 2000.

As employers around the world attempt to manage what many are calling "the great resignation" alongside what may be termed "the great retirement," workplace benefits may provide an opportunity to retain staff.

While workplace benefits may traditionally refer to an insurance plan, firms are able to explore innovative options for how to meet staff's needs and strengthen employee mental health.

Employers Can Promote Staff Wellness

Romina Avila is a queer Mexican organizer who describes her current workplace as amazing. They say, "I have access to massages, physiotherapy, and such, and that has been so good for my general wellbeing."

Having not had such benefits at their earlier job, Avila is grateful for these options. "Days off for different reasons are such a relief, like having mental health days on top of sick days, or personal days for moving, etc. I don't use them all, but it is reassuring to know I have them if I need them," they say.

Avila explains that this employer even offers wellness subsidies, whereby they will cover up to a certain amount for gym memberships or other types of subscriptions towards promoting the wellbeing of their staff.

Peace of Mind for Employees

Deidra Thompson, DNP, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC, faculty member in Walden University’s Master of Science in Nursing program, says, "Employee benefits can support mental health. Benefits such as health insurance, short-term disability and a retirement plan can provide peace of mind."

Thompson explains, "One can feel secure in knowing that they are covered in the event of an emergency, life event, or unexpected illness. Some of these benefits extend to dependents such as spouses and children."

Knowing that one’s family is secure with benefits can relieve stress and the burden of unexpected costs, according to Thompson. "A retirement plan can help to secure financial stability at the time of retirement," she says.

Thompson highlights, "Worrying about finances can be a stressor that triggers anxiety and depressive symptoms. Employees also feel valued when they are provided with benefits. This feeling can improve job satisfaction."

Since employee assistance programs are provided by many employers for free, Thompson notes, "This benefit can prove beneficial in providing mental health treatment to individuals who need it. Providing this service can make employees feel that employers care about their well-being."

Thompson explains, "Health care professionals are on the front lines saving lives. Housekeeping staff are desperately needed to help prevent the spread of germs by disinfecting and sterilizing patient rooms and equipment. Administrative and support staff also play a big role in patient care."

Deidra Thompson, DNP, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC

Worrying about finances can be a stressor that triggers anxiety and depressive symptoms. Employees also feel valued when they are provided with benefits. This feeling can improve job satisfaction.

— Deidra Thompson, DNP, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC

The pandemic has caused many individuals to see the deeper meaning of their work, but the impact of the pandemic goes beyond healthcare.

"Each job, although different in more ways than one, has been essential in helping the world survive the pandemic," she says.

Thompson explains that a sense of meaning and purpose at work can promote mental health. "However, these demands during the pandemic placed a strain on many individuals, which led to symptoms of anxiety, depression and even posttraumatic stress disorder," she says.

Agency In How to Do One's Job

Benefits can extend beyond a health package or paid time off though, as it also includes agency in how to do one's job. A 37-year old woman in Ann Arbor, MI, who wishes to remain anonymous, says, "I wish my employer recognized that not all administrative roles in a clinical setting need to be on-site for 40 hours a week!"

She explains that she was required to be on-site for all her duties despite the pandemic, although many of these can be done remotely, like entering payroll for 80 employees, and writing policies and procedures, etc. 

It was particularly demoralizing for her that higher paid positions like program analysts and coders went fully remote due to COVID-19, but her position never did, nor did any in payroll, finance, contracting, etc.

And because she had been covering staffing shortages for a long period, she was already authorized to complete tasks like payroll, minutes, policies, etc. from home but only after already working eight hours in the hospital.

She notes, "We did a lot of the groundwork of actually sharing results before they were released for patients who were very ill. Everyone else in our department except for the administrative support received a $1,000-2,000 bonus for showing up to work on-site during the pandemic."

While she understands that actually physically handling COVID-19 specimens was obviously more stressful than just reporting the results, she highlights that does not mean that they did not do anything to contribute, which is why it felt disrespectful when her work was not recognized more.

On a positive note, Leslie, who is based in Canton, MI, says, "When I worked for Mercedes-Benz Financial, they had a small room reserved for meditation, quiet time, prayer, etc. It was mostly used by Muslim folks, but I used it a time or two for a quick meditation break when I needed to reset."

Making Employees Feel Valued at Work

Psychiatrist with Mindpath HealthRashmi Parmar, MD, says, "Employee benefits play a key role in making your employees feel valued in their job. It’s like letting them know that as an employer you understand your employee’s needs and want to reduce their overall burden."

Dr. Parmar explains, "Good job benefits like adequate paid time off, flexible schedules, disability program, loan assistance, health insurance, etc. can considerably reduce financial burden and overall stress on an employee."

Since benefits can often result in a better work-life balance, Dr. Parmar notes they can substantially improve the engagement level of staff on the job. "It can reduce rates of burnout in employees, all of which effectively translates into higher productivity and happy employees," she says.

Dr. Parmar explains, "Burnout often manifests as mental exhaustion, depression, anxiety symptoms, reduced productivity, increased absences at work and negativity towards a job. Burnout can significantly affect employee retention and overall success of the employer’s business."

Given how important it can be to manage the risk of burnout, Dr. Parmar highlights, "Good benefits are also key in attracting future employees and increases the overall reputation of a company in the market."

Rashmi Parmar, MD

Several employers have realized the importance and impact of burnout now more than ever. Many have made positive workplace policy changes to support their employees and make them feel heard.

— Rashmi Parmar, MD

Dr. Parmar explains, "In the past 2 years, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the equation of how we perceive our lives; it has compelled many of us to change our outlook and adopt a healthier lifestyle."

Despite this, Dr. Parmar notes that it has also brought on uncertainty, fear, loss, sadness, social isolation, anxiety and chaos. "When you combine these outcomes with the already existing work related burnout, people are being pushed to their extreme capacity of stress tolerance," she says.

Dr. Parmar highlights, "Several employers have realized the importance and impact of burnout now more than ever. Many have made positive workplace policy changes to support their employees and make them feel heard."

Having encountered patients, family, and friends all reporting burnout over the past couple of years, Dr. Parmar notes, "This problem is not going to have a solution anytime soon and therefore it is very critical that we start taking measures now to improve our wellbeing and recovery."

Dr. Parmar explains, "We should be making active changes in our lifestyle, whether at home or at our jobs, to combat the stress we experience in our lives. It will require us to live a balanced lifestyle with a well-structured routine, carved out time for relaxation, regular exercise, timely meals, etc."

Practicing some kind of activity related to relaxation on a regular basis may also help to lower stress, according to Dr. Parmar. "Maintaining a positive and optimistic attitude despite ongoing problems while working towards their solution will go a long way in building resilience," she says. 

What This Means For You

As feedback from both employees and mental health experts demonstrate, workplace benefits can support mental health. Companies are exploring new approaches to manage turnover and value talent, as it can make a difference for job satisfaction.

1 Source
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  1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Number of quits at all-time high in November 2021.