Skip to main content
Blog Post

Connecting emotional wellbeing and the employee experience

By Becky Smith | March 18, 2019

Employers looking to improve productivity should consider addressing the emotional wellbeing needs of employees. Providing emotional wellbeing and resiliency programs supports your diverse multi-generational workforce.


Emotional wellbeing needs can manifest in a variety of symptoms linked to multiple aspects of wellbeing:

  • Physical – pain, fatigue, and sleep disruption
  • Emotional – anxiety, restlessness, and irritability
  • Behavioral – anger, alcohol and substance abuse
  • Social – withdrawal or relationship issues

The emotional wellbeing continuum spans a variety of employee needs. At one end, there are employees facing life's most critical events and unexpected detractors such as substance abuse, financial worries or the loss of a loved one. At the other end, there are employees who have achieved work satisfaction, maintained boosted energy levels, and have reached exceptional resilience. And in the middle are the majority of the employee population, tackling life's standard stressors and "life events."

"Ordinary" life events that can trigger stress occur throughout employees' lives. Young adults might face the stresses of social navigation and student debt. Those in mid and late adulthood might be struggling to balance mortgages, saving for retirement, childcare, elder care and maintaining health and energy. The key for employers is to meet diverse employee needs at different points in their lives.

The 2017/2018 Willis Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitude Survey (GBAS) found:

  • 46% of U.S. employees reported high or above average stress levels
  • 32% of U.S. employees reported suffering from severe stress, anxiety, or depression in the last two years

That said, it is important to be mindful that there are particular populations that may be more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety and depression. Millennial employees, women and those struggling with financial worries were reported more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety and depression, according to GBAS. Nevertheless, stress and emotional wellbeing needs still affect virtually all employees. Building a strong emotional wellbeing employee program supports multiple generations and increased productivity in an employer's workforce.

Design benefits that provide meaningful emotional wellbeing support for employees

1) Map the employee emotional wellbeing journey

Conceptualizing and mapping the emotional wellbeing and behavioral health employee journey will help in designing a meaningful emotional wellbeing program. The journey typically begins with the employee recognizing the need for emotional wellbeing support, though accessing care might be a challenge. Additionally, employees often struggle because of concerns about the stigma related to behavioral health needs.

To help employees overcome these obstacles, think about the different employee profiles or personas to provide context for an optimal, modernized emotional wellbeing program. To develop employee personas, consider the following:

  • Who are the different employee segments?
  • How do they think about emotional wellbeing?
  • What are their unique needs?
  • How do we map their journey towards self-actualization and self-transcendence?

2) Inventory current program design and explore market offerings

To begin the program design, first take an inventory of current mental health and emotional wellbeing benefits and evaluate the portfolio in terms of specific employee needs and how they all fit together to support employee wellbeing:

  • What are the current mental health and substance abuse benefits within the medical plan offering?
  • When was the last time the organization revisited the design and delivery of the employee assistance program (EAP)?
  • Will a mental health point-solution vendor make sense to include as part of the emotional wellbeing benefit portfolio?

The emotional wellbeing vendor landscape is constantly evolving, including emerging startup vendors focusing on specific behavioral health interventions, tele-behavioral health vendor options, established carve-out vendors specializing in behavioral health or EAP, and the traditional medical carriers with embedded behavioral health capabilities.

For example, an innovative startup solution is, a clinically validated behavioral health chatbot app. Woebot uses artificial intelligence to engage with the user, and provides responses using cognitive behavioral therapy to address symptoms of anxiety and depression. Tele-behavioral tools like Woebot may reduce the stigma and access barriers employees often face with behavioral health support.

3) Analyze underlying population behavioral health data

Once you inventory current emotional wellbeing and behavioral health benefits and evaluate the market for potential new options, look at the underlying data and utilization that could indicate emotional wellbeing need in your organization:

  • What do the mental health and substance abuse claims look like?
  • Do productivity and absenteeism metrics support the potential need for enhanced emotional wellbeing and behavioral health support?

Some specific key data points to look at and compare to benchmarks and year-over-year data are:

  • Lost days of work
  • Disability claims related to behavioral health — especially claims where behavioral health is the primary diagnosis
  • Behavioral health medication adherence rates
  • EAP utilization
  • Mental health and substance abuse inpatient and outpatient claims
  • Prevalence of depression and anxiety

From a demographic perspective, does the data show trends of underlying population-specific or segment-specific needs or characteristics? Having the underlying data will provide context around designing the most appropriate mix of emotional wellbeing benefits for your population.

4) Build a company culture around emotional wellbeing

Finally, build a culture around emotional wellbeing into the organization mission and employee value proposition. Half of employer respondents to the 2018 Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Survey indicated a companywide behavioral health strategy or action plan was in place in 2018 or planned for 2019.

  • Provide education opportunities for managers and supervisors focused on identifying signs of mental health and emotional wellbeing issues
  • Conduct focus groups through feedback settings or employee surveys to identify sources of potential work-related or non-work related stress that the employer could help address
  • Boost energy levels and work satisfaction by offering unique learning and development opportunities
  • Embed inclusion, diversity, and equity into the company culture

An emphasis on these attributes is meaningful to employees and supports their journey towards self-actualization and self-transcendence.

Providing intervention and support for behavioral health and emotional wellbeing in context of building the broader employee experience

Employers are providing emotional wellbeing programs in the greater context of the employee experience by focusing on programs that support employees as they navigate life's ordinary and unexpected events. As employers are reviewing their strategy towards the health and wellbeing benefit portfolio and their approach towards addressing emotional wellbeing, employers should focus on the following underlying questions in context of the broader employee experience:

  • How is the organization improving the lives of employees?
  • Is the organization providing value through the benefit portfolio that includes stress and emotional wellbeing support?
  • Is there therapeutic value?
  • How do employees feel about their emotional wellbeing benefits?

A "one size fits all" approach towards benefits has long been on the way out. Tailored emotional wellbeing benefits and engaging individuals at points of need in their lives that could be significant sources of stress is imperative for increasing benefit value, workforce productivity, and a meaningful employee experience.


Becky Smith
Lead Associate, Watson Custom Care Management Unit's (CCMU) Solution and Health Management Practice

Related content tags, list of links Blog Post Wellbeing
Contact Us