Senior Executive Lookahead: Mental health and wellness will affect labor force participation and invite regulatory oversight

This is the fifth installment of our Senior Executive Lookahead blog series.

We have been counting down the top five issues that should be on the radar of every human resource and business leader in 2022. Today we explore Issue Five: Mental health and wellness will affect labor force participation and invite regulatory oversight.

Now more than ever, employers are allocating more resources to address workplace mental health and wellness, especially in hybrid and remote-work environments. As with previous periods of economic dislocation, workers may drop out of the labor force entirely. This time, mental health and addiction are poised to drive disability claims and increase scrutiny of health care coverage.

Societal pressures, such as the evolving pandemic, equity and social justice causes, economic instability, and political polarization will continue to affect workers and workplaces. Business leaders and HR professionals are leading transformational change by investing in effective wellness strategies, creating supportive workplaces and engaging policymakers to maintain their comparative advantage.

The impetus for these efforts predates the pandemic. It is estimated that nearly 1 in 5 adults struggle with mental illnesses. The group Mental Health America found that more than half of individuals who live with mental illness do not receive treatment, and the National Alliance on Mental Health stated that mental illness is the leading cause of disability.

In the workplace, undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses result in increased absenteeism, lowered productivity and higher turnover. The pandemic exacerbated this issue, of course, and employers were forced to respond.

Businesses see the value in investing in the mental health of their employees. According to the 2020 SHRM Employee Benefits Survey, coverage for mental health, family planning and other specific health services rose among sweeping numbers of survey respondents. Employers also see a return on those investments. The National Safety Council and NORC at the University of Chicago found that employers saw a $4 return for every dollar invested in mental health treatment. Employees are also more likely to stay at an organization if they have mental health benefits.

We know that workplace culture is at its best when employees feel supported and have to access care. To that end, SHRM and the SHRM Foundation launched the Workplace Mental Health Ally Certificate program last September to help HR professionals destigmatize mental health issues and implement better workplace cultures.

Various executive departments under the Biden administration have stated a commitment to increasing access to mental health and substance abuse care services. Increased federal scrutiny of the mental health coverage employers provide is likely. The Department of Labor, in collaboration with the Department of Health & Human Services and Department of the Treasury, recently issued a report describing the enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 to be a top administration priority.

Of course, the job of mitigating our nation’s mental health crisis does not fall exclusively on the shoulders of employers. HR professionals and business leaders are engaging with policymakers to expand access to mental health services in collaboration with the employer community. For example, SHRM successfully advocated for policy changes surrounding telehealth in the recently adopted omnibus spending bill. These policy changes will make it easier for individuals in underserved communities to access mental health services that would not otherwise be available due to a lack of local providers.

Rather than being roadblocks, the five issues covered in this series represent opportunities for business leaders to boldly bring about the changes they want to see in the world of work. In close partnership with HR professionals, CEOs can implement innovative, agile, and flexible policies that lead to better workplaces and a better world.

As an advocate for the HR profession, you have a unique and valuable perspective on the changing world of work and how advocacy can make an impact with policymakers and in your workplace. Are you a member of SHRM’s Advocacy Team? Join today or text ATEAM to 52886.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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