SME employers must look more broadly and strategically at workplace wellbeing, in particular mental health, to support employees to the best extent, a COVER webinar has found.
The webinar discussed the internal and external pressures that SME employers and employees face as well as how to implement a holistic wellbeing strategy.
COVER hosted the live, interactive webinar during Mental Health Awareness Week, in partnership with Bupa. The panel featured Patrick Watt, corporate director of Bupa UK; Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind and Stuart Scullion, executive chairman of AMII, who took audience questions.
Watt said: "There is a huge opportunity to engage small businesses in this agenda; hopefully they make an impact larger than just within their own businesses, but in society as a whole. "
Meanwhile, Scullion urged intermediaries to take a different approach to discussing employee benefits.
He said: "Our [AMII] members need to go out and not just talk about private medical insurance and cash plans, they should talk about wellness strategies, they should talk about mental health and what a small business can do to better prepare for something that is likely to happen. "
The panel discussed pressures that SME businesses face such as the implications of a key member of staff going on sick leave, budget for wellbeing strategies and what employees experience in small employer practices.
Mamo said: "Mind launched a report on mental health in the workplace back in 2010 in the economic climate we were facing then. Those challenges still remain and potentially can get worse.
"What staff often report to us as negatively impacting their wellbeing in the workplace is heavy workload, unrealistic expectations, the idea of more for less, people being made redundant and not being replaced.
"It places a burden and it adds up to something that is difficult for employers to manage and the impact that has on employees. "
The webinar participants agreed that while mental health was less stigmatized than in the past, certain sectors and types of employer (such as micro-SMEs) still struggled to address mental health effectively.
However, the participants felt that employers were much more open to discussing implementing wellbeing strategies than in the past.
Watt said previously discussions of ROI were common, but the focus of that conversation was changing.
He said: "We're hearing that question being asked less and less, particularly post the recession, organisations of all sizes saw the impact of that uncertainty on their people.
"So the question we are increasingly hearing is not the business case for investing in this area, it's we are committed to do something, where should we start?"
Discussing line manager relationships with employees, Mamo said: "There can be no outward sign that someone is struggling, you can spot changes in their behavior, are they staying later or earlier for example?
"I think what's helpful for managers is the development of a wellness action plan. It helps you capture what keeps [employees] well. This can help the line manager opens up communication, 'I've seen that you've said this, how can we help you?'"
Watt advised SMEs: "You've got to look at this wellbeing agenda as much broader than bowls of fruit and gym discounts.
"Fundamentally it's about the culture of an organisations and the context in which they operate.
"What we've seen from organisations who have put in quick fixes is that people don't see it as an agenda, they look straight through it.
"Once organisations embark on this agenda and increasingly we are seeing small businesses look to see what they can do in this space, it really starts with culture and that's important from a mental health perspective.
"It's so important that we can address the culture of silence and give people the confidence that they speak up and ask for help."
He added: "If more people speak up, more people will need support. SMEs will need to signpost people to resources whether its charities such as Mind, their GP or through EAPs on private healthcare.
The quicker people know of those support services, the quicker they can access treatment."
And Watt also discussed how preventation should be a key agenda for workplaces.
He added: "What can businesses do to support conditions when they arise, but how can they stop them from happening in the first place?
"Increasingly we are seeing organisations look at different activities to support that, whether it's lunchtime walks, seminars, or looking at areas such as sleep, they can have a huge impact on the engagement of the workforce and the performance of the business."
Mind has kindly provided COVER with the following resources for HR professionals and line managers
- Introduction to mentally healthy workplaces - The first resource in our series helps you to understand the relationship between good employee mental health and getting the best out of your staff. It will help you to start thinking about what you already do to support mental health in your workplace, what impact this has and how to build on it
- How to take stock of mental health in your workplace - This resource for line managers and HR professionals provides practical advice on how to collect vital information about your employees' wellbeing in a joined-up and comprehensive way.
- How to promote wellbeing and tackle the causes of work-related mental health problems - Sets out simple, practical and inexpensive steps that line managers and HR teams can take. It is designed to help you create a more open and supportive culture, improve mental wellbeing for all staff, and boost employee engagement.
- How to support staff who are experiencing a mental health problem - This resource details how organisations can support staff at every stage of the mental health spectrum - whether they're stressed or have a diagnosed mental health condition. The approaches in the guide are universal principles designed to support a diverse range of people across a range of workplaces.
- Guide to Wellness Action Plans - Our handy WAP guide explains what a WAP is, how to develop and use one with staff and provides a template for your use.
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