Towards better mental health at work

How can employers better support their employees’ mental health after Covid and how do reproductive health issues affect well being?

Mental Health Image. Waste paper and head silhouette

 

Events for Mental Health Awareness Week this week have covered everything from the vicarious trauma suffered by some frontline workers during Covid to discussions about reproductive health.

One event on Tuesday, Mental health and wellbeing – supporting you on your journey to go from good to great, organised by SOM and chaired by Emma Codd, Global Inclusion Leader at Deloitte, featured a panel of well being specialists who gave advice to employers about how they could support workers during and after the pandemic.

Louise Aston from Business in the Community spoke of the need for an intersectional approach to mental health and of the need to listen to the workforce. She called Covid “the opportunity of a lifetime” with regard to recognising the need for employers to support different ways of working through a personalised approach. BITC is publishing a white paper in late June about how employers can support good mental health rather than creating problems.

Sarah McIntosh, Director of People and Organisational Effectiveness at Mental Health First Aid, spoke about the mental health trends post-Covid. Her organisation was already seeing signs of what is known as ‘vicarious trauma’, mainly among front line workers in the NHS or other services who have been dealing directly with the worst impacts of Covid. This would require a lot of support, she said.

She added that if employers get the move to hybrid working wrong it can make mental health worse and exclude people. She said working from home made it harder for managers to ascertain if workers are struggling. That makes it more important to do stress risk assessments and look at workloads regularly. New ways of working may exclude some people, said Sarah, which makes equality impact assessments and training vital. She added that workers’ expectations about the need for employer support have shifted over the course of the last year around work life balance.

Andrew Berrie, National Lead of MIND Mental Health at Work, spoke about what employers can do if they are just starting on their mental health journey. He listed the following:

  • build mental health awareness and address stigma so people can have open conversations and access support
  • provide training opportunities
  • share information and stories
  • celebrate key dates such as Mental Health Awareness Week
  • normalise the conversation
  • train line managers in how to embed well being into check-ins
  • build confidence among managers
  • signpost to support
  • take a strategic approach and sign up to commitments to mental health at work

Other speakers talked about the importance of signing up to accreditation schemes tailored to local needs, entering awards to promote and share best practice and joining organisations like the Thriving at Work Leadership Council which aims to maintain momentum on mental health at work. The need to address broader issues like pay, work life balance and diversity and inclusion as part of a mental health strategy was also raised.

Richard Curtis of accreditation scheme Mental Health Tick said there was a need for well being being part of the appraisal process or a regular agenda item in team meetings, for regular monitoring of it, reviewing access to employee assistance programmes, using staff surveys to improve things, looking at how employers can help all their workers – not just permanent employees and reviewing wellbeing strategies.

Christian van Stolk from RAND said organisations should take a data driven approach to understand the nature of the problem in their workplace so they can make a stronger business case. It is important to understand what works, he added, saying that mental health is contributing more and more to absence rates at work, with mental health services being unable to address the need. He spoke of equity issues as larger employers offer more wellbeing services while SMEs may not have the resources to fund mental health support.

There was a discussion about whether some of the issues affecting mental health were more broader societal issues rather than employer issues. McIntosh said that employers had a responsibility to address mental health issues that they can directly control, but that they can also signpost people affected by wider issues. Doing so would improve their performance at work, given people bring their whole self to work, she stated.

Reproductive health

Another webinar on Tuesday, hosted by fertility benefits provider Fertifa, discussed the links between reproductive health issues, such as IVF and pregnancy loss, and mental health, and the knock-on effects at work, as well as how the physical and financial impact of fertility issues can also worsen people’s wellbeing.

Lucie McGrath, Head of Client Strategy and proposition development at Willis Towers Watson, said there were big advantages for employers from having a reproductive health policy in terms of recruitment, retention, diversity and inclusion and absence rates. It means employees are not socially isolated, but feel they can talk to their managers and colleagues about the issues they might be facing, she added.

Ruth Petzold, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Anchor Hanover, recommended employers have employee assistance programmes [EAPs] in place, offer time off for parents, including dads, who need it, and be aware that people deal with bereavement in different ways and at different times and may need additional time off, for instance, for anniversaries or Father’s or Mother’s Day.

Anthony Ryb, a specialist fertility counsellor, said EAPs sometimes offer only a limited amount of counselling and that it is important that people get the support they need. He said employers need to be aware if constant checking in on employees on leave is helpful or is pressurising them into feeling they should return to work.

There was a discussion about egg freezing and how employers can help. Fertifa said egg freezing is becoming an issue. While there are not as many expectations in the UK as in the US, demand for egg freezing is likely to increase, panellists heard.

They were asked what their advice would be for employers. Petzold said that it is better to do something to recognise reproductive health issues than to do nothing and to start small with quick wins, for instance, listening to what  employees want. McGrath said there is a lot of expert support available and employers should seek it out.



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