ST. PAUL, Minn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Fully 73% of Generation Z employees and 74% of Millennial employees have utilized mental health benefits offered by their employers, while 58% of Generation X employees and 49% of Baby Boomer employees have used the benefits.
Additionally, while 65% of Generation Z and 60% of Millennial workers say it’s “very important” for their employers to provide mental wellness benefits, just 49% of Generation X and 45% of Baby Boomer workers say the same.
These are only two of the key findings from a study exploring barriers and perceived stigmas that prevent employees from seeking and using workplace mental wellness benefits.
Securian Financial, a leading provider of group life and supplemental health insurance benefits, conducted a survey of 2,500 employees of American organizations between August 30 and September 9, 2022. Survey respondents reflect the age distribution of the current workforce1 and the mix of ethnicities in the general population.
“Addressing mental wellness in the workplace has never been more crucial. With burnout and the Great Resignation still in our midst, better understanding employee needs, expectations and concerns around mental wellness is pivotal,” said Darin Reeser, a Securian Financial regional director for supplemental health benefits.
#1: Generations view mental health differently
The study found that the four generations in today’s workforce approach the topic of mental health from different perspectives and experiences.
- Generation Z, the youngest generation still early in their careers or just entering the workforce, expect access to mental health services and any historical barriers to access to be fixed already. Leveraging mental wellness resources is normalized for this generation.
“I found out about [mental wellness benefits] through the interview when [the employer] mentioned it to me, and the offering was very positive, which made it very intriguing and made the decision to try it way easier,” said a Generation Z survey participant.
- Millennials were raised to believe mental health challenges are problematic but fixable. They’re inclined to have the attitude of rolling up their sleeves and getting to work.
“I think having or using mental health resources should be allowed on all fronts. Different people require different methods. An online or offline method [through work] should be available to anyone depending on their need,” said a Millennial survey participant.
- Generation X recognizes access to mental health services can be problematic but just tries to get through it.
“There are only about five elderly [mental wellness] counselors [available to me through work]. There needs to be a better choice in providers,” said a Generation X survey participant.
- Baby Boomers, the oldest generation with representation still in the workforce, were taught to tough it out and not talk about mental health challenges.
“I was raised in a family where we don’t share what we are thinking, and we just move on. It’s a hard concept to change in your later years,” said a Baby Boomer survey participant.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR EMPLOYERS: “Mental wellness benefits are crucial for every generation. But because these benefits are expected from Gen Z and Millennials, employers should recognize that to attract and retain young talent, they must provide easily accessible mental wellness resources,” said Reeser.
#2: The most common and most used mental wellness benefits
The top five mental wellness benefits those surveyed said they have through work include...
- Mental health coverage through medical insurance: 70%
- Set number of free counseling sessions (Employee Assistance Program or EAP): 57%
- Virtual counseling: 49%
- In-person counseling (outside work): 41%
- Grief support: 41%
The top five mental wellness benefits utilized by those surveyed, if they have them, are…
- Mental health days off: 54%
- Subscriptions to meditation/mindfulness classes or apps: 39%
- Workshops or seminars that focus on mental wellness: 35%
- Mental health coverage through medical insurance: 34%
- Financial planning seminars or counseling: 34%
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR EMPLOYERS: “Employers should explore which mental wellness benefits are expected from their employees and consider expanding the variety of benefits if there is a disconnect between what they offer and what employees want,” said Reeser. “Our survey found that while only a little more than one-third of employers offer mental health days off, many employees—particularly Gen Z employees—say it is the most important mental wellness benefit.”
#3: Financial and mental wellness are interconnected
Financial wellness affects mental wellness. Safety and security are at stake in both areas, so it’s no surprise one influences the other.
- 65% of all employees surveyed said their financial wellness has either an “extreme impact” (26%) on their mental wellness or a “large impact” (39%).
- 48% of Generation Z say their financial wellness has an “extreme impact” on their mental wellness.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR EMPLOYERS: “The impact on mental wellness is strongest when financial pressure is highest,” said Reeser. “On the flip side, employees report better mental health when their financial situations are manageable and they’re on track to meet long-term financial goals. This speaks to the importance of employers having a financial wellness program in place for employees. It’s a new era, and traditional benefits are no longer enough.”
Barries to using mental wellness benefits
Even if offered mental wellness benefits, many employees are apprehensive to use them. Securian Financial’s study found common barriers among the 38% of those surveyed who said they have not used any of their workplace mental wellness benefits.
Barrier #1: Benefits are undervalued
- 67% of employees say they haven’t used any mental wellness benefits because they feel they don’t have serious enough issues to use the services. Employees undervalue the versatility of the services provided and feel they are only for the most urgent needs.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR EMPLOYERS: “Communication about available resources must clearly emphasize the range of benefits offered for a variety of situations, from more serious struggles to proactive measures employees can take to prevent future challenges,” said Reeser. “Instead of emails from HR or the company intranet site—the most common ways information on mental wellness benefits are communicated to employees—our survey found that hearing about the benefits from front-line managers and co-workers is far more effective.”
Barrier #2: Confidentiality questioned
Misconceptions that employers know when an employee uses mental wellness services and corresponding concerns about professional backlash prevent utilization of benefits.
- Worries about confidentiality are the second most common reason employees don’t use mental wellness benefits, cited by 13% of all employees who haven’t used the benefits.
- 21% of Generation Z employees who haven’t used mental wellness benefits cite concerns about confidentiality.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR EMPLOYERS: “Employers must prioritize confidentiality when promoting mental wellness benefits. Emphasize to employees that their use of the benefits is anonymous and safeguarded. This is essential to making some employees feel comfortable enough to use the benefits,” said Reeser.
Barrier #3: Younger employees are overwhelmed
While open and eager to use mental wellness benefits, many Generation Z and Millennial employees are too overwhelmed to take advantage of them, especially when they’re needed the most. Burnout further dissuades them, as it causes a lack of time and energy to use the benefits.
- 21% of Generation Z and 20% of younger Millennial employees who haven’t used mental wellness benefits say they don’t have enough time in the day to use the benefits.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR EMPLOYERS: “Employers should reposition unused time off—which is more common in today’s hybrid and work-from-home environment—for mental health, which will give employees the space to use mental wellness benefits and normalize their use in the process,” said Reeser. “Employers should also consider ‘Lunch & Learn’ sessions during the workday to showcase these benefits and explain how to access them.”