A recent survey by my distinguished colleagues at Lumity, Inc exposes some inconvenient truths about how employers approach workplace mental health.

One of the most perplexing findings:

92% of respondents believe mental and behavioral health influence productivity, but only 49% believe mental and behavioral health benefits are important for the bottom line of their business.

If this is correct, it suggests that many employers can’t connect the dots between productivity and profits  —  too weird!  —  or that they have little confidence in the potential of mental health benefits to actually support mental health.

Overall, the survey results suggest that employers may not have a grasp of the scope and complexity of mental health.

Employee Assistance Programs

Ultimately, employers ask very little of EAPs and get exactly what they ask for. When employers demand EAPs build their capacity to reach out proactively to employees going through “life events” — death in the family, childbirth, adoption, gender identity issues, relocation, disability leave — as well as training organizations on skills ranging from mental health first aid to creating psychologically safe workplaces, their role will be more relevant. This also requires their ability to measure outcomes and share accountability (maybe even share risk) for workplace mental health.

On the other hand, it’s disappointing that an employer would consider, as the survey suggests, a meditation app an important mental health benefit. People facing anorexia nervosa (considered possibly the most lethal mental illness), substance abuse, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc. can’t just be referred to Headspace.

Employers must demand more of the experts they already pay for. Relying on simplistic solutions risks perpetuating mental health stigma rather than doing actual good. 

EAPs have the expertise (or access to it) and the infrastructure to make a difference. They lack, at this point, the spirit of innovation. If the EAP is just sitting by the phones waiting for distressed employees to call, is the employer really getting value for its money? Are employees being well-served?

I am certain, based on my own experience negotiating and managing employer’s relationships with EAPs, that purchasers can drive transformation in the EAP industry, and everyone will benefit.