Part of our Mental health and well-being series

Businesses are more interested than ever in expanding mental health and well-being benefits

How to support employee mental health in stressful times

The turmoil of a pandemic and recovering from it have taken a measurable toll on our collective mental health.

Dr. Steven E. Pratt, senior medical director for Magellan Health, says the managed healthcare company (providing services to many Principal® clients) felt that toll on workers nationwide. Magellan saw a 42% increase in members seeking phone or videoconference coaching through its employee assistance program (EAP) in 2020 compared to 2019.2 The most noticeable increase was among people struggling to stay motivated and manage stress during the pandemic.

“The only year in my lifetime that comes anywhere close to this is 1968,” Pratt says, referring to the landmark year that saw the assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, widespread civil rights protests, and even a flu pandemic.

“2020 was a year unlike any other in the memory of almost everyone.”

Business leaders were intimately aware of 2020’s effects, navigating lockdowns, disruption to supply chains, and employee well-being.

Early in 2020, more than half of employers surveyed already were providing special emotional support to their stressed workforce because of COVID-19. And 74% of business leaders surveyed in March 2021 agreed that mental health and well-being offerings are important for their workforce, according to our Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM. Mental health benefits are good for employee morale and can affect a business’s bottom line. A 2018 Tufts Medical Center study (PDF) showed that people suffering both mental and physical disorders can double or triple healthcare costs.


of U.S. adults struggled with mental health or substance abuse in 2020.1

“For many, if not most, employers, the single most expensive category of health problems in their companies isn’t heart disease, cancer, or musculoskeletal illness, but mental disorders,” the study concludes.

And that was before the pandemic.

So, take a moment to reflect: As a business leader, how do I support employees when signs of depression and the need for mental health resources may be only more apparent?

We're here to help you answer that question—and maintain business productivity—with a series of short articles focusing on four main categories of employee stressors. We'll also explain in more detail how businesses with an EAP can take fuller advantage of its offerings.

1. External stress, such as COVID-19

The spread of the pandemic and the public health response may be out of your control, but you can take proactive steps to reassure employees about external factors that may intrude on the workplace.

2. Work-related stress

Widespread remote work has introduced conveniences and complications, while collaboration and teambuilding also have been challenged in this unconventional year. Get ideas on mental-health support for specific types of workers, as well as the role physical exercise plays in employee mental health.

3. Personal and family stress

Balancing the professional and personal has gotten trickier for millions of American workers—for instance, juggling caregiving with their careers. Explore everything from telehealth to “reflective listening.”

4. Financial stress

In volatile times, good financial education and reassurance about long-term retirement savings strategies, portfolios, and other aspects of personal budgeting can help remove money as extra worry that only compounds stress.

5. Focus on EAPs (employee assistance programs)

Even businesses with an EAP may not realize all the well-being resources they can access through its services. See if you’re maximizing your program.

Millennials push mental-health awareness

There’s been a generational shift in more awareness of mental health and an openness to talk about it and pursue treatment—even at work.

Twice as many millennials as baby boomers believe it’s important for their workplace to support mental health, with millennials also far likelier to know their company’s procedure for enlisting help.3

What's next

  • Want to talk more in depth about employee mental health, employee benefits, and your business? Consult your financial professional, or we can help you find one in your area.
  • Businesses with 3-100 employees can try our Principal Benefit Design Tool™ to see how your existing employee benefits compare to what organizations like yours offer.

1 CDC survey: Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic—United States, June 24–30, 2020.

2 Data from Magellan, October 2020.

3 Mind Share Partners’ Mental Health at Work 2019 Report.

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment advice or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel or other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.

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