Blog, Employee Wellbeing

Ways to develop a global mental health benefits strategy and cascade key aims to local entities


Mental health is a fundamental component of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of health: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. However, across the globe, health systems are still not adequately resourced to deal with the growing burden of poor mental health. As a result, following the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a huge gap between the need for treatment and the provision of support in almost every country. High-income countries spend around only 10% of their health budget on mental health, while low and middle-income countries spend 5%. According to WHO, a third to half of people in high-income countries do not get the mental health care they need.

Globally, employees now have substantial concerns about their mental health. Increased social isolation, loneliness, health anxiety, increased stress and financial worries are all set to continue to harm employee mental health over the coming years. This means all eyes are turning to the trusted employer for support. Developing a global mental health benefits strategy will be key to organisational wellbeing as we recover from the pandemic.

But for many employers, there are significant barriers to developing an effective mental health benefits strategy – including communications, stigma, access, awareness, culture, and data. Let’s discuss five of the areas I think are most important…

1. Defining mental health

Employers need to be clear on their agenda and why they are considering implementing or expanding on wellbeing within their workplace. For many employees, new attention to mental health can be seen as a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic, or to address workplace issues like absenteeism or stress levels. This can leave employees feeling as though you’re trying to solve business problems, rather than trying to support their wellbeing.

For other organisations, the approach might be coming from a human capital perspective with a focus on social responsibility, increased levels of engagement, talent attraction and staff retention. Being clear on why you are addressing mental health will be key to obtaining buy-in at local level.

Any mental health intervention you seek to offer should be thought of as two maturities:

  • Short term responsive: Is this benefit designed to assist an employee who is in crisis or needs immediate help? Does it support acting quickly to react to a life change?
  • Long term preventative: Is this benefit designed to build better habits or change behaviour? Does it ensure against poor wellbeing through the building of resilience etc?

It’s important for long-term success that a workplace mental health benefits strategy is backed up by research and evidence. When rolling out new benefits, employers should be confident that these things have been known to be effective (either through empirical research or employer case studies).

2. Data and assessment

Prior to the design of any mental health benefits strategy, it’s imperative that employers conduct some form of assessment which is tailored to understanding their people’s attitudes and beliefs with regards to mental health. This data is paramount to informing the design and extent of any benefit interventions – especially if you are looking at mental health for the first time.

One of the first things employers should consider is how you can evaluate the current state of mental health within your workforce. For ease, this could initially be focussed on territories or countries that can be grouped together where it makes sense. For example, quite often Western mental health challenges appear to be the same, whereas stigma is more prevalent in Eastern countries.

Global wellbeing strategies are often biased towards where in the world decisions are made, so try to focus on a mental health benefits strategy that is biased towards where the strategy will be implemented rather than just where it is created.

Gathering globally-consistent mental health metrics isn’t an easy thing to do. However, pulling together just some data can help you to see how mental health is being managed and engaged with across the world.

By developing a picture of mental health globally, you’ll be able to better understand what is affecting mental health in your organisation and identify what you may already be doing regionally.

Surveying employees directly helps assess the current climate as to how a programme might be received and what information employees are willing to share. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides great guidance on how to design an employee wellbeing survey, including examples of survey topic areas.

Employers should also identify key issues that their industry/sector face. Some industries have much higher prevalence of poor mental health than others. Find out what these challenges are and ensure they are accounted for in your assessment of the global workplace.

3. Open up lines of communication

One of the most significant advances in removing the stigma of mental health globally has been employers’ desire to open up more and lead by example. By providing opportunities for employees to speak freely and talk openly about their mental health, we are enabling them to secure the support they need and simultaneously fighting stigma that mental health is ‘taboo’.

CEOs and management teams can use social proof to demonstrate this and highlight the support available. When employees see senior management and board members talk about mental health, it gives them permission to as well. Employers have a unique opportunity to share these stories with employees and give examples of how employees have used benefits to support their mental health.

Employers should try to engage their employees through communication campaigns. For example, using recognition to visibly thank those who are making efforts to talk about mental health. Employers can also use their global benefits platform to promote photos and stories of employee participation in mental health activities.

4. Regional mental health committees

A great way to make our work environments and attitudes to mental health better is by involving localised workplace communities. Generally, top-down wellbeing strategies can crush local engagement and lead to disengagement. Try to strike a balance of central strategy and guidance with regional autonomy.

Country champions can help an organisation to build a better picture of what life is like in that region, and feedback on your overall strategy from a local level. They are also able to facilitate a network of employees who understand your strategy and are able to distribute it through your regions.

By engaging our workplace communities at a local level, we can make slightly different decisions to account for cultural stigmas, and find practical ways to support employees based on what is available in that region. Involve these teams in the benefit design to ensure you leverage the best providers and support in that region.

5. Finally, gather support

Support from senior management is essential to building any successful wellbeing strategy. Management buy-in will be critical for funding purposes and for obtaining global support throughout the organisation.

Your mental health benefits strategy will impact many areas of the business, including customer experience, so if possible, you should try to build a cross-area group of senior people globally who are willing to support a strategy from the top. This management team will also help you to link your strategy with wider business goals like recruitment, retention, increased customer loyalty etc. This helps to position your mental health benefits strategy as a fundamental part of overall business plans.

Originally posted on REBA

Clare Dolan

Clare Dolan

Up next

The power of storytelling for better benefits outcomes

Related content

Latest resources, events & insights


On demand webinar | The future of benefits in Ireland – what should you be doing now and next

Join our community and get the latest updates in the world of HR, reward, and benefits

Explore OneHub Products
Featured resources
Want to try Benefex?

Book a free demo today