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In light of COVID-19, employers are making changes to their existing benefits packages. Senior Behavioral Health Consultant at Mercer, Carrie Bergen provides tips for employers and vendors.

In light of COVID-19, employers are making changes to their existing benefits packages. Employers are focusing on work flexibility in response to feelings of burnout that many employees have experienced. In an attempt to retain employees, 70% of employers have focused on expanding behavioral access in their strategic roadmaps for the near future, according to a Mercer national poll.

A 2021 survey from Indeed found that 67% of workers believed their burnout worsened during the pandemic. “Burnout is often confused with personal stress,” however, the International Classification of Disease classifies burnout as an occupational phenomenon. “It is not an individual issue. It is very much an organizational culture issue,” Carrie Bergen, Senior Behavioral Health Consultant at Mercer, says. Carrie named a lack of connections, unsustainable workloads, and a lack of rewards for work are some of the issues that define the burnout culture in different work environments. She emphasizes how burnout is not solely the responsibility of HR professionals. The company leaders should encourage time off, embrace work-life balance, and promote mental health benefits to reduce burnout in the workplace. 

Biggest Challenges for Vendors and Employers

There is a large ecosystem of vendors who pitch their solutions to employers. All of the pitches begin to blend together for employers, which presents issues for both the vendors and the employers. In a very simplified manner: 

  • Vendors want to stand out and build seamless member experiences. 
  • Employers want the best fit for their organization that can be easily integrated with their existing benefits ecosystem.

What is Mercer’s role in all of this?

Mercer delivers innovative solutions addressing their clients’ and employees’ health and wellness needs. “We work with small, multinational, and large businesses and focus on delivering an array of health benefit solutions. We have a really large team of different types of experts,” Carrie says, “Within total health management, I provide subject matter expertise around behavioral health… to help support our clients.” 

Carrie advises to “start with the basics” when implementing scalable mental health solutions quickly and effectively. Mercer does this through qualitative and quantitative research methods. They use data to help determine what problems their clients are attempting to solve. 

Evaluating vendor fit is another critical element in this process. “We look at vendor experience and fit. Do the vendors we are evaluating offer services that create the ideal emotional wellbeing culture for the organization and fit within the client’s priorities,” Carrie states. Accessibility and promotion of the services are other elements Mercer evaluates when developing solutions. 

Advice for employers 

For employers who have already implemented solutions for employee mental health, Carrie gives several suggestions on how they can ensure they receive a return on the investments made in the past few years: 

  1. Continue monitoring data and comparing it to your baseline. “[Try] something like a gap analysis, where you are looking at all of your data that is available from the different programs and understanding where key pieces might be missing, or if there is overlap of services,” Carrie says. 
  2. Consider cost-effectiveness. Ask yourself, “Are you seeing a return on investment that you expected to see where you have a program in place?” 
  3. Create a strategic partnership with your vendors. Strategic partnerships evaluate the usage and outcomes of the services. Ask, “Are [your vendors] able to pivot and be flexible to continue to meet your needs, and with that, have strong integrations amongst the benefits vendors in your ecosystems?”

Advice for Vendors

Carrie also advises how startups and established vendors can successfully partner with employers to offer behavioral health services:

  1. Highlight what sets the solution apart and makes it a better option for employers.
  2. Prioritize ease of access. Online scheduling is both new and exciting, “as we move into this digital world, it is something that is needed.” 
  3. Focus on building more diversified networks. “Not only race and ethnicity of providers, which is critical, but also specialization of treatment areas. So is there capability to focus on children and adolescents, or substance use disorders, racial trauma?” 

For more on this conversation about workplace mental health, check out the full interview with Carrie, found here.