Workplace Culture

How to Transform Your Workforce Mental Health Strategy

By: Janet Pun

Updated | Oct 8, 2019


Over the past 10 years, the cost of insurance premiums have skyrocketed for employers. People Leaders are expected to reduce costs and deliver an immediate, flexible, and effective workforce health strategy that is personalized for their people.

During a IBI/TCB Health and Productivity Forum, we learned that People Leaders share a common challenge: Building a holistic, workforce health strategy that is cost-effective, accessible, and purposefully-built for their people. It also became clear that within a Total Workforce Health Strategy, Mental Health has risen to the forefront given the sharp rise in time-off claims due to mental health diagnoses. The challenge that all leaders face is providing employees with immediate access to evidence-based mental healthcare.

To help you remove barriers to mental healthcare, we wanted to share some insights on how you can build a holistic, human-centered workforce mental health plan that improves employee productivity and lowers disability costs, for better organizational outcomes.

1. Evaluate Current Workforce Mental Health Strategy

From the session presented by the Innovation and Value Initiative group, we learned the importance of analyzing your workforce health policies based on value and effectiveness. This new analytical model is critical in identifying employees’ greatest health issues and the programs most useful in mitigating them. By including clinical evidence, real-world data, and patient perspectives to your assessment model, you will be able to make smarter healthcare decisions, and develop policies that add value to your employees and bottom line. To evaluate your workforce mental health strategy:

Gather employee feedback and work environment information using:

  • Site Visits
  • Employee surveys
  • Reports on most common healthcare concerns
  • Reports on most used healthcare benefits

Conduct a value-assessment of health plans to:

  • Identify overpaid and underpaid services within your healthcare networks and plans
  • Identify accommodations programs that make sense for different roles within your workforce

Use predictive analytics to:

  • Identify complex employee injuries and claims to refer employees to better treatment, faster
  • Onboard the right healthcare providers with expertise in prevalent workforce health problems, for better and faster diagnoses, and optimal treatment plan recommendations

2. Get Leadership Buy-In

According to Dr. Kristin Tugman and Alicia Zarnstorff’s presentation, ‘A Transition Return to Work Case Study’, it’s essential to combine an analytical approach with qualitative interviews. Stakeholder interviews will help to overcome potential objections from leadership, will guide the design and implementation of your workforce health programs, and will help tie it to your organization’s bottom line. With leadership buy-in, a total healthcare program will also get the funding needed to roll out across the organization.

To gain leadership buy-in, conduct qualitative interviews with multiple stakeholders and decision-makers to:

  • Determine key short and long-term SMART business goals and priorities to align your workforce health strategy
  • Help leadership understand your strategic vision and how it ties to organizational outcomes and priorities
  • Communicate their role and responsibility in launching the new workforce mental health initiatives to help drive program acceptance for better employee outcomes and ROI

3. Evaluate Workforce Mental Health Solutions

According to Kaiser Permanente, ReedGroup, and the Council for Disability, among U.S. adults between the ages of 25 – 60 years old, 50% will be on a short or long-term disability at some point in their careers, and 25% will experience severe mental health comorbidity. To combat this rising trend in disability management, organizations are looking to end-to-end digital solutions that address prevention, early intervention, and return-to-work programs for employees living with mental health conditions.

Here’s a list of evaluation criteria when selecting digital mental health solutions:

  • Covers a spectrum of employee/user types such as employees who are at varying places on the mental health continuum
  • Effective, scientifically-proven methodology behind product or services
  • Purposely built and personalized for specific diagnoses and personality types
  • Affordable enough to scale across entire workforce populations
  • Ties in predictive analytics to identify and help employees most at-risk
  • HIPAA-complaint and adheres to federal and state data and privacy legislation

4. Identify and Manage Program Budget

To effectively create and manage program budgets, ensure leadership is included early on. You’ll need to predict the cost of employee rewards and incentives, as well as consider marketing and program design costs.

According to Alex Lee and Healthcare Bluebook’s session, your budget might benefit from understanding the 30/40/50 Rule:

  • 30% of employees will require healthcare
  • 40% of healthcare spending will go to standard healthcare services
  • 50% of costs can be saved by using low-cost, in-network providers for standard healthcare services

5. Evaluate Workforce Mental Health Program Components

Creating a culture of health, safety, and well-being to help employees feel a sense of place, purpose, and community is no small feat. No two workforce health strategies can be the same, as each organization has challenges to tackle in ever-changing market dynamics. According to the session, ‘Driving Business Performance with a Proactive ADA Program’, it will be important for a workforce mental health strategy to have meaningful accommodations for employees. Solutions need to be both comprehensive and personalized enough to mitigate common workforce mental health concerns.

To tailor your workforce mental health programs, be sure to:

  • Incorporate flexible and meaningful work accommodations to ensure employees feel supported by their team and manager
  • Work with your current insurance provider to ensure they are providing meaningful, timely and evidence-based mental health treatment to your people
  • Incorporate learnings and decisions made during the workforce mental health assessment phase
  • Ensure the program is agile enough to integrate with real-world employee data, new evidence, new scientific approaches, and new digital mental health techniques
  • Incorporate legal counsel to ensure compliance with HIPAA and ACA

6. Implement and Communicate Workforce Program

Internal communication is an important part of implementing a workforce mental health program to ensure optimal employee participation. Currently, EAPs have on average, a 6.5% utilization rate, which means 93.5% of your people do not access these services. We’ve spoken with many clients who know that there is a stigma around EAPs being ineffective and don’t offer the best care. Despite multiple re-brands, EAPs still can’t break through these perceptions. When done properly, workforce mental health programs can generate engagement rates between 18 – 35%.

To communicate your workforce mental health program:

  • Work with a workforce solution that incorporates on-boarding, internal communications, and launch services to help increase member participation and program ROI
  • Ensure leadership and executives are setting an example by utilizing the new program themselves and sharing their insights
  • Maintain engagement levels by launching ongoing marketing initiatives
  • Include rewards and incentives to drive member engagement and participation rates

7. Evaluate and Measure

Evaluating the effectiveness of a workforce mental health program is important to ensure they are impactful and continually improving.

Key metrics to measure including:

  • User engagement rates
  • User efficacy rates
  • Change in absenteeism and presenteeism rates
  • Change in costs associated with disability claims
  • Change in the number of disability claims
  • Change in duration of disability claims
  • Employee engagement and satisfaction rates
  • Return-on-investment


In summary, to build a holistic, flexible, and effective workforce mental health strategy that works, you must:

  • Gather feedback and insights from your workforce and leadership teams for their buy-in
  • Generate and evaluate reports on group benefits, disability claims, and healthcare costs
  • Find solutions with predictive analytics to identify high-risk employees
  • Secure budget from leadership
  • Work with your current insurance provider to negotiate revised packages and offerings
  • Select key departments to help roll out your workforce health strategy
  • Evaluate and change your strategy based on key learnings at regular intervals

At Starling Minds, our mission is to eradicate barriers to mental healthcare. By considering these steps, you can work to build a holistic, human-centered workforce mental health strategy that works for your leaders, organization, and employees. 

If you’re looking to transform your workforce mental health programs, reach out to us! We have a range of products to help you, with a host of trusted services to ensure your plan is a success.


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Janet Pun

Janet is an energetic and passionate lover of all things related to marketing and brand strategy. With her background in tech, digital media, and mental health advocacy, she hopes to make the world and the people who live in it a bit happier and healthier.

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