Most job candidates have a short list of considerations by which they gauge prospective employers. Salary, 401(k) plans, health insurance, and generous vacation benefits often top that list.
One factor that can go overlooked in the vetting process, however, is the question of mental health benefits. These are worth looking into with any prospective employer, regardless of whether or not you have a mental health condition. Here’s why:
- Anxiety disorders and mood disorders like depression have been increasing in prevalence in the US and now affect roughly 19 percent and 10 percent of Americans respectively, according to the National Institutes of Health. These disorders are also among the leading causes of disability.
- Work-related stress and on-the-job pressures are common causes of mental health conditions, including chronic stress-related post-traumatic stress disorder. A workplace that is sensitive to this reality and takes preventive measures to encourage employee mental health and address issues as they arise will be a safer, less stressful environment in which to work.
- In a workplace that cares about mental health, your colleagues will also be healthier, happier, and more productive. That positive social setting is a big plus and can mean the difference between a boring, old job and a job that keeps you happy and fulfilled.
- There is also the principle of it: Mental health problems are medical conditions that deserve to be treated equally to diabetes, high blood pressure, and other physiological conditions. If an employer sends a different message, you might not want to work for that company. After all, even if you have not experienced a mental health disorder yourself, you probably know and love a close family member or friend who has.
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What to Look for in Mental Health Benefits
One reason why mental health benefits can go overlooked in a job search is that candidates often don’t know how to assess whether a prospective employer cares about its employees’ mental health. On that note, here are some things to look for:
- Flextime: A healthy work environment will recognize and embrace the reality that employees have families and social lives outside the office by offering flextime. Flextime that can be used in the event of a family emergency — or even for family activities like dance recitals, baseball games, concerts, etc. — sends the message that a company sees you as a human being, not a cog in an unfeeling machine. Studies show that flextime offers a wide variety of benefits for employees, including higher productivity, a greater sense of control, and improved mental and physical health.
- Targeted health insurance for behavioral health matters: Employer-provided health insurance plans often exclude or limit benefits that address this vital healthcare need. Check whether a prospective employer provides at least partial if not full coverage for important mental health services like individual, couple, and family therapy sessions; inpatient and outpatient mental health treatments; and drug and alcohol detox and rehab.
- A safe and socially active workplace environment: When employees feel secure going to work and are encouraged to build relationships with one another, they will be mentally healthier. Multiple studies point to the close link between socializing and mental health. For example, a 2012 study from University College Dublin found that socializing helps to alleviate symptoms of depression. An employer that hosts fun, relaxed activities for employees to connect with one another — like birthday parties, Halloween dress-up days, and retreats — is one that prioritizes positive relationships between employees.
- Mental health days, yoga classes, meditation, and other such perks: Employers that embrace and encourage the use of personal time off for mental health reasons are employers that seriously value workers’ well-being. In a similar vein, on-premise yoga classes, AA meetings, and meditation rooms where employees can de-stress are all indications that an employer recognizes the importance of employees wellness.
- An educated employers that know the laws protecting employees who seek mental health care: Not every employer is as familiar as it should be with the laws that protect your job when you go to rehab, for example. What candidates are looking for is an organization — and especially an HR department — that takes its responsibility to support employee mental health seriously. That includes staying compliant with relevant rules and regulations.
Ultimately, when all companies treat mental health like physical health, we will have achieved something significant for hard-working Americans and their families. Until that day, candidates must be on the lookout for those particular companies that already live by this imperative.
Employers and HR pros should take note: Offering robust mental health benefits is a simple and effective way to stand out and attract talent in a tight market.
Janet B. Gerhard is director of public affairs for FHE Health.