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Heard at the Empower Client Forum: Mental Health, Manager Support & More

Our 2023 Empower Client Forum, held at Wrigley Field in Chicago last month, was a winner. You might even say it was a home run! In addition to sharing innovative WebMD Health Services offerings, we also heard from our clients about the key themes and challenges they’re facing when it comes to well-being in the workplace. In this week’s blog, we share a bit of what’s top mind for our clients right now.

We learned and laughed a lot at the recent WebMD Empower Forum, held at the iconic Wrigley Field. This year’s conference was all about community—acknowledging that we’re in this together and we’re here for each other as we collectively work to empower well-being in everyone. Part of that means listening to what our clients have to say on some key well-being topics, including mental health, manager support, creating a culture of well-being, engagement and more.

Mental Health

Rates of burnout, anxiety and depression are at record levels. Health, finances, relationships, job satisfaction and loneliness are all triggers that are contributing to declining mental health among employees/members, which can affect engagement and productivity on the job.

We asked: What is one action you are taking to support mental health in your workplaces?

Here are clients’ responses:

  • Additional EAP benefits
  • Asking employees to share personal stories about mental health (testimonials)
  • Creating a mental health toolkit for managers
  • Education on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month
  • Encouraging leaders to show vulnerability
  • Giving employees flexibility and supporting mental health days
  • Mailing materials to homes to include family members
  • Mental health first aid training
  • Promoting WebMD services like Beyond Well podcasts or meQuilibrium (resilience)
  • Sponsoring self-care challenges

Clients also shared the outcomes they’re hoping to achieve with their efforts, which include increased engagement with and access to mental health offerings, and greater awareness of mental health in general.

Manager Support

Research shows that an employee’s relationship with their manager has a greater impact on engagement than anything else, including organization culture, the degree to which they’re empowered to make decisions, and even recognition.

We asked: Do you know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of toxic stress and burnout?

As expected for those who work in the well-being arena every day, most attendees (60%) felt pretty competent in recognizing the signs and symptoms of toxic stress and burnout; 35% said they weren’t sure, and 4% said no. But attendees acknowledged that there is work to do to decrease the stigma of talking about mental health in the workplace, and that this kind of openness needs to start with managers.

We asked: How well do you believe managers know how to respond to an employee’s mental health issue and direct them to the appropriate resource?

  • Just 2% said they believe managers always know;
  • 35% said managers usually know; and
  • 63% felt managers somewhat

We asked: How are you supporting leaders and managers to be more open to discussing mental health in the workplace?

Clients are trying a variety of tactics to upskill managers in the mental health arena, including:

  • Training, toolkits and job aids
  • Empathy and leadership training
  • Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging training
  • Mental health manager training

During our discussion we also talked about how managers can make a difference in employee well-being. Clients shared that they’re encouraging managers to do more asking; listening; coaching; clearing roadblocks; providing support and encouragement; and offering learning and team-building opportunities.

Well-Being Culture

A strong culture of well-being is a key influencer of engagement in the workplace. But there is a disconnect between how employees view their well-being versus how managers do. In fact, research shows that 80% of leaders believe their employees are thriving, yet just 56% of workers “think their company’s executives even care about their well-being.”1 And, according to a WorkHuman/Gallup report, only 1 in 4 employees strongly agree they feel connected to their culture; just 1 in 3 strongly agree that they belong at their organization.

We asked: How would you say your organization is doing in creating a culture of well-being?

Over 67% of attendees feel their organization usually does a good job at supporting a healthy work-life balance. About 20% felt their company always does a good job, and 13% felt their workplace does a somewhat good job.

The majority of clients (80%) said their organization is continuing to evolve and invest in their well-being strategy. Here are the goals they’re focused on in 2023:

  • Creating excitement about the well-being program
  • Embracing benefits through increased communication
  • Getting buy-in from senior leadership
  • Helping to remove the stigma or negativity that some people feel about participating in a well-being program
  • Increasing Health Risk Assessment participation
  • Partnering with safety teams
  • Raising manager awareness about mental health
  • Using data to inform the well-being strategy, including culture and engagement surveys
  • Working to shift the culture and build trust

We asked: Which emerging well-being topics would you like to see WebMD focus on in the future?

Not surprisingly, 30% of respondents wanted to see more on managers’ role in supporting employee well-being, as well as tools to facilitate this. Given recent media coverage, 20% of clients wanted more programming around menopausal health. Other topics of interest included: gut health, mental health, artificial intelligence, obesity/weight management, and new ways to promote movement.

Well-being is always changing and well-being solutions must constantly evolve to respond. At the risk of another baseball reference, it’s not too different from the changes made by Major League Baseball this year to increase the game’s appeal among viewers. We’re grateful to our clients who shared their thoughts and their employees’ well-being wants and needs with us, and are excited to continue to partner together to empower well-being in everyone.

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