The last year turned everything upside down, and we’re not quite done yet. Even though signs of hope are increasing, employees living with sky-high levels of stress and mental health challenges are struggling to cope every day. This is showing up in the workplace in lower productivity, flagging employee engagement and more. For many companies, HR is on the front lines, and it’s time to make strides in support for employees and demonstrating employer empathy for talent retention and business continuity.
It can be challenging, though, to know where to start. Yet support for employees is key to better mental health and well-being. Here’s how expanding access to mental health coverage and support builds employee mental resilience during and after this period.
Employees are stressed
First, it’s clear that we’ve just gone through a period of unprecedented stress. While levels of workplace stress and mental health challenges were rising before COVID, the difficulties and uncertainty of the last year magnified them. According to research, two-thirds of adults  reported being more stressed than before the pandemic as early as April 2020, just weeks into our work-from-home reality. Data released late in the year showed a 50% rise in the risk of depression and a 60% drop in focus among employees over the winter, across all ages in the workplace.  Ongoing shocks to our systems became the norm.
There are many different ways that employees cope with stress. Over the last year, high levels of stress and anxiety, feelings of isolation and work-from-home fatigue have led to increases in unhealthy coping mechanisms. These can manifest as physical symptoms, like difficulty sleeping, or tension in work and personal relationships. Poor coping mechanisms can spill over into the workplace, damaging productivity, workplace collaboration and even customer relationships.
Certainly, better days are ahead. While this period will end, it can bring employers and advisers around to understanding the importance of effective support for employees—and how it can contribute to building greater mental resilience. This will serve employees and businesses well now and in the future. In addition to protecting productivity, the right support for employees can also aid in helping employers meet priorities for talent retention during and after this time.
What is mental resilience?
According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is defined as a person’s ability to adapt to adversity, trauma, tragedy, or significant stress.  Building more mental resilience can help people handle difficulty and shift from unhealthy to healthier coping mechanisms. Few people, though, know how to make these changes without the right tools and support. This is where providing access to effective support for employees can help.
Benefits can fall short
We already know that millions of workers have struggled over the last year. Unique circumstances like the rapid shift to working from home have made these struggles more difficult for employers to detect. Challenges like coverage gaps, the isolation of social distancing and high provider demand have made it more difficult for employees to access the mental health care and support they need.
Effective support for employees to build mental resilience has been elusive. Even before COVID, nearly 60% of employees struggling with mental health challenges noted their employers didn’t provide helpful mental health options.  And, even when employees have benefits, primary care plans may have coverage gaps when it comes to mental health support. Employer assistance programs (EAPs) are often underutilized and can be complicated and difficult to navigate. What’s more, during the pandemic, EAPs fell short in providing the support many employees needed. EAPs can be targeted to niche scenarios—and don’t provide access to a spectrum of resources to support mental resilience, better mental health and overall employee well-being.
By learning the lessons of this period, forward-thinking employers that prioritize talent retention can address some of these gaps in primary care plans and EAPs by enhancing mental health benefits with new solutions. They’re in good company: nearly half of employers expanded access to virtual mental health benefits in 2020.  Here’s what to look for in solutions to address current gaps and build more employee mental resilience.
Easy access to benefits
Stressed employees facing work-from-home fatigue need benefits they can access quickly and easily. Truly effective support connects them quickly to what they need, where and when they need it—via a personal mobile device. Because employees may not know what they need, care navigation matters. This is a feature of WellPak by ArmadaCare, our new fully insured indemnity health insurance plan. It includes embedded care navigation to provide better support for employees.
Advanced technology like chatbots and artificial intelligence may have a place in our world, but at this point, we’re starved for human connection. Access to resources that include one-to-one connection with coaches and counselors can help lessen the loneliness of work-from-home isolation. In addition, these benefits can feel more personalized. WellPak includes Connect & Thrive, an expert network of care resources including coaches, counselors and dedicated care concierge guides.
Full spectrum of support
Not everyone needs a therapist. Some employees need support for routine and in-the-moment needs, while others could use coaching to thrive in ways that ultimately enhance work performance. Access to a full spectrum of support for mental health and well-being can meet the needs of a diverse workforce—and contribute to building stronger mental resilience overall. This is what makes Connect & Thrive such a robust part of our WellPak plans.
Providing access to effective support for employees can help employers enhance talent retention, now and in the months and years to come. Ultimately, incorporating support to build mental resilience helps to foster a healthier workforce. This can help companies position themselves as employers of choice and ensure that their talent retention strategies retain an edge.
WellPak by ArmadaCare layers over the primary plan to provide all-in-one coverage and support for employee mental health and well-being, including access to a full spectrum care with Connect & Thrive. Learn more.
 MetLife US Employee Benefit Trends Study, 2020
 Mental Health Index, Total Brain 2021
 MetLife, 2020
 Willis Towers Watson, 2020