The Health and Safety Executive’s annual report on mental health in the workplace makes for sobering reading. The most recent edition shows that 50 per cent of all work-related ill health absences in 2020/21 were caused by stress, depression or anxiety.
Research conducted on behalf of Aviva at the end of last year highlighted that 70 per cent of employers had seen an increase in employees with mental health conditions over the past three years.
However, in the workplace, one in five would wait for their employee to talk to them before they offered appropriate support and a similar amount say they wouldn’t feel confident talking about mental health.
Think mental well-being and you’d normally think NHS, but in recent years you can also find helpful services embedded within workplace health insurance provision. Of course, workplaces come in all shapes and sizes. For the UK’s 5.6 million small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), challenging issues such as growth, revenue and the fuel crisis dominate today’s agenda. In the current climate, a workforce mental health strategy is, for many, low on a list of priorities. And yet, mental well-being should be seen as an integral part of business culture to aid staff retention, motivation and morale.
Delivering a strategy and well-being options
What are the concerns of SME businesses when it comes to mental health and what do insurance companies find that they want? The first thing SMEs usually request is general guidance around a strategy. Unlike their large corporate counterparts, most SMEs don’t have a dedicated resource for mental health or an extensive human resource function, so knowing where to start can be the most challenging step. Having a strategy helps.
Next, offering SMEs options can help to get the ball rolling. This might include well-being check-ins, line manager training, mental health “ambassadors” and “first-aiders” and providing staff awareness training. That’s the infrastructure, but it’s at the line manager level where it really counts.
No one can force employees to get help, but line managers can be there if employees change their mind. Employers can address this by ensuring clear and helpful signposting is in place. This might be regular company-wide reminders of the well-being services available to them, possibly via email, posters, a company intranet or from leaders at team meetings. For new starters, the workplace environment won’t be familiar and these employees may need support to feel comfortable in a new job. This could include launching a buddy system, so new joiners have someone within the team they can talk to, and ensuring that a strong communication plan is in place so that employees know what to expect.
For many service sector workers, the post-pandemic workplace might look and feel different. There may be new homeworking patterns and more flexibility. It’s important that employers remind employees of the social well-being benefits of being back in the workplace so that it’s seen as a place for collaboration and mentoring. It’s also important to help them to build a return-to-work plan that works for them.
What we’ve delivered for businesses
As a major private sector health insurance company, Aviva is committed to helping drive positive change in the workplace and frequently shares its knowledge and insights to help organisations support employee mental well-being.
More recently, we introduced expert-led mental health training, specifically aimed at line managers in SME organisations who didn’t have access to the breadth of support that larger organisations can often benefit from. The training was in a series of webinars, which provided a unique insight into the challenges SMEs face and the support they need when it comes to mental well-being.
Our Digital Line Manager Toolkit – Mental Health offered line managers online training modules developed in conjunction with our mental health pathway provider. Over the past year, we’ve complemented the online modules and enhanced our employer support through the introduction of a regular webinar programme. The events are designed to educate our corporate customers and empower them to make positive changes to improve health and well-being in their organisations. We then share comprehensive Q&A documents and best practice guides to support them. That’s just one example of what we recently achieved.
Different needs for different businesses
Different businesses will naturally have different needs when it comes to mental well-being. For businesses that are run solely online, this can mean that working collaboratively from an office may not be an option, but providing access to online resources may help.
Even if there is no dedicated office space, having regular catch-ups in person will help employees to come together. For example, meeting for breakfast or coffee in a local cafe is a great informal way to speak with employees and support local businesses, without high costs. Maintaining good mental well-being requires constant engagement and should ideally be a permanent priority for businesses of all shapes, sizes and industries.
In a perfect world, employers should focus on creating a positive culture around mental health, equip line managers with the skills to identify risks, and ensure resources are appropriately signposted for employees so they’re accessible when needed most. In the insurance world, we’re getting there.