Jen Porter Anderson | Chief Operating Officer, Mind Share Partners
Demand for mental health services at work is on the rise. Half of Millennials and 75% of Gen-Zers have voluntarily left a job, at least in part, due to mental health concerns. To be able to attract and retain top talent, supporting mental health is no longer an optional perk, but an imperative focus for companies who want to stay competitive.
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Among the wide range of approaches workplaces are using to support employee mental health, some companies are choosing to bring mental health care onsite. I decided to speak with company decision-makers, employees and practitioners to get their recommendations on whether the trending workplace benefit of onsite therapy is truly a viable solution. Whether you’re in leadership deciding if this is an effective approach to address mental health in the workplace or an employee wondering about the pros and cons, here’s what you need to know.
Physical Proximity Eases Access To Therapy
Perhaps the greatest benefit of onsite therapy is that it eases barriers and transaction costs to seeing a therapist. Brad Smallwood, who works as an onsite therapist at a publicly-held payments company, says that employees most value the “opportunity to take time from their day that isn’t that disruptive.” Add to that the possibility of a 30-minute commute each way, and for some, offsite support is prohibitive.
Jessica DiVento, Google’s Mental Health Program Manager, explains Google’s perspective: “Having therapists on site is much more convenient for employees, saving them valuable time as they don’t have to travel to an appointment. It also means they are more likely to engage in therapy as we’re making it as simple as possible to access.”
However, the convenience of physical proximity doesn’t require a therapist to be at the office. We’ve seen employee-led Slack channels or mental health ERGs be excellent resources where people can share tips or recommendations for local service providers. In one example, many employees at a company were able to visit an independent therapist located in the same building.
Privacy Concerns May Deter Onsite Therapy Use
Proximity can also backfire when employees aren’t comfortable seeking personal support at work. Robert Gill, currently HR Business Partner at Square, shares that, “People might not feel super comfortable going to therapy at work.” Going from a meeting to a therapy appointment and right back to your desk might feel jarring.
Being clear about the nature of the therapist’s relationship with the company can ease some fears.
Smallwood says that “sometimes employees believe that I am a wing of the company. I have to explain that I am a subcontractor—a private medical provider with an office onsite. I have patient-provider confidentiality and I’m not tied in any way to their performance metrics.” In addition, DiVento advises, “Partner with internal comms to ensure employees are well-informed on when and how to access resources.”
Finding The Right-Fit Therapist Is An Individual Choice
Therapist fit is a very personal decision. Mental health affects communities differently, and research shows mental health interventions are more effective when tailored to cultural contexts. The nature of bringing in one or two therapists to meet the needs of a large group of people has inherent diversity and inclusion limitations.
Gill shares, “A therapist is a very personal relationship, I don’t know if we can just get one for the entire office.” DiVento suggests that if you do bring in onsite support, “strive to hire therapists that represent a broad range of diversity.” Companies might also consider partnering with their diversity and inclusion teams to make sure they are meeting needs represented across the company.
Demand And Space Requirements Need To Be Considered
Anticipating the demand for both therapist time and appropriate space can make the onsite experience much more effective and accessible for employees. Many onsite therapists are actually booked out far in advance.
DiVento further advises to “consider space issues in the planning process—dedicated counseling space set up like therapy offices and located in private areas of the office are ideal. Take into consideration the space needed initially [and] anticipate future demand.”
Onsite Care Is Expensive, But Has High Returns
For many companies, onsite mental health care is simply too expensive, especially for small and mid-sized organizations. It requires significant investment in both third-party partnerships and the staff to manage them. DiVento explains how Google organizes it’s onsite program, which has multiple components, “We have licensed mental health clinicians facilitated by third-party providers to deliver mental health treatment onsite. Our Employee Assistance Program provides counseling services onsite in some locations and we also have onsite wellness centers where mental health treatment can be provided.”
Despite the costs, onsite care has high returns. Deloitte’s 2017 report showed that mental health treatment programs averaged over a 4:1 ROI. Returns are intangible as well. As Smallwood explains, “My having an office onsite is the company sending a message saying they value the well-being of their employees.”
Services Aren’t Effective Unless You Reduce The Stigma
Providing access to mental health services isn’t the end-all answer to creating a mentally healthy workplace. In fact, most workers won’t seek treatment because of fear of shame, regardless of service access. Further research shows that unless a benefit is considered culturally acceptable to access, people aren’t likely to use it. Simply getting better mental health benefits—or bringing in an onsite therapist—won’t necessarily mean people get treatment.
Companies need to make sure employees have explicit and implicit permission to take time to support their mental health. Do employees know they can block off time on their calendars for a therapist appointment? Do people see mental health support as a weakness or a strength? DiVento suggests “[partnering] with leadership and comms to develop strategies to reduce stigma around mental health to maximize access to services.” Creating a culture that supports mental health is an essential part of the process. We've seen proof of this over and over again in the work our team does in creating mentally healthy workplaces.
Is An Onsite Therapist The Right Choice?
Onsite mental health care can be an effective, high-return solution if you have the resources to have a diverse set of practitioners, appropriate space and cultural permission to use the services. Regardless of whether therapy is provided onsite or not, it’s important to make sure employees know that mental health is a safe topic in your workplace and that there are company resources available to support them. As Gill suggests, “There are lots of ways to do it, big and small, but the first thing is always talking about it.”
Jen Porter Anderson oversees corporate partnerships and leads internal operations at Mind Share Partners. She advises companies across the country and trains managers and employees to create mentally healthy workplaces. Throughout her career, she has been a featured presenter at places like TEDx, Google, Squarespace, and Harvard Business School. Jen has spent her career in management, operations, entrepreneurship, and HR. Previously, she was the co-founder and COO of The Reset Foundation, where she led fundraising and all internal operations, including finance, accounting, HR, legal, and risk management. Prior to Reset, Jen helped launch the Pathways Fund at the venture philanthropy firm New Profit Inc, designed an impact assessment strategy for Next Street, and dabbled in corporate finance at two technology and investment firms. Jen has an M.B.A. from Harvard University and a B.A. in Organizational Behavior, magna cum laude, from Brigham Young University. She is a Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur, Echoing Green Fellow, and Draper Richards Kaplan Social Entrepreneur.