| Apr 15 2021

Pandemic Aftershock: Providing Continuing Support in the Times Ahead

Jessica DePhillips
Principal, Voluntary Benefits Sales Professional

The pandemic has changed our lives and our work — shifting the needs and priorities of today’s employees. As employers are resetting the future of work, voluntary benefits can be a great way to support employees coping with new and perhaps hidden pressures that may be negatively impacting their health and well-being. Voluntary benefits are easy to implement and can address a dynamic spectrum of employee needs. During a recent Mercer webcast, we talked with some non-traditional benefits vendors about three ways employers can support employees during the challenging times ahead.

Childcare and eldercare solutions. The pandemic has been particularly hard for family caregivers. In the past year, nearly 3 million U.S. women have dropped out of the labor force – many citing lack of childcare as the reason for exiting. Seventeen percent of full-time employees are currently providing care for a child, family member or friend. The issue is one that touches employees of all ages – one in four are millennials and almost half are between the ages of 18 and 49. They are represented in every race, every gender, and they are in every socio economic status.

Ann Gargis from Torchlight challenged our webcast attendees to think more holistically about caregiving support and treat it as a social determinant of health. While a logical place to start is with services that provide care or help a caregiver find care, it’s important to remember that caregivers may also need help addressing health, legal, financial, social and educational concerns that arise because of their caregiving responsibilities. The significant pressures facing employees with caregiving responsibilities have been highlighted by the pandemic. Now may be the perfect time to explore services that offer a broader range of services.

Mental health services. Prior to the pandemic, there was a growing recognition that stress and mental health concerns were on the rise, and the pandemic has only magnified this trend – in fact, Ginger found that 91% of employees working from home report moderate to extreme stress. “We've been seeing not only increases in the number of people who needed care, but also in the acuity of the cases and that acuity is becoming much more intense. And so people who had a chronic mental health condition, saw their symptoms worsen, and those who may have had an underlying or maybe even pre-diagnostic symptoms, we're now seeing those symptoms reach the formal or diagnostic state,” said Jason Richmond from Ginger.

While the need for mental health services continues to grow, we continue to combat many of the long standing problems – access, stigma, cost and quality. That’s why it is important to seek out on demand solutions that support people in their moment of need. For example, Ginger has seen a 20% increase in the number of interactions occurring between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. during the pandemic. In choosing a mental health solution, it’s important to understand where and how employees will be able to engage with the services – in person, by phone or via text -- and to assess whether and to what extent the service will collaborate with other mental health providers. With the increased demand for mental healthcare, this is the time to make sure you have the right services in place to support your employees and their dependents.

Substance use disorder services. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, over 70% of people using illegal drugs are in the workforce, and for the most part they're high functioning, at least for now. The real challenge is that fewer than 8% are actually seeking treatment in the earliest phases when the downstream consequences are preventable. These are some alarming stats that Dana Lettre from Quit Genius shared during the webcast.

About half of people with mental health illnesses will also have co-occurring substance use disorder. Services should include treatment support for a broad range of mental health and substance use concerns. Stigma can be the biggest barrier to people accessing treatment. There are on demand options that allow employees to seek help from the privacy of their office or home during their moment of need. Consider vendor partners that offer a range of service options from online programs that provide opportunities to seek self-directed care to providing or assistance employees in finding outpatient counseling services and treatment supports for higher levels of care when the complexity of the concern needs more intensive clinical treatment, including medical supports for related health consequences.

As our new reality continues to unfold, understanding what is best for employees, while balancing business needs, will continue to be a top consideration as employers strategize to support employees in an unpredictable world.

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