Tackling stress head on - a business priority for 2020

Viewpoint

13 January 2020

Eugene Farrell, Mental Health Lead for AXA Health, highlights the need for a one health approach:

We’re at a critical moment in the nation’s mental health. Recent HSE statistics revealed in Great Britain work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of work-related ill health and 54% of work-related working days lost, in 2018/19.¹ 

It’s a big issue that’s not escaped business leaders, with nearly two thirds (62%) of the HR professionals the Reward and Employee Benefits Association polled for its Employee Wellbeing Research report saying it’s their boards’ biggest wellbeing concern.²

Much has been done, and will continue to be done, to raise mental health awareness driven by ‘awareness days’ and ‘wellbeing initiatives’ but, unless employers are able to join the sum of the parts (communications, resources, policies, training and the like) and offer both a preventive and supportive culture that addresses whole health, the upward trend looks set to continue. 

Farrell explains “Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems. Similarly, poor mental health can adversely affect physical health. Additionally, mental health and other physical health conditions have separate but additive negative effects on wellbeing so it’s imperative wellbeing strategies consider both.” 

Pav Powar, Employee Benefits Consultant at Avison Young, continues “It’s about understanding the employee as a whole. Personal issues, financial issues, physical issues. It’s about providing that integrated approach in line with real life.”

Organisations’ wellbeing programmes should therefore seek to address and support all contributing factors whilst with mental health consider how individuals function, and the support available to them, when they’re healthy, at risk, unwell and on the mend. 

Healthy / At Risk

Employers are grappling with the complexities of identifying and supporting employees at these early stages and, arguably more importantly, preventing them from arising in the first place. Assessing employee health risks and providing suitable support at time of need is paramount. 

Farrell adds “With mental health, the capability and capacity of line managers and work colleagues to support and recognise individuals’’ needs to be vastly up-weighted. Seminars, mental health awareness and health coaching all have a part to play in gaining confidence and signposting, but these need to be properly integrated. Great strides have also been made within digital resources to help individuals identify, understand and better manage their own personal triggers”.  

Unwell / Recovery

An EAP is an invaluable benefit yet in some organisations utilisation levels by employees remains low. However there is a marked usage difference in those companies where line managers are familiar with the service and are active and consistent in promoting its use. 

This same signposting requirement is true of benefit providers. Do your third parties triage effectively at your employees’ time of need? Consider the integration of Occupational Health, Employee Assistance Programmes, Private healthcare and Critical Incident Management. People shouldn’t have to struggle with depression or anxiety on their own.

We’re at the dawn of a new decade and never has there been a greater need for businesses to play an active role in supporting employees’ mental health. The best results will come from employers with sustained programmes and who keep listening – and learning – and adapting to meet new challenges and opportunities as and when they arise. It’s vital to act on meaningful insight rather than just on numbers. A well-functioning wellbeing programme should demonstrate significant health outcomes and highlight further opportunities for intervention. 

¹Health and Safety Executive (2019). Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, 2019:
http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf 

²REBA Employee Wellbeing Research 2019, in association with AXA PPP healthcare.  
https://reba.global/files/document/257/1561368113_REBAWellbeingResearch2019ExecutiveSummary.pdf