Howden’s top ten tips for employers to tackle employee mental health issues
During Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May), Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing (Howden) is urging employers to address workplace mental health challenges that have worsened since the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Stress Management Society has published new research and found that 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the Covid-19 restrictions began in 2020, with three key causes for concern being feelings of disconnection, uncertainty, and a worrying loss of control[i].
Mental health charity, Mind[ii] also revealed that over half of adults said their mental health had deteriorated during the first lockdown and predicts the pandemic will leave a deep and lasting scar on the mental health of millions. The report also cites coping mechanisms that impact all aspects of health such as over or under eating, alcohol and illegal drugs.
Anna Spender, Director of Actuarial & Data Analytics (UK & Global) at Howden says, “Mental health in the workplace was a significant challenge before Covid-19, but the pandemic has exacerbated the issues, taking a huge toll on employees’ mental, physical, social and financial health.
“People have had to manage the stress, anxiety and uncertainty of the pandemic and cope with the restrictions, as well as manage new and pre-existing conditions with reduced access to diagnosis and primary care. Many working parents have had to balance remote working with home schooling and looking after children, while some employees may have other caring responsibilities.’’
“Remote working has left some feeling isolated and the lack of social interaction has affected some people’s mental wellbeing. While many challenges existed before the pandemic, they have accelerated, and employers need to help employees build their resilience to meet these challenges.”
“The easing of lock down, and the return to the workplace in one form or another will bring both opportunities and further challenges in regard to supporting employee wellbeing. Now is the ideal time to review your company’s health and wellbeing strategy and approach”
Anna offers the following tips for offering stress, resilience and mental health support to employees:
- Mental and physical health are intrinsically linked, so approach your wellbeing strategy in a way that connects these, rather than focusing on disparate offerings.
- Consider your current benefit and support offering across the spectrum of proactively improving every day health, support when it’s needed most, through to absence management and return to work. As lockdown eases consider how you can proactively engage, promote, and support healthy lifestyle behaviours and coping mechanisms.
- Engage your workforce and understand what they need. This can take many forms from staff surveys, wellbeing committees, wellbeing champions, and employee focus groups, through to analysing which benefits, events, and information employees are accessing and engaging with.
- To ensure value for money, make sure that you are aware of and making use of everything you already have in place, from the main insurance benefits through to the value-added benefits and support services attached to those policies.
- Communication, awareness, and ease of access for benefits and support is key especially when considering stress and mental health. Promote what you have in place and look at ways you can make sure that information is easy to access at point of need. Support should be complementary, rather than offering multiple options covering the same thing, so that there is an easy pathway for people to follow when they are struggling.
- Consider introducing digital solutions, or online versions of previous face-to-face support to provide easy access in the new working environment. Where digital delivery is not achievable due to the nature of the roles and work environment for a particular workforce, increase manager cascade, and other direct forms of information delivery.
- Connect people virtually or when permitted, face-to-face! Many employees have been isolated at home during the pandemic and lacked social interaction for months. Encourage social events that are fun and non-competitive. Employee-led network focus groups can encourage employees to share experiences with likeminded peers and foster a sense of community and support.
- Offer financial wellbeing support and education. Helping individuals to manage their finances through a wide range of tools, resources and webinars or workshops can be beneficial. Finances are one of the biggest stresses for most people and the pandemic has affected many people’s income, directly or indirectly.
- Promote a culture where stress and mental health can be discussed openly. Achieve this with a combination of leadership sponsorship, sharing experiences, wellbeing champions or mental health first- aiders who can signpost to resources, wellbeing committees, through to raising awareness & training.
- Support and recognise your managers by giving them the tools, policies, support and training to effectively manage their teams, but also enable and encourage them to look after their own wellbeing. On a plane you put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others…there is a good reason for that!
Anna concludes, “We encourage employers to review and adjust wellbeing programmes and employee benefits to suit the new world we now find ourselves in. With some firms likely to continue with remote working to some degree in the future, providing virtual alternatives to previous ‘in-office’ wellbeing initiatives can be a good place to start.”
“Companies need to select employee benefits services that complement each other and address the needs of their employees. They need to be clearly communicated to allow employees to access them easily at point of need. With restrictions starting to ease, now is the ideal time for employers to step up their support for employee wellbeing.”