Let’s start at the beginning. Employers are spending millions of dollars on mental health benefits, and that’s only increasing after this past year. 

A pre-pandemic survey found that large companies expected to spend an average of $3.6 million on well-being programs in 2019. PwC’s Health Research Institute projects employer healthcare spending may increase anywhere from 4-10% in 2021. One of the three main drivers of the increase is more mental health utilization.

50%

increase in the prevalence of behavioral health conditions could equate to an additional $100-140 billion in healthcare spending.

Source: McKinsey

But while the spending is well reported, the “why” is less discussed. What are companies hoping to achieve by increasing their investment in mental health-related benefits? We used that question as an opener in our survey to understand the motives behind real HR teams, asking: In a few words, what does your organization hope to accomplish by offering and promoting mental health benefits? 

Three main goals emerged from this open-ended question: wellbeing, productivity, and retention.

Wellbeing

Survey responses from HR:

Reduce the stigma of mental health, encouraging better outcomes among our staff, and encourage them to seek help as they would for any other ailment.”

Reduce employee burnout.”

Well-rounded physical and mental health benefits to improve total well-being.”

These sentiments are echoed by many leaders. Joel Gascoigne, CEO of Buffer, has famously spoken out about his struggles with mental health to normalize treatment. His company has a mental health employee resource group and Slack channel dedicated to mental health chats, where Gascoigne regularly tells the teams he’s headed out to therapy sessions. Courtney Seiter, former director of people at Buffer and mental health advocate, elaborates on what transparency about mental health can do.

“It’s hard to be the first to talk about mental health,” says Seiter. “To have someone like [the CEO] say he’s going to a therapist and what he’s working on paves the way for someone else to say something about what they’re going through.”

A survey respondent explained a similar viewpoint on what openness about mental health achieves:

An employee with a clear mind [who’s] able to talk about issues affecting them is a better employee and all-around person.”

Productivity

Survey responses from HR:

We want our people to be healthy and happy so they are able to perform and be happy on the job.”

Supporting the health and wellness of all employees leads to better performance and less time off.”

Mental wellness influences productivity. HR leaders understand this, and it’s one of their main objectives for bolstering benefits.

Ben Isgur, leader of PwC’s Health Research Institute, reaffirms this, telling Marketplace: “Employers are making mental health a priority because it really is in their interest to keep their people healthy and working productively.”

Retention

Survey responses from HR:

We want to retain quality employees and improve resilience.”

We just try to do everything needed to keep employees.”

Benefits aimed at mental wellness help keep staff on the payroll. Reports back this up, finding that 8 in 10 employees would leave a job for a company that focused more on mental health.