benefitexpress April 28, 2021 12 min read

The Future of Benefits: Mental Health and Wellness

Benefits technology and mental health

Start with kindness.

It is always a good approach and never more so than now. We are all feeling uncertain or fragile or scared at least part of the time. And we bring all of that with us everywhere we go, including to work.

Often what’s needed to get past the tough spots and reset our feet is simply an interested listener providing calm advice. Access to employer or government-provided mental health and wellness services is how most employees find and connect with those resources.

Mental health directly impacts every other aspect of our overall wellness. Data shows clearly the impact of mental wellness on our ability to contribute to family, community, and our personal and professional missions.

That makes it critical that mental health care is not only included in employee benefit packages. 

As we continue on in our four-part series, The Future of Benefits, let’s examine why integrating mental health and wellness programs into holistic plans for care, communications, patient support, reimbursement and more is so important to our employees and our businesses.

Physical wellness plans ARE mental wellness plans

And vice versa.

Lack of exercise and the ability to handle life’s normal physical activities are clinically proven to have profound impact on many people’s mental health.

When employees no longer can separate personal and professional stress, personal and family challenges, anxiety, depression and other, mental health challenges, it can be hard or impossible to find the motivation to power even a modest exercise program or join an interest group.

They may be less likely to call a provider for advice or an appointment. Even following up if they do make an appointment can be a struggle.

If they are not struggling themselves, many employees looking for help for a family member will find it incredibly stressful just locating and understanding information about mental health options, limitations and payments.

Unfortunately, few HR professionals have the training or bandwidth to help employees navigate and understand the details of mental wellness plans. That limits their ability to help employees understand how mental health coverage meshes with other plan features and frameworks.

And many employees remain uncomfortable discussing mental and emotional wellness with people they work with and see every day. That includes asking questions about whether there are payment options or other financial assistance available.

For these and other reasons, employees often don’t take advantage of what is offered or make poorly-informed, sub-optimal choices about providers, treatment plans, and prices.

It costs them money and it costs employers money and everyone is making a lousy investment.

What needs to change?

To start, workers and their families need to feel confident in the competence and understanding of the individuals they interact with to obtain, manage, pay for, and maintain mental wellness.

Just that first step — feeling they are part of a team effort and being treated with kindness and respect — relieves a huge and central point of stress. And that helps them understand their options and explain those options to family members.

Furthermore, educational resources and teams must also be available to managers and supervisors, preparing them to be allies and helpers when they are called upon.

In addition to helping leadership recognize and assist employees who need help, make sure to emphasize the personal and business benefits of a mentally AND physically healthier workforce.


As we deal with the ongoing changes and challenges created by the pandemic, we will likely all need help at some point and we will all be needed as helpers. It truly is a community effort.

At benefitexpress, we launched a multi-faceted program we call #BEtterTogether to help employees deal with some of the stresses created by the pandemic and to support their efforts to contribute to their communities.

#BEtterTogether includes a charitable donation matching program to help them do more for the causes they care deeply about.

We’ve also listened to our employees as they’ve told us that they would value flexible time off that went beyond offering mental health days.

Every employee is given eight hours each calendar year to spend two hours at a time during working hours to volunteer at an organization of their choice. In addition, every employee can take 8 hours of paid time off per calendar year as a floating holiday to attend events that are important to them.

We continue looking for ways to add value to the #BEtterTogether program and to expand and improve our mental health benefits.

We believe the most important first step is to encourage employees to reach out for help and to tell you what they truly need.

Communications is key

As discussed earlier, mental health and wellness remains among the most difficult topic for employees to discuss at work. Employers should leverage their benefits technology platforms to create a safe space for employees to share their needs and concerns and to ask for mental health options their plans might not yet provide.

As benefitexpress, CHRO Korrie Bird notes, the pandemic revealed major flaws in the mental health and wellness benefits offerings available in the market. “As the scale and impact of COVID became clearer in 2019, we budgeted to make significant additions to our own plan. Unfortunately, what we found was that providers were offering only ‘one size fits all’ plans that simply didn’t check enough boxes in meeting our employees’ needs.”

Because the pandemic has affected our entire team and impacts each of us in a different way, ‘one size fits all’ simply wasn’t robust enough.

For example, few, if any, EAPs are designed to serve the number of employees seeking help. And when a person is in crisis, they simply can’t wait a week for a counseling appointment.

We are encouraging our clients to engage with providers and work with them to design flexible packages that go beyond traditional Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) offerings.

“In order to meet the needs of as many employees as possible,” Bird told us, “employers and providers should explore how they can affordably offer bundles of services that go beyond counseling and medication. Examples of offerings we’ve explored are meditation apps, massage and acupuncture therapy, stress-relieving exercise and activity programs, all based on employee input.”

Communication is caring

As we’ve highlighted in this post, open communication is critical for employees to feel comfortable and confident in employers’ mental health and wellness benefits.

That requires access to clear, personalized, and confidential information about what your plan covers, how to ask for help, and a way to share their concerns and make suggestions about what can be improved.

At benefitexpress, we are working every day to provide our clients with tools to help employees find and understand that information and access the help they and their families need to deal with stress today and to thrive going forward.

Up next: Alternative healthcare delivery and financing

Mental and emotional wellbeing are no longer viewed as separate from other medical challenges and restricted to a minority of employees. From now on, plan designs and benefit administration strategies must place mental health on par with other medical conditions.

As organizations reimagine how healthcare is delivered and paid for, employers and insurance plans will continue to explore innovative alternative payment and delivery models to further improve quality and cost-effectiveness, and to offer employees more flexibility.

We'll explore how the healthcare delivery model has shifted to offer employees and families flexibility in how they find, select, and pay for healthcare during this period of employment and benefits uncertainty.

Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. Then, get your next article delivered straight to your inbox. Click here to subscribe to our weekly newsletter.