Comparison of workplace mental well-being solutions

Comparison of workplace mental well-being solutions

Workplace mental health is a big topic in 2022. Many of us have been experiencing large distress fulled by the last two years of the global pandemic. On top of that employees around Europe report that stress at work is at an all-time high, and we are all exposed to additional stressors that are all outside of our control but have a direct impact on our lives, like the vast uncertainty and suffering caused by the geopolitical crisis and the risk of financial recession rising by the day.

One thing is clear — we all have a mind, which irrevocably means we all have mental health. Another thing that is not so clear is that we all experience different mental health struggles during our life. Mental health doesn’t discriminate, it can hit any one of us in the same way that physical health can.

Current mental health crisis

Several facts show we are in the middle of the silent mental health pandemic.

While the pandemic is primarily a physical health crisis, it has also had a widespread impact on people’s mental health, inducing, among other things, considerable levels of fear, worry, and concern. The growing burden on mental health has been referred to by some as the ‘second’ or ‘silent’ pandemic (EPRS).

The OECD estimates that mental health disorders cost Europe over €600 billion in 2015, equating to around 4 percent of GDP. There are direct health care costs, but with mental health, over 50 percent of costs are indirect, related to factors like absenteeism and productivity losses (presenteeism) from work, and direct costs related to social security benefits — all those costs impact the bottom line of employers (Politico).

One in six people across EU countries – about 84 million individuals – had a mental health issue in 2016. Symptoms of anxiety and depression in Europe nearly doubled since 2020 (OECD).

Mental health related sick leave rose significantly in Germany in 2019 — Data from both the AOK “Absence Report 2020”, and new figures from the German Pension Insurance Association, show that mental health is now the 2nd most common reason why German workers take sick leave. The significance of the problem is further illustrated by the fact that sick leave periods for mental health last 27 days, on average – more than twice the average for all kinds of sick leave, which stands at 12 days (AOK Absence Report 2020).

Stress at work is at an all-time high and a study by Statista found that nearly 50% of the European workforce experienced or felt on the verge of burnout in 2021 (Statista).

Photo by Heike Trautmann from Unsplash

Employees demand access to workplace mental well-being solutions

A study by Lepaya found that employees across Europe expect their employers to help combat work-related burnout and say they are not doing enough currently. The Dutch have the highest percentage of people who believe the employer should find a solution to burnout with 71%. Furthermore, 67% of employees in Belgium, 65% in the UK, and 57% in Germany believe that they need more help from their employers in combating work stress (Lepaya).

A study published by Harvard Business Review found that 50% of millennials (defined in this survey as 23-38 years old) respondents have left a job, both voluntarily and involuntarily, partially due to mental health reasons (Harvard Business Review).

Comparison of workplace mental well-being solutions

Here’s a list of the different workplace mental health solutions available on the market today.

Our team has plenty of experience with both the employee and employer side of mental health offerings, we interviewed several service providers in this space, and we tried all services ourselves in one form or another.

We’ve taken 5 different types of workplace mental health services, and scored them based on:

  • ACCESSIBILITY – how easy is the solution for someone to access or use?
  • PRIVACY – how safe is this solution? How well does it protect employees’ privacy?
  • IMPACT – how impactful is this solution for employees’ mental health?
  • ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE – how well is this solution driving broader organizational change?
  • AFFORDABILITY – how cost-effective is this for the organization?
  • FOCUS – is the solution more focused on prevention or treatment?

At the very end, we compare all the solutions with Wellsome workplace well-being platform.

Disclaimer: Wellsome is a workplace mental health solution provider. That said, we tried to be as impartial as possible in our review process by evaluating the solutions based on six objective criteria that are relevant to both employees and employers. There is no one right or wrong solution as what every employee and organization needs is different, however, the below review should provide good guidance and information on what’s available on the market today, and what kind of results you can expect.

#1 Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Developed with good intentions, but not the best fit for the 21st-century workplace's needs

In short: Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is among the most common mental health solution offered to employees in large Enterprise companies like banks, professional services, and infrastructure companies. They take the form of over-the-phone counseling support offered to employees in a limited scope. 

How it works: Usually EAPs are either provided in-house or outsourced to a 3rd party vendor. An employee asks their HR department for an EAP phone number that they can call when they need emotional support (which can be embarrassing for an employee experiencing emotional distress!). It also raises privacy concerns and that is one of the reasons why many employees don’t trust the EAPs.
After an initial registration and assessment phone call, the employee gets referred to the counselor in their region. A short and solution-oriented counseling plan is agreed upon together with the employee and there are usually max 5 sessions provided per employee.

EAPs were initially designed as easily accessible phone lines for large organizations to provide mental support at scale. 

In the 21st century where most of our lives are done online, protecting individual privacy gets increasingly important, and the effectiveness of real-time video counseling proves to be in some cases even higher than face-to-face counseling, the EAPs no longer fit their purpose. 

One thing that EAPs have in common is that they are affordable for businesses, often with a fairly low per-employee cost. Another thing they have in common is that their utilization rate is usually very low, on average around 2-5%. This means the company pays for EAP for all employees but only 2-5% use it, which lowers the cost-effectiveness of this solution.

EAPs can help individuals work through a variety of personal and job-related stressors to achieve a better work-life balance. Unfortunately, some employees are reluctant to use their EAP benefits because they do not trust the service or find it too difficult to access. Also, many times management is deliberately excluded from using EAPs.

That said, using EAPs is not known to bring any organizational impact on workplace well-being apart from individual employees getting support when they need it. 

#2 Mental Health First Aid

A good way to start driving mental health conversations 

In short: Corporate Mental Health First Aid programs are designed to offer basic skills (like active listening, empathy, and compassion) that one needs to spot the signs of poor mental health at the workplace and offer initial support. 

How it works: Mental Health First Aid at work is a mental health training program that teaches certain employees (usually there is a ratio of Mental Health First Aiders to all employees) how to notice and support a colleague who may be experiencing a mental health disorder or substance abuse or crisis in a work environment and connect them with appropriate community resources.

The quality of such courses greatly depends on the organization providing the course. The ability of Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) to provide good service to their colleagues depends on their own experience and relationship with mental health, the ratio of MHFA employees to all employees, and their personality traits like level of empathy, active listening, and compassion, plus the ability to keep things confidential.

Mental Health First Aiders are among other things taught about confidentiality, but in the end, it comes to how openly employees feel like talking about their mental health struggles with their colleagues.

Becoming a Mental Health First Aider can sometimes negatively impact your mental health too — the training provided is often well structured and methodic to provide insights into the relevant skillet — however, providing mental health support to colleagues does require careful navigation, setting boundaries, and knowing when to convert empathy for apathy.

The big benefit of Mental Health First Aiders at the workplace is that they help drive the conversations around mental health at work, making the topic less stigmatized and the whole workforce usually knows who those colleagues are and how best to approach them.

The Cost-effectiveness of this company initiative usually depends on the training program, its cost (priced per training), and the ratio of MHFA to all employees. 

#3 Mindfulness content-based apps

A great addition to the toolkit, but lacking individual support which is often needed the most

In short: Most often comes in a format of mobile apps that offer on-demand mental health content, like meditation series, sleep stories, or it could be articles on certain topics around mental health.

How it works: A company provides its employees with a corporate account to access a mindfulness app, where an employee can learn about meditation, follow a mindfulness practice and get asleep with a help of a sleep story. 

What is great about this solution is that is often very quick to implement and highly accessible given that one only needs a mobile or a tablet to access apps and a couple of minutes of quiet time to themselves. 

Mindfulness apps are on the less expensive side, given they are content-based and operate in an economy of scale business model, they usually run with annual subscriptions and offer discounts the more employees you have. 

When it comes to cost-effectiveness, the best-performing mindfulness mobile apps on the global market show between a 6-8% engagement rate after the first month of usage, which means 94% of investment is wasted if the company decides to run this model alone. 

It can be difficult for someone to truly understand, and work on, their mental health needs through pure content or mindfulness meditation, although these can be a great addition to other solutions described in this article, such as coaching or counseling.

Using mindfulness apps on your device has a low risk of data privacy.

Most of the mindfulness solutions started like consumer apps and only, later on, added their corporate offering, which means they lack any features and dedication to drive broader organizational impact.

#4 Coaching

Expensive and limited to a selected few

In short: Workplace coaching equips employees with the knowledge, tools, and opportunities necessary for them to be effective and thrive. The process of coaching allows people to learn more about themselves, that is why in some cases light mental health topics can surface and be addressed during coaching. 

How it works: An organization usually either finds a coach they hire directly and bring into the team for short-term support of their employees, or they hire an external coach which works with their employees whenever needed. Coaching has been identified by organizations as a critical leadership and management competency which can help promote employee resilience. Workplace coaching usually takes between 3 to 6 months with bi-weekly in-person or online sessions and it involves a professional coach supporting the needs of the employees and the goals of an organization.

Coaching is expensive and often only limited to top (and sometimes middle) management. As coaching is usually only available to certain employees, the organization knows who is getting access to coaching and in some cases also what the goals of a coachee are (as they need to be aligned with the goals of the organization). The content of the coaching session will remain private between the coach and coachee, but for the reason stated above, coaching has some risks when it comes to employee privacy.

The coaching industry is not regulated, and coaches do not have to meet the educational, licensure, and continuing education requirements that psychologists must meet. Anyone can claim to be a life coach and accept clients, which is why it is so it’s important that the right, fully-qualified coach is chosen, otherwise safety can be at risk.

Workplace coaching is not counseling, although coaching uses some similar communication processes. Coaching is about driving performance, developing professional skills, and taking action, while counseling is focused on exploring emotions, building resilience, dissolving limiting beliefs, changing behaviours, working on communication and relationship challenges, and sometimes better understanding the body’s physical response (like the one related to stress). Both coaching and counseling are personal solutions that offer individualised support as opposed to one size fits all solutions.

#5 Counseling

The best solution when an employee wants to better understand and improve their mental well-being

The first thing a reader can notice is that we are deliberately referring to counseling and not psychotherapy as we’re reviewing mental health services in the workplace context. 

The lines can become blurred when we start talking about counseling vs psychotherapy (or sometimes referred to simply as therapy). These terms are commonly used interchangeably in day-to-day life, which enables this confusion. However, the distinction between counseling and psychotherapy can typically be defined by either the length of time or scope of intervention.

Psychotherapy is a more mid-long term solution and helps shape how we see ourselves, the world, our thoughts, and our behaviors by delving deeper into underlying patterns we may have consciously or subconsciously picked up from our surroundings or upbringing. Whereas counseling will happen throughout a few sessions and tends to focus on a specific topic which helps to find an immediate solution, for example, you may see a counselor if you are having immediate problems in your relationships or are at risk of burnout.

Counselors can be thought of as mental health professionals who work with clients instead of patients. This choice of words with counseling indicates a different attitude towards the nature of work compared to psychotherapy which uses talking therapy as a way to help people with a broad variety of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties.

In short: Counseling is personalized support grounded in professional psychology that uses a broad range of culturally-informed practices to help people improve their mental well-being, identify goals and potential solutions to problems that cause emotional turmoil, improve communication and relationships, resolve crises, strengthen self-esteem, and increase their ability to function better in their lives. Counseling has a particular interest in work, stress management, relationships, and career topics.

How it works: An employee will get access to the counselor through their employer. The relationship and content of each conversation between the counselor and the client (employee) will remain completely private and confidential. Counselors help people become more resilient, supports them to reach their potential, empower them to process their experiences with a healthy mindset and behaviors, enable them to fulfill their goals, and reframe perspectives that are not serving them well. The clinical aspect is further removed in a counseling session, which means counselors don’t diagnose mental health disorders.

Depending on how the organization chooses to offer counseling to their employees, either through an internal counselor or through someone independent and not in any way connected to the organization itself, the counseling has a different level of privacy and security risk. The best way is if an employee can request counseling and be sure they get matched with the best counselor based on their needs, without them needing to speak to HR or anyone else in their organization.

Counseling is known to have a positive, often life-changing impact on individuals’ mental health and their ability to become more resilient and prevent and alleviate distress. Counseling is more accessible and cost-effective than coaching. 

#6 Wellsome workplace well-being

Holistic employee mental well-being platform to help your whole team thrive

In short: Wellsome helps employees to better understand and improve their mental well-being through evidence-based mental health programs and one-to-one sessions with certified counselors speaking their native language and sharing their cultural background, therefore offering more personalized support. The platform also enables employers to get measurable insights into workplace well-being and stress levels in an anonymized way which preserves employee privacy. 

How it works: This solution combines best practices and cancels out the shortcoming of a  variety of solutions outlined before and it is designed for the needs of the modern digital-first workplace. Wellsome offers employees to first better understand their stress, well-being, and emotional resilience through various science-based assessments, then get on-demand access to various resilience-building resources such as mindfulness meditations, stress release exercises, sleep stories, movement practices, and finally, it enables easy and quick access to personalized mental health support delivered by a mental health professional to whoever needs it. An employee can request a counseling session directly through Wellsome without having to speak to HR or anyone in their organization, which means that an employer never knows who on their team gets access to counseling sessions, nor do they ever know what was discussed on those sessions. Based on the intake survey the employee gets matched with the best counselor for their needs in under 48h and gets a counseling call that fits their availability in the next 10 days.

The platform directly integrates to employees’ daily workflows with a Slack integration, meaning that the onboarding is more frictionless compared to mobile apps, and the day-to-day usage is even more convenient. The engagement numbers prove that – Wellsome is used by employees 30x more than EAPs and 10x more than mindfulness based-content apps.

Wellsome is designed from the ground up following Strategic Privacy by Design principles, which means every functionality that gets added to the platform is first carefully evaluated from the privacy implications it has on all the stakeholders – employees, employers, mental health providers, and platform provider. Employers can never access personally identifiable data of their employees. They can, however, observe anonymized well-being patterns on the level of the whole team which helps the HR department and management determine what changes need to be made to further support their team, like changing the scope of work, or adjusting deadlines if the stress levels of the team remain high despite active usage of resilience-building resources and receiving personalized mental health support.

Along with supporting individual mental well-being and helping normalize conversations around mental health at work, Wellsome also sparks team well-being with rituals that further improve organizational health and productivity.

Because of its purpose to enable easy access to mental health at work for all, and its cost-effective pricing policy, Wellsome is offered to all employees in a specific department or the complete workforce in the organization, as opposed to EAPs which exclude management, or coaching which excludes everyone but management. For less than the cost of a coffee per employee per workday, Wellsome offers comprehensive mental health support to all employees which combines prediction, prevention, and treatment, meeting every employee where they are on the mental well-being bell curve and supporting them to improve relationships, resolve crises, strengthen self-esteem, become more resilient and better cope with challenges in their personal and work lives.

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