Implementing Mental Well-Being in the Workplace: Getting Started

Updated April 20, 2021

Just last week, we experienced a tragedy in my hometown of Indianapolis when a FedEx employee entered a warehouse with a gun and opened fire, killing 8 employees and then himself. On the day prior to this terrible event, we had a wonderful discussion with HR professionals about mental health and well-being. It was infused with positivity and the hopeful, visionary talent of Scott Shute, LinkedIn’s Head of Mindfulness and Compassion.

The violence of that night disrupted that good feeling. Please talk about mental health with the ones you live and work with. We can be of immense comfort and support to each other at moments like this –and any time – by taking the time to communicate.

2020 change things relative to mental health and well-being. There’s no doubt. Fifty-three percent of Americans say that their mental health has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, an increase of 21% from March to July 2020. Without a doubt mental health will continue to be a challenge. The need to increase awareness about it has become more apparent and, as an employer, you have the ability to help.

“Mental Health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

- World Health Organization

I asked our RESOLVE Increments attendees for two words they associate with mental health and well-being. Two words for me were: “never-ending” and “innovation.” Like a lot of people, I was initially unaware of the scope of this pandemic. I thought it might alter work for a month or two. It was difficult to discover that was not the case. Heartening though, was the innovative way many companies stepped up to support their people through this rough year.

In 2020, we saw that half of people surveyed struggled with mental health. We saw a 45% increase in reported employee anxiety. A 48% increase in depressive disorders. And a 22% percent increase in reported stress levels-. It was a difficult year for employers as well. Many have been doing a great job of providing support. However, data shows that many are struggling to meet employee expectations. One survey showed “94 % of employers believing their workplace is doing enough to support mental health. The employee response to the same question came in at just 69%. Although many employers are taking steps and being innovative, there is a connection missing. And there are opportunities to close these gaps.

Start with Meaningful Data

To implement a mental health and well-being initiative, or any program for that matter, you must start with meaningful and actionable data. I’ve found it sparks great conversations with leaders that guides them down a path toward making informed decisions. Health analytics and predictive forecasting should be the headlights for employers as they navigate their health strategy.

First Person Advisors has a strategic partnership with Springbuk, a national leader in health intelligence. This tool coupled with our own proprietary analytics has provided great insight into mental health prevalence and cost. Throughout the pandemic, I noticed medical spend increasing for mental health diagnoses and preventive care numbers decrease. Below are a few highlights of the data.

  • 69% of members with a mental health condition also have a chronic disease.
  • Mental health diagnosis groups are more frequently showing up on employer’s top ten spend.
  • Members with a mental health condition are also twice as likely to classify as a high-cost claimant (>$50,000).
  • Average monthly cost for members with a mental health condition is more than double of members without a mental health condition. ($9,921 vs. $4,958).

People living with a serious mental illness are at higher risk of experiencing a wide range of chronic physical conditions. Conversely, people living with chronic physical health conditions experience depression and anxiety at twice the rate of the general population.

Having actionable data specific to your workplace will assist with gaining leadership buy-in and support.

Get Clear on Your Challenges

While more and more employers are recognizing the need to address mental health in the workplace (remote and in the office), they’re not sure how actually get started. Once you have the data to inform your decision, it’s important to understand the challenges you’re trying to solve for. Let’s look at the mental health continuum to understand the various levels of mental well-being your employees may be at today.

  • Mental illness – DSM diagnosis of mental disorder and low functioning
  • Languishing – Low affective well-being and low functioning
  • Moderately mentally healthy – Neither flourishing or languishing
  • Complete mental health and flourishing – High levels of well-being and high functioning


Identify Your Well-Being Strategy

As you think about the stages in the continuum, here are strategies to consider to advance this cause.

Assess Resources

Think about what your employees need around mental health and well-being. Evaluate the solutions you have today that could meet them where they are. Then, set a baseline so you can measure the impact of your program over time. Here are a few solutions:

  • Obtain an EAP utilization report that compares year-over-year trends
  • Gather PTO utilization broken down by salary band
  • Examine for stress– or anxiety-related responses on the employee engagement survey
  • Dig into absence and disability trends that are impacted by mental health conditions
  • Focus on mental health prevalence and cost on your medical plan, mental health and chronic disease prevalence and cost, and pharmacy benefit use related to mental health conditions. Other workplace and/or health outcomes data, which could be inclusive of health risk assessments or cultural health surveys, may also be helpful.

Select Resources

Next, determine what additional resources you want to implement. I’d suggest re-evaluating your current employee assistance program (EAP) and compare the free vs buy-up vs. tech-enabled options. Other employee resources that may help include:

  • On-site stress management programs
  • Mindfulness/Meditation apps like Headspace or Calm
  • Be Well Indiana (free resource)
  • EDGE Mentoring R+R videos

Don’t forget about your managers. Are they equipped with the tools and resources they need when a disruptive life event arises on their team? Consider training them through Mental Health First Aid. First Person has certified expert on staff who can help facilitate trainings for your organization.

Create Organizational Support

It goes without saying that support from your leadership team – or lack thereof – can make or break any well-being initiative you implement. Here are a few ways to do that at your organization:

Senior Leadership Support
  • Start by destigmatizing mental health through your actions and communications
  • Raise awareness at town hall meetings or all staff meetings
  • Role model the right behaviors and be an advocate for change
Managerial Support
  • Lead with empathy during the highs and the lows, inclusive of personal and business stresses
  • Lead by example by raising awareness in team meetings and during 1:1s
  • Aim for personal connection when interacting with your team members. Below are a few examples of questions to consider:
    • How are you doing?
    • How are we doing? You and I?
    • How can I better support you?

Educate and Engage Employees

Employee education and engagement is imperative to success. Use natural touchpoints such as onboarding and Open Enrollment to promote your program, but also identify times throughout the year to communicate to your employees.

Another opportunity to increase employee engagement is to optimize your health plan. What benefits are being underutilized? What benefits can you change or add? That could look like waiving copays for mental health provider visits, offering telebehavioral services, tech-enabling your EAP, or financial well-being programming. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s integrated into your overall well-being strategy.

Below is a visual that offers solutions to consider across the mental health continuum.


It’s a shared responsibility to implement and maintain mental health and well-being initiatives in the workplace. All levels of the organization contribute to success, while leadership support shows the organization’s commitment to employee mental health and well-being. Integrating these services into a comprehensive well-being program will help promote improved total health outcomes.

This pandemic has left an incredible impact on businesses, healthcare, families and our community. Employers have a lot of opportunity to act on mental health awareness to not only improve the lives of their employees, but the communities in which they serve.

Written by Cameron Troxell, Vice President of Benefits Strategy. Feel free to drop him a note or reach out on LinkedIn.