Lessons from large employers' efforts to boost workers' mental health

The Business Group on Health released a new report examining mental health. (Getty/KatarzynaBialasiewicz)

Large, multinational employers have had to think on a global scale when designing programs to improve workers' mental well-being, a new report shows. 

The Business Group on Health launched a resource guide for employers looking to follow in the footsteps of companies that have kick-started successful mental health programs that reach a diverse pool of employees across multiple countries. 

Launching such an effort requires a global perspective and local knowledge in tandem, Kathleen O’Driscoll, vice president at the Business Group, told FierceHealthcare. 

“What’s challenging is while you want to have that global strategy, the local nuances can differ so much,” O’Driscoll said. 

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Microsoft, for example, wanted to offer an employee assistance program (EAP) globally but did not have the resources at the corporate level to launch one. Instead, it operated local programs in conjunction with vendors, an approach that ended up being more costly and inefficient. 

The company’s corporate human resources team later chose to develop a central budget to cover EAP at all interested company sites, and that required both building the central financial infrastructure to operate the program and messaging tools that worked locally. 

Microsoft also allowed sites located in other countries to keep their existing programs and opt out of the central one if their current approach fit their workers more effectively, according to the report. 

Other employers included in the report, like McCormick, offered employee education programs such as "lunch and learns" and webinars to boost awareness and address the stigma around mental health needs. 

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O’Driscoll said an approach like this can be especially effective when there’s clear buy-in from leadership and workers see top executives actively participating or even sharing their own experiences. 

“Those employers found that goes a long way in helping promote a culture of acceptance and awareness of mental health,” she said. 

Cultural differences between different regions are also reflected in policy variance, which is another barrier to consider, according to the report. In some countries, suicide is criminalized, which can prevent workers from coming forward and taking advantage of programs that could improve their mental health. 

Some countries have taken steps to ease criminalization and promote access to mental health services, according to the report. 

O’Driscoll said partnerships with policymakers and local community groups is critical to advancing these programs. 

“It’s really a multileg chair,” she said. “Employers and local policymakers and communities can all come together and do their part.”