Why Employee Mental Health Should Be Top of the Agenda (And How to Get It There if It Is Not)
The value of supporting a workforce emotionally cannot be understated; a happier, healthier, and stronger workforce translates into improved employee productivity, reduced absence levels, and higher retention rates. Yet, many businesses are failing to make the strategic investment needed to protect the mental health of their employees.
In the wake of a pandemic that has both manifested and exacerbated mental health problems on a global scale, employee wellbeing has rapidly risen up the priority list for organizations that want to protect their people amidst unprecedented change.
As businesses adjust to life beyond the pandemic, many will be re-evaluating their responsibility as an employer; discovering that protecting the psychological safety of workforces is not just a nice thing to do — it is central to building a healthy, agile and resilient workforce.
In this article, we explore why a culture of open communication is critical when it comes to addressing the mental health needs of your employees, and discover how Cardinal Health’s new Mind Matters initiative is helping them connect with their workforce and break down the stigma surrounding mental health.
With insights from:
Casey Fordyce — Director, Benefits, Cardinal Health
Bridget Neurer — Senior Vice President, Aon
An unfulfilled duty of care?
As a collective experience, the COVID-19 pandemic created instability that impacted the mental wellbeing of people in myriad ways. From isolation and insomnia to financial concerns and parental challenges, the psychological toll has been far-reaching and detrimental for many. In fact, emotional wellbeing issues now dominate the top health risks impacting company performance, as indicated in Aon’s 2021 global wellbeing survey:
The survey also discovered that in North America, stress and work life balance issues are more prevalent than in any other region. Yet despite this, 41% of organizations indicated that other business priorities must be addressed before emotional wellbeing issues are tackled. But with 1 in 5 people suffering from a diagnosable mental health issue, contributing to $1 trillion in losses to the global economy, businesses cannot afford to keep pushing this issue aside.
Breaking down the stigma of mental health
Where others are falling behind their duties as employers – risking both their people and profit in the process, Cardinal Health is on a quest to improve the effectiveness of their mental health program, recognizing the power of encouraging employees to seek help before problems escalate:
‘By fostering an open and supportive mental health culture, you give people permission to step up and give them the courage to talk about mental wellbeing.’ - Casey Fordyce — Director, Benefits, Cardinal Health
To break the stigma surrounding mental health, Cardinal Health combined awareness-raising activities, employee education, and directing people to the right support. By using a holistic approach to their training and communication on the topic, they have helped to improve the level of literacy on the issue, build empathy among peers and encourage open conversations surrounding mental health issues.
Almost 900 Cardinal Health managers have completed the Mental Health First Aid certification training.
This has created an entire culture that fosters communication, from leaders who have championed and financed mental health resources, to managers who now feel equipped to approach the topic and support their team’s emotional needs. Creating a culture of openness has ensured that employees who may have previously struggled to voice their concerns, now feel able to ask for and receive the critical support they need.
Using insight to drive more meaningful decisions
In an increasingly volatile and competitive world, businesses need data that can help them to drive more meaningful decisions. By understanding what is impacting employees’ mental health in their day-to-day lives, businesses can develop holistic wellbeing strategies and initiatives that proactively meet the unique and evolving needs of their workforce.
Even before the pandemic, Cardinal Health had been setting the bar when it came to prioritizing strategic investment in employee wellbeing. Recognizing the benefits for both employees and the organization, Cardinal Health took advantage of Aon’s consulting skills – using our leading data and analytics services, to analyze and determine the needs of their people.
Bridget Neurer, Senior Vice President at Aon, explains that as well as focusing on health risk, workers compensation, disability and wellbeing data, Aon’s research methodologies took them right to the heart of Cardinal Health:
‘In addition to the quantitative data, we visited and talked with employees at four different locations across the USA so that we could, first-hand, understand and articulate the challenges that employees face every day, personally and professionally. We watched their work, we discussed challenges in their daily life, as well as their barriers to wellbeing.’ - Bridget Neurer — Senior Vice President, Aon
Prioritizing strategies that span the wellbeing spectrum
89% of organizations have a wellbeing initiative in place
But...only 53% have a wellbeing strategy in place
Supporting employee wellbeing requires more than initiatives — for programs to positively impact the performance of wellbeing, and for resilience to rise, they must be connected to a strong and focused strategy. Championing this proven approach, Cardinal Health used the detailed analysis of their workforce to determine their three areas of focus — financial, physical, and mental wellbeing. From these focal points, they devised a comprehensive program they branded Living Well, built around three strategic pillars — Money Matters, Moving Matters, and Mind Matters. Each one ensures that their employees always have the resources they need to help them stay healthy and safe while at work – a key element of Cardinal Health’s overall philosophy.
However, putting the right programs in place is just part of this success story. By continually weaving wellbeing messages into the organization’s internal communications, Cardinal Health has helped employees understand the interconnected nature of wellbeing. Casey Fordyce, Director of Benefits at Cardinal Health, explains that despite being identified as individual pillars, it is important for staff to understand how the individual pillars work together to improve everyone’s wellbeing:
'They're very holistic together, and so when we communicate our benefits program, we want the message about what programs are available for you to be simple, but also harmonize that you are a whole person, and you don’t just operate in these pillars — that all of these three pillars happen together.’ - Casey Fordyce — Director, Benefits, Cardinal Health
Equipped with a strategic design, holistic offering, and an insightful approach, Cardinal’s wellbeing programs have ensured they remain responsive even in the most unprecedented of circumstances. Something they found vital as they pivoted their programs to better guide employees through the challenges of the pandemic; building their resilience. From the Employee Assistance Program expanding the number of free counseling sessions employees could access, to Headspace access being made available across the globe, and adding an on-site clinician and additional telephonic support, Cardinal did not stop with just increasing the availability and access of initiatives. By developing their own employee and manager training, they also increased awareness around the triggers and symptoms connected to mental health and wellbeing. All of which has helped highlight the importance of the resources put in place to support mental wellbeing, reaping impressive results in return:
One size does not fit all
One of the most important aspects in the design of a strategic wellbeing program is to ensure that it caters to diversity. However, this can also be one of the most challenging aspects from a programmatic perspective and requires continual evolution, to ensure equal uptake across the organization:
71% of organizations’ emotional wellbeing programs are used by just 25% or less of employees.
Understanding the importance of inclusive efforts, Cardinal Health has worked hard to ensure their mental health initiatives and communications are meaningful for everyone involved:
‘It’s about getting people the appropriate information at the moment they need it. We can’t simply send the same communication to everyone, because it’s just not meaningful. It's not going to speak to me the same way as it'll speak to the next person because we have different health needs, we are in different situations. It is quite a journey from a communication perspective to really get to that, as well as find the right partners that can personalize communications for and with clients. We've worked hard with Cardinal Health on meaningful communications approaches, and we'll continue to because it's an ongoing challenge.’ - Bridget Neurer — Senior Vice President, Aon
With their ears to the ground amidst a global pandemic, and fuelled by a commitment to meet the diverse needs of their workforce, Cardinal Health recognized that their caregiving initiatives did not align with an array of unique circumstances. In the knowledge that many employees were taking on additional caregiving responsibilities to support children or older family members, or in some cases both, Cardinal conducted focus groups to understand what solutions these groups needed to reduce the emotional and financial burdens. From policies regarding leave and flexible working to the expansions of access to services like Milk Stork for new parents. Cardinal listened to their people and made strategic adjustments to support caregivers in a broader fashion to meet today’s needs.
Casey from Cardinal Health states that this commitment to supporting diversity has also driven them to create a ‘global minimum standard’, led by the work of their Global Wellbeing Council. As part of a global framework, they ensure that wherever their workers are in the world, they have access to the same resources – ensuring global and holistic consistency. However, as a multinational organization, Cardinal Health also recognizes that the way people talk about mental health, and the stigma attached, differs from country to country. So they go further, providing each region with the autonomy to apply a localized approach to the way they communicate about mental wellbeing.
As we have seen, Cardinal Health’s approach to protecting emotional wellbeing goes beyond providing access to programs. It is their commitment to communication, education, culture, and diversity that is helping to break down the stigma of mental health. It is also helping them increase employee engagement with the resources that help protect their psychological safety, which in turn, helps Cardinal Health to build organizational resilience.
Modern Day Mental Health – the next steps for people leaders:
- Combat the negative stigma around mental health.
- Use both qualitative and quantitative data analysis to determine your wellbeing pain points and prioritize your approach.
- Recognize how the attitudes of leadership and the overall culture of the organization itself are vital to the success of mental health wellbeing initiatives.
- Provide everyone access to a diverse range of support mechanisms.
If you invest in the wellbeing of your people, they will invest in the wellbeing of your business.
  Aon’s Global Wellbeing Survey, April 2021
 You are not alone, National Alliance on Mental Illness, April 2021
 World Health Organization, October 2019
 Aon’s Emotional Health Survey 2019