05/ 24/ 2023

Beyond Mental Health Apps: A Whole-Person Approach To Employee Mental Wellness 

photo of a stressed woman at work

 What is the “Whole Person” Approach to Mental Wellness and Why Does it Matter

Mental health is an important part of overall wellness and employers are increasingly recognizing the need for mental health support in the workplace. Taking a whole-person approach to mental health care is a holistic one that focuses on the individual as a whole, rather than focusing on just their mental health. This approach takes into account the physical, emotional, social, financial, and environmental aspects of an individual’s life and is based on the idea that we are all interdependent and interconnected and that our overall health and well-being are dependent upon each other. While mental wellness apps and coaching are one component of mental health support, to comprehensively address this need and ensure that employees are healthy and productive, employers must also offer options for employees to stay active and eat better with a mind/body focus accessible to their unique lifestyles and root stressors. Our recent Wellness Benefits Trends Report highlighted that employees are increasingly conscious of the mind/body connection between how they care for their bodies and their mental and emotional state and quality of life. 

This article will address how companies can take a whole-person approach to employee benefits, and ensure that their employees are healthy and productive, ultimately reducing healthcare costs in the long run.

Understanding the Root Stressors of Employee Lives and How to Identify Them

With the ever-changing demands of modern life, stress in the workplace has become an increasingly common issue for employees. Stress can come from a variety of sources, such as work deadlines, time management, physical injuries or illness, caregiving, financial worries, or personal relationships to name just a few. As an HR leader, it is important to recognize these stressors and understand how they affect employee lives in order to create a healthier work environment. By understanding this, employers can create better strategies for managing and reducing workplace stress and ultimately provide solutions to support mental wellness. This includes providing better support systems for employees, as well as developing policies, procedures, and benefits that can help alleviate some of the pressures that employees face on a daily basis. Gender-neutral parental leave policies, flex time options for employees with disabilities or chronic illnesses, and financial assistance for education or career development are just a few examples of employee benefits that can help create an inclusive workplace. Additionally, creating a holistic corporate wellness program that includes not just mental health apps but also access to health and wellness activities and resources such as nutrition counseling, stress management, preventive care, fitness classes, and personal coaching allows employees to utilize the right benefits for their needs. Identifying these root stressors can also help employers develop better communication strategies with their teams to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to expectations and goals.

What are Some Common Root Stressors in Employees’ Lives?

CAREGIVING/ PARENTING AND FERTILITY

According to the Child Caregiving Alliance, studies consistently report higher levels of depressive symptoms and mental health problems among caregivers than among their non-caregiving peers.  According to Harris Poll data, 42% of working mothers have been diagnosed with anxiety/depression, 33% say their mental health has declined in 2022, 40% don’t feel their mental health will return to pre-pandemic days, and 72% don’t feel supported at work. 

The potential emotional impact of new parent status includes issues such as postnatal depression and anxiety, which, despite misconceptions, can be experienced by fathers as well as mothers. The symptoms are often accompanied by other common health challenges like poor sleep which can exacerbate other difficulties. Employers can support new parents with benefits that allow individuals to practice healthy and productive routines – for example, offering flexible shifts and discouraging checking emails outside of work hours. These benefits not only allow employees to tackle parental responsibilities with less time pressure but also provide time to practice healthy habits like cooking nutritious meals, exercising, and engaging in proper sleep hygiene.

Not to be excluded are those employees undergoing fertility treatments or navigating complex family forming such as adoption and surrogacy. According to a study from Carrot Fertility, an astounding 89% said that fertility and family forming have negatively impacted their mental health and 59% shared that fertility and family forming have impacted their work performance. Not only does it make the pursuit of parenthood that much more overwhelming, but it can also trigger a flood of emotions — shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. These emotions, in turn, may eventually lead to varying degrees of depression and anxiety, both of which can have a cascading effect on work and family life.

There are many benefits solutions to address this that go beyond simply offering access to mental health benefits and should be considered as part of a holistic employee benefits strategy: 

  1. Parenting wellness resources, educational support, and coaching 
  2. Flexible and remote work arrangements
  3. Paid parental leave
  4. Child care benefits
  5. Lactation support
  6. Elder care benefits 
  7. Backup care 
  8. Pet care benefits 
  9. Cultivating a culture of self-care and wellness

INJURY

Physical injury and mental health are closely linked. A serious injury or chronic illness can cause mental health problems including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while poor mental health can negatively impact recovery rates of the physical injury or illness.

Being injured, and working through the recovery process, can be exhausting, frightening, and frustrating. It can also trigger feelings of isolation, depression, anger, fear, sadness, and shame. Recovering mentally can be equally, or more, difficult than recovering physically so it is important to remember that the two go hand in hand.

On the HealthKick platform in 2022, recovery services, including physical therapy, stretch, infrared sauna, and cryotherapy notably represented 24% of Thrive services utilized, reinforcing this mind-body connection.  Employees’ pursuit of holistic well-being has also given rise to the significant usage of health testing and digital health services. 

But even simply making lifestyle changes can help improve one’s mental health after an injury. 

  • Staying hydrated 
  • Practicing consistent self-care 
  • Asking for support from your loved ones 
  • Focusing on nutritious eating
  • Practicing meditation or mindfulness to help take control of any negative thoughts
  • Staying active however your body allows, whether it is going for a walk, lower-resistance cardio, body training opposite of the injury area (lower or upper body), or yoga/stretching for low-impact exercise.

Providing access to mind/body wellness tools while also cultivating a culture where employees can prioritize these habits will help decrease recovery time, lessen the mental blow that can come with injury, and ultimately keep employees productive and thriving at work.

FINANCIAL STRESS

Financial stress is the feeling of anxiety or worry that comes from a lack of financial security and can have a significant impact on individuals, both mentally and physically. It can be caused by a variety of factors such as debt, low income, unexpected expenses, lack of savings, or poor financial education. 

In the workplace, financial stress is a prevalent issue among US employees, and in a recent PwC Employee Financial Wellness Survey 34% of employees say that financial stress/money worries in the past year have had a severe or major impact on their mental health, followed by sleep, self-esteem, and physical health, with 49% saying it impacts their work performance, and 30% saying that it leads to absenteeism. Employers should understand the impact of financial stress on their employees and take steps to promote financial wellness programs to help alleviate this type of stress.

According to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute:

  • 46% of people with debt also have a mental health diagnosis
  • 86% of people with mental health issues and debt say that their debt makes their mental health issues worse
  • People with depression and debt are 4.2 times more likely to still have debt at 18 months compared to their counterparts without debt
  • Those with debt are three times more likely to contemplate suicide due to that debt

Enter financial wellness programs that are designed to help employees improve their financial health and reduce financial stress. These programs can include financial education, counseling, and resources to help employees manage their finances. 

With financial education and wellness built into your benefits program, employers can help lessen employee financial stress and holistically improve mental health. This not only benefits their employees but also their bottom line through improved employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

STRESS ON THE JOB

Job-related stresses include workload demands, lack of control over decisions, or feeling undervalued or unrecognized. Other common sources of employee burnout are long hours, tight deadlines, lack of resources or support from management, and poor communication among teams. Employers need to take proactive steps to reduce job stress and promote a culture of mental health awareness. This can be done by creating a supportive work environment, having open conversations about mental health, and providing access to resources for employees who may be struggling with their mental health. Additionally, employers should provide training on how to recognize signs of distress in employees, provide flexible work schedules and opportunities for career growth, and ensure that employees have access to adequate time off when needed. By taking these steps, employers can help reduce job stress and create an environment where employees feel supported in their mental health journey.

The Role of Exercise and Nutrition in Reducing Stress Levels 

HealthKick member data reveals that fitness and nutrition rank as employees’ top areas of focus for their personal well-being in 2023. Among HealthKick members surveyed, 49% cited fitness, and 22% identified nutrition as their top health & wellness priority for this year. 

Significantly, member data shows that engaging in fitness to reduce stress was a top motivator for employees to exercise in 2022. This not only signifies a mindset shift from a pre-pandemic focus on weight loss but also highlights the importance of physical activity as integral to supporting employees’ mental health. 

According to a survey by Garage Gym, 43% of Gen-Z respondents identified mental health as one of their top reasons for working out. As noted by one HealthKick member “I feel strongly that exercise improves our disposition, prevents depression, and generates energy.”

Exercise is a proven way to reduce stress levels and stay focused and productive, helping clear your mind, increase energy levels, and improve cognitive function. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress hormones in the body, improve mood and sleep quality, boost self-esteem, and help you stay focused on tasks. Additionally, physical activity can help you better manage time by allowing you to plan ahead for activities that can be done in short bursts of time throughout the day. Exercise can also be used as a tool for relaxation and mindfulness practices that are proven to decrease stress levels.

From a young age, we’re taught that eating well helps us look and feel our physical best. What we’re not always told is that good nutrition also significantly affects our mental health. A healthy, well-balanced diet can help us think clearly and feel more alert. It can also improve concentration and attention span. Conversely, an inadequate diet can lead to fatigue, impaired decision-making, and can slow down reaction time. In fact, a poor diet can actually aggravate, and may even lead to stress and depression. With the rise of remote and hybrid work setups changing the way people eat, with home cooking and at-home snacking becoming the norm, providing access to practical and accessible healthy food options, prepared food and meal kits can provide a convenient, hassle-free way for employees to nourish their body.

Enabling Employees to Prioritize Self-Care & Establish Healthy Habits

Many HealthKick members surveyed identified self-care as a top goal for 2023 – ahead of mental health. This signifies that employees perceive mental health as one aspect of their holistic well-being, part of a larger trend toward addressing the well-being of the whole person. Self-care is an important aspect of mental health, and in coping with anxiety and depression. It involves taking care of yourself both physically and emotionally and includes activities such as exercise, healthy eating, relaxation techniques, and spending time with family or friends. Additionally, it is important to establish healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, staying organized, setting boundaries for yourself and others, and taking breaks when needed. By taking these steps to prioritize self-care and establish healthy habits, you can help manage your mental health in a positive way. 

Taking A “Whole Person” Approach To Mental Health Care Is Essential For Benefits Strategies

In 2023, employers need to play an essential role in ensuring their employees feel cared for in all aspects of their lives. This means empowering employees to explore new, holistic ways to care for their whole selves and providing resources to do so. By understanding the diverse needs of each employee, employers can create targeted plans that are tailored to their individual needs and provide long-term support. Additionally, employers should ensure that they are providing access to mental health services and resources that employees can use to manage their mental health, such as counseling, therapy, and stress management techniques. With a comprehensive whole-person approach to mental wellness, employers can create supportive environments for their employees and foster positive work cultures while also seeing a return on investment (ROI) through improved productivity, reduced absenteeism, and higher employee engagement. 

Learn how HealthKick takes a whole-person approach to employee wellness with services such as physical and spiritual well-being, nutrition, finance, stress management, parenting, preventative care, lifestyle coaching, and more to empower healthy lifestyles for the long term. Click here to book a demo with our employee wellness team! 

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