Former Manager, Healthcare, BSR
As employees gain some respite from the pandemic through the protection offered by vaccines, the mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic persist among American workers, particularly low-income and frontline workers. In our 2021 blog post on workers’ mental health and our corresponding Roadmap to Promote Mental Well-Being and Resilience, we note that mental health has been a rising concern in the US over the last decade. In fact, it has become such an important public health issue that its impact on the US population—especially in the context of equitable access to mental health services through employment—must be addressed.
BSR’s new report, “Tailoring Mental Health Efforts for Low-Income and Frontline Workers,” identifies concrete measures that employers can take to protect the mental health of essential workers.
“Mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health.”
Workers have experienced increasing levels of stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers often recognize that these challenges negatively impact productivity, absenteeism, and turnover. Despite this, many businesses are still at the stage of determining the mix of mental health offerings to meet the varying needs of an entire diverse workforce, including those of low-income and frontline workers. BSR’s Healthy Business Coalition, in partnership with One Mind at Work, has determined key aspects of an effective workforce mental health program that meets the needs of diverse groups and ensures health equity and inclusion.
The Role of Business
While many employers have begun to respond by deepening investments in workplace mental health and advancing culture change, their efforts are not universal, nor have they led to enough impact for frontline and low-income workers. 71 percent of employers with frontline employees rate themselves as supporting mental health well or very well, but only 27 percent of frontline employees agree.
Why Frontline and Low-Income Workers?
Businesses have made progress on addressing the mental health issues of the average employee. Even so, the needs of frontline and low-income workers are not like those of the average employee. Low-income and essential workers are more likely to experience depression and anxiety. They face time and resource constraints, and their job functions often result in increased stress levels. Essential workers often fear discriminatory treatment and job insecurity if they speak up. Given their circumstances, it is critical that low-income and frontline workers can access corporate mental health offerings.
Four Ways Employers Can Advance the Mental Well-Being and Resilience of Employees
1. Embed Mental Health into the Organizational Culture
- Develop a holistic mental health response to reach all employee populations.
- Examine how current ways of working can exacerbate risk factors for poor mental health.
- Approach mental health as a collective priority rather than placing responsibility for action on the individual.
- Build organization-wide policies and programs that tackle stigma and build empathy, such as mental health teams and formal accountability mechanisms.
2. Connect a Broad Continuum of Solutions Rather than a “One-Size-Fits-All” Approach
- Recognize that the mental health support resources offered to corporate executives may not meet the needs of low-income and frontline workers.
- Provide an array of approaches that match employee preferences, needs, and access points, such as providing services to those without access to a computer.
- Provide the flexibility for employees to engage based on their own preferences, schedules, and experiences.
3. Find and Integrate the Right Digital Tools
- Offer virtual behavior health services (known for being flexible and affordable) to low-income and frontline workers.
- Provide digital mental health tools to help address geographic, cultural, network, cost, and time constraints.
- Find what works specifically for your employees and embed those solutions into a broader mental health strategy.
4. Equip Leaders to Be Active Players
- Empower leaders at all levels with authority, resources, and training to shape an organizational culture that recognizes and supports mental health.
- Provide additional education to line managers on how to support low-income and frontline workers.
Opportunities for Business
The work environment is a major social determinant of health. Companies are directly impacted by the health of their workforce and are uniquely positioned to improve their mental well-being. We encourage companies to make mental health a business imperative and prioritize the mental health of their most marginalized and high-risk employees.
At the Healthy Business Coalition, we are interested in understanding your company’s primary concerns and challenges facing mental health in the workplace. We can work with you to review current practices and initiatives with the goal of sharing best practices and spurring collective action. We encourage you to reach out with any questions or to find out how to get involved.