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7 steps to measure your organization’s mental health program

Is financial success a way to measure your employee health program?

By Erin Terkoski Young, MSW, MBA, LICSW | April 26, 2023

May is Mental Health Awareness Month – a great time to take stock of your company’s mental health programs and your own emotional wellbeing journey.
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If your organization is like many, you may have established mental health solutions or programs to better support employees’ psychological wellbeing. Measuring the effectiveness of these programs can be challenging. Yet you need to measure these programs to determine if they are accomplishing intended goals, demonstrate their effectiveness and identify areas for improvement.

Mental health diagnoses vary across populations, and defining “good” outcomes in mental health can be challenging, further complicating the measurement of program effectiveness. It’s common to identify information sources that serve as a proxy for “good mental health” and make informed assumptions about whether programs are meeting goals.

Critical metrics

A critical metric for mental health programs is engagement: How many members are using the program and how often are they interacting with it? Meaningful, sustained engagement drives positive outcomes based on treatment or care provided. For benefits other than medical and pharmacy, 77% of organizations report meaningful engagement is the most important factor in selecting a vendor.

Return on investment: the right metric?

Vendors often focus on financial return on investment (ROI) to gauge program success. But ROI measurements require sophisticated analysis and a significant number of engaged individuals, making it less accessible and less credible for most organizations.

According to WTW’s recent 2022 Vendor Strategy Survey, 61% of companies indicate that they prioritize employee needs and innovation over ROI. Programs that deliver on outcomes are vital, and 41% of organizations report that one of the top challenges with vendors is inadequate reporting or a lack of outcomes measurement to assess value. With ROI no longer the single indicator of program success, organizations are increasingly using the value of investment (VOI) of a mental health program to measure investment and success.

Value of investment

Evaluating the value of mental health programs includes performance measurement and program evaluation. Performance measurement means monitoring and reporting on actions within a program using pre-selected metrics such as engagement, utilization rates and average time to appointment.

Performance measurement enables you to evaluate if your program or vendor is operating as expected. Program evaluation process measures how the program is improving mental health by measuring health outcomes. The performance measurement is the “what,” and the program evaluation is the “how.” Together they represent the value of your mental health program.

Determining the success of mental health programs requires multiple data sources. We rely on patient reported symptoms through validated screening assessments (e.g., GAD 7, PHQ9), data points from medical and prescription drug claims, health risk change, and workplace data such as absenteeism or short-term disability related to mental health.

While a data warehouse can integrate multiple data sources and simplify the data gathering process, many organizations don’t have these tools readily available or have additional data sources that sit outside their data warehouse. This creates another barrier to demonstrating the value of the program. Organizations must sift through multiple vendor reports to find the engagement rates, clinical assessment scores, employee satisfaction, referral patterns and follow-up care analysis.

Creating a measurement strategy

Assessing the value of your mental health strategy requires a multidimensional approach. Here are the components of a strong mental health measurement strategy:

  1. Inventory your current mental health data. Data is available from your employee assistance plan, mental health program, medical, prescription drug and disability claim vendors. Determine if there are specific segments of your population that should be reviewed, based on program strategy and resources.

    For example, are there resources available in a specific location that aren’t available in others? In today’s world we are inundated with data, splices and slices that show us granular detail about employees, but is it all useful?

  2. Leverage third-party outcomes assessment tools. Use clinically validated assessment tools administered at regular intervals to assess additional outcomes. Measure reduction in mental health symptoms and improvements in overall wellbeing.
  3. Conduct employee surveys. Employee surveys or other listening can provide key insights on employee perceptions of their emotional wellbeing and the programs available to them. Surveys may include questions on stress levels, job satisfaction, burnout, work flexibility, morale and culture.
  4. Review workforce data. Analyze indicators such as absenteeism, productivity and turnover to help gauge emotional wellbeing. High rates may be indicators that you should look at culture, work environment or programs to support mental health needs.
  5. Establish a realistic timeline. Ensure that your timelines are clear and you are tracking based on when programs or changes were implemented. Establish metrics that can be feasibly measured in the short- or mid-term and consider which will require a more mature program to reveal outcomes.

    For new vendor partners this may align with the beginning of the calendar or fiscal year, but it is important to track new interventions and programs within vendor solutions as well as those that are within your organization. Timelines are important for pre- and post-implementation data to track measurable, impactful differences.

  6. Set clear expectations with vendors. Establish clear measurement, outcomes tracking and service line agreements (SLAs) with new and existing vendors. Hindsight can be 20/20, but it is always easier to set clear expectations on important operational and clinical metrics and data to track improvement and satisfaction before a program is live versus after.

    As new information is found that would be useful, hold regular meetings or quarterly business reviews to request updated reporting or new data. If appropriate, tie performance to critical metrics through guarantees.

  7. Document your measurement strategy. Ensure that you write down your measurement strategy process in detail so it can be replicated over time. Document the metrics, process measures, and methodology used to analyze the data and create a regular cadence of evaluation. Don’t forget to revisit your measurement strategy when your program changes to ensure it remains aligned and pertinent.

Evaluating or measuring employee mental health can be a complex process that requires thoughtful understanding of a variety of factors. Regularly assess and evaluate the program to ensure that it meets employee needs and achieves program goals. A multidimensional approach points to areas where specific improvements or enhancements are necessary to improve support for employee mental health and overall wellbeing.

Thirty percent of organizations plan to focus on a mental health vendor solution in 2024, how will you measure your program?
(Credit and thanks to Carrie Khan and Allison Moore for peer review.)


Senior Director, Health, Equity & Wellbeing, WTW
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