Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Younger Employees

Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Younger Employees

November 28, 2023

Mental health benefits are essential for recruiting and retaining young talent. 

Surveys show Generation Z and younger millennials value mental health benefits more than previous generations. More importantly, they are likelier to use these benefits, according to Business Wire. 

Despite higher expectations and usage, mental health benefits aren’t a simple plug-and-play offering. Understanding common barriers to care can help you implement a strategy that meets your employees’ needs.

Expectations and usage

A report from the financial services company Securian Financial demonstrates the importance of mental health benefits for attracting and retaining younger employees. Sixty-five percent of Generation Z respondents and 60% of millennial respondents said mental well-being benefits were “very important.” On the other hand, less than half of Generation X (49%) and baby boomer (45%) employees said the same. 

With higher expectations comes increased usage. Business Wire reports nearly 75% of Generation Z and millennial employees have used mental health benefits. This compares with 58% of Generation X and 49% of baby boomers.

The Securian Financial study found the most common mental health offerings are:

  • Mental health coverage as part of medical insurance (70%)
  • Free counseling sessions through an employee assistance program (57%)
  • Online/telehealth counseling sessions (49%)
  • In-person counseling sessions (41%)
  • Grief support (41%)

However, the most common employer offerings didn’t fully align with employee usage. Among offered benefits, the most commonly used were:

  • Mental health days (54%)
  • Employer-provided meditation and mindfulness classes and apps (39%)
  • Mental health workshops and seminars (35%)
  • Mental health coverage as part of medical insurance (34%)
  • Financial planning counseling and seminars (34%)

Despite mental health days being the most used benefit, Securian Financial found only a third of employers offered them. The popularity of the financial planning benefit also shows the need for a holistic approach to mental health. Business Wire reports 48% of Generation Z employees said their financial wellness had an “extreme impact” on their mental well-being.

The discrepancies between mental health offerings and employee usage suggest a need for better alignment. Employee surveys can uncover the most coveted benefits. And working with your benefits adviser to examine usage rates can reveal trends in your mental health offerings. 

But to ensure you’re allocating your benefit dollars to the most impactful areas, it’s essential to understand common barriers to care.

Barriers and solutions

Despite higher expectations and utilization among Generation Z and millennial employees, mental health remains a challenge. 

HR Daily Advisor reports Generation Z employees have a more pessimistic outlook on life than other generations. And a survey by the management consultancy McKinsey & Co. found 25% of Generation Z employees feel emotional distress. For millennials and Generation X respondents, that number is just 13%. 

Mental health benefits and workplace solutions can help younger employees deal with common barriers to care. Those barriers include:

  • Lack of access
  • Not taking preventive measures
  • Confidentiality concerns
  • Feeling overwhelmed

Lack of access

As many as 150 million Americans live in regions with a shortage of mental health providers, reports HR Daily Advisor. Eighty percent of rural counties don’t have a psychiatrist. And even in areas with greater access to care, the wait for an initial mental health evaluation commonly takes up to 25 days. 

Online education and information can help employees find solutions to mental health challenges. These efforts may prod them to take initial steps or support them while waiting for in-person counseling.

Telemedicine offers a way to expand mental health coverage. It can reduce wait times and provide coverage to employees in geographic regions with sparse access to mental health providers.

Virtual options can also provide mental health education. Potential resources include online cognitive behavioral therapy, mental health apps and digital workshops. 

Not taking preventive measures

Securian Financial reports 67% of employees don’t use mental health benefits because their well-being needs don’t seem urgent enough. And more than 33% of employees said they don’t treat their mental health because they don’t understand which treatments would best serve their symptoms, according to HR Daily Advisor.

To encourage preventive care, create a work environment where it’s safe to talk about mental health. The more employees discuss mental health issues, the more proactive they will be. 

Stories and advice from colleagues and supervisors are more effective than emails or intranet resources, reports Business Wire. But to reach the highest number of employees, use all your communication channels to highlight mental health education, resources and employee testimonials.

Confidentiality concerns

Even though they are more accepting of mental health challenges, younger employees still fear using mental health benefits will harm career prospects. 

Business Wire states confidentiality is the second-most common reason for not using mental health benefits. It was the main reason 21% of Generation Z employees said they hadn’t accessed mental wellness benefits.

In addition to encouraging and normalizing mental health benefits usage, regularly communicate how you’re protecting health data. Assure employees their anonymity and personal information are safe. Emphasize that benefits usage will not negatively impact performance evaluations or promotions. 

Encouraging leaders to talk about their personal experiences with mental health will enhance a culture of trust. 

Feeling overwhelmed

Another common barrier for younger employees is lack of time. More than 20% of Generation Z and younger millennials haven’t used mental health offerings because they have too much to do and are feeling burned out, notes Business Wire.

Many employees aren’t utilizing time off to address mental health. Encourage employees to make time for mental well-being. As noted above, employees often use mental health days when available.

Other solutions include regularly scheduled mental health breaks, mindfulness check-ins and workshops. Including options during the workday increases accessibility and awareness. 

In addition, telehealth options can help young professionals fit mental health care into their schedules without travel or wait times.

Align your offerings

Your younger employees want mental health benefits. And when your offerings align with their needs, they become more valuable. 

To further examine your mental health benefits, schedule a conversation with your benefits adviser. They can help you explore workplace practices and benefits solutions that enhance employee well-being.