Better mental health at work

Employers can be empowered to support employees and promote good mental health.

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Legal & General’s purpose is to improve the lives of our customers and build a better society. That’s why we launched our mental health campaign, Not a Red Card. In our role as insurance providers, we see the impact of mental ill health on someone who isn’t supported to make positive changes. We wanted to bring this to life and tackle the stigma in an accessible way, so we decided to borrow the language of sport.

Sport is of course a very public workplace, and its professionals face challenges throughout their careers and into retirement. Since the campaign launched, we have seen a groundswell of activities and awareness from across many sectors. For Not A Red Card, our focus is specifically on the workplace because it’s what we have expertise in, and because many of us spend the majority of our time at work.

People thrive when they have a supportive environment, and that means being able to talk about mental health without fear. Right now, everyone’s resilience is being tested by the coronavirus pandemic and a lot of the stresses people are feeling are becoming very clear.

As with all change initiatives, our campaign is taking us and those involved on a journey. That journey began a year earlier when we attended the inaugural ten round tables event hosted by Beyond Sport. It brought together business, sports people and charities working in this space, and the challenge for delegates was to focus on mental health and determine tangible actions to improve it.

Since then we have held annual forums and created a series of videos to tell stories around mental health, featuring sports personalities who have experienced a mental health condition themselves or who have been a carer. Ex-footballer Robbie Savage, who worked with Gabby Logan on one of our videos, was inspired to be much more open about his mental health as a direct result of working on the campaign.

Our forums enable delegates to learn from each other, and we ask attendees to commit to taking actions into their workplaces to improve mental health support. Since 2018, that has very much been about using the Thriving at Work standards, as recommended in the 2017 Stephenson Farmer review, Thriving at Work. This provides structure and guidance for improvement on both an organisational and team level.

The role of line managers and team support is crucial, and it is the tangible outcomes that people and organisations really value. Initiatives such as mental health first aiders and mental health champions are key to creating a supportive workplace. All this should be underpinned by a mental health strategy that is aligned with the organisational strategy and reflecting its culture.

The impact can be transformative on both an organisational level and a personal one. At our first event we had a senior employee who, afterwards, felt able to be open about having bipolar disorder. That led to them ultimately setting up their own charity with the aim of helping and supporting other people with a mental health condition.

As an insurance company, a core part of our offering for both individuals and companies is income protection. This product is often overlooked in favour of life insurance, but put simply it is a “living insurance” product that can help people who become ill or become injured to return to health and work with the support of experts across a range of disciplines, from counselling to physiotherapy.

Our approach has always been to look for ways to understand and empower the person affected by illness or disability, taking into account all the factors that could help or hinder their recovery. When we look into our claims data, the highest cause of absence since 1999 has been mental ill health. Back then, relatively little was being done to support people in the workplace, so we created our early intervention and rehabilitation services, led by our team of vocational rehabilitation specialists. These experts include occupational health workers, therapists, physiotherapists and registered general nurses. As well as mental health, we also have specialists in cancer, for example.

When someone becomes ill and they or their employer contact us, our rehabilitation team gets to work. A case manager is assigned, and their first task is to get a deep understanding of the root cause of the problem, any treatments the person is getting, and to carry out testing using validated tools. They then partner with multidisciplinary experts, giving the individual access to rehabilitation and support at no cost to them.

Prompt action and intervention are critical, and because of this we remove every barrier possible, including the need to wait for a GP referral. At a practical level, this means we can get someone access to talking therapy in two weeks, compared with a waiting time on the NHS of months or even up to a year.

This timely approach, coupled with the root cause analysis and access to experts brings real benefits: over 82 per cent of people with mental ill health are able to return to work within 26 weeks, and over 85 per cent within a year of first becoming absent.

The financial benefit that’s payable under the policy works alongside the rehabilitation support we provide to take care of any money worries, so that the individual can focus on their recovery. The employer or individual taking out the policy decides what percentage of salary to cover as well as any waiting period before regular payments begin. On a company level, different groups of employees can be given different structures of cover.

As human beings we are complex. The work our teams and expert partners do to create personalised and tailored care pathways for our customers recognises these differences: not everyone with the same diagnosis responds the same way. We also recognise that recovery is often not a finite thing, and therefore once treatment ends we offer an online relapse prevention programme for up to a year to help individuals maintain their mental health.

If Covid-19 is teaching us anything, it is that work can be good for us. We are social creatures and, alongside the financial benefits of a monthly pay packet, most of us want to be working and not to be stuck at home. Our model of compassionate, practical and personalised care helps generate better outcomes for individuals.

In many ways the coronavirus pandemic has brought mental health issues right to the top of the agenda for employers as well as individuals. Sadly, the fear, stress and bereavements we are experiencing individually and as communities will be with us for potentially a long time to come.

As we move into a post-pandemic world, we will still be striving to achieve parity of esteem between mental and physical health. Hopefully with increased awareness and recognition we will be better able to take control of our health; we all need to be part of the journey to make that happen.

Vanessa Sallows is claims and governance director at Legal & General Group Protection.

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