Four tips for advisers facing employers considering their workplace wellbeing strategies
In the face of stigma, we need to talk more about mental health in the workplace and its financial impact on employers and the wider UK economy - it's nothing short of devastating.
According to Thriving at Work, the independent review into workplace mental health, ‘the UK faces a significant mental health challenge at work'.
Specifically, the report found that poor mental health costs the UK economy between £74 billion and £99 billion a year , while the cost to employers is put at between £33 billion and £42 billion . This comprises:
- Cost of absenteeism: £8 billion
- Cost of presenteeism: £17 billion to £26 billion
- Cost of staff turnover: £8 billion
These are staggering figures, and they create a massive opportunity for advisers to communicate the value of developing the right mental health initiatives within every organisation. After all, workplace interventions show a return to business of between £1.50 and £9 for every £1 invested.
For advisers, this highlights a clear opportunity to change the status quo. That unless employers take the necessary steps, the cost of mental health issues for them and their employees will spiral. We must help them understand and act on the growing need to have the right services and products in place.
With that in mind there are four key ways for advisers to approach the subject:
1. Emphasise the need to be proactive, not reactive
First and foremost, advisers must educate employers on the impact of being proactive vs. reactive when it comes to mental health in the workplace, simply because prevention is better than cure.
It's an approach that stands to reason when you consider that many employers already have policies and initiatives in place to support their employees' physical health, so why not their mental health too?
As a minimum, we should be looking to:
- Improve awareness of mental health issues
- Encourage conversations about poor mental health and its impact
- Provide good working conditions
- Routinely monitor staff mental health and wellbeing
- Ensure managers are trained to recognise mental health issues and know what to do when they discover them.
By adopting a proactive approach, advisers can help facilitate employers by addressing mental health issues before they become bigger problems for both the individual and the wider organisation. With the right mental health support services and products in place, an employer will be looked upon favourably by employees and potential new recruits.
2. Shift the culture, break down the mental health barriers
It is important to remind employers that any proactive mental health strategy should include a cultural shift that ensures with 100% clarity across the entire organisation exactly what is being done to combat poor mental health. Advisers should work alongside employers to provide the appropriate products and services that build a robust organisational mental health agenda. One that is championed from the top.
Unfortunately, most employees will not seek help for, or discuss, a mental health issue because of fear and shame. Which is why senior leaders being open and starting the conversation can have such a positive impact. It's a simple step, but one that highlights that it's okay to not be okay.
If an individual knows that their employer proactively supports mental health, and that it's a safe topic to discuss, they are more likely to use any resources their company makes available, such as employee assistance programmes, occupational health services and private medical insurance.
3. Highlight the financial benefits
One of the biggest challenge's employers cite when we have discussions with them around mental health strategies and employee wellbeing is budget - or a lack thereof.
And yet, the bottom line is that it inevitably costs more in the long run to ignore the importance of mental health, when you consider the increased numbers in sickness absence and presenteeism.
In addition to the figures outlined above, 300,000 employees with a long-term mental health problem leave their jobs every year. When you consider it costs, on average, around £30,000 to replace a single member of staff, the argument for mental health initiatives that promote wellbeing and, in turn, reduce staff turnover is further solidified.
However, it is presenteeism that costs employers the most. In fact, if we refer back to the Thriving at Work report findings, presenteeism costs more than absenteeism and staff turnover combined.
But for those companies that really do have minimal budget, the good news is there are several extremely low-cost ways to make a positive difference, including:
- Promoting flexible working
- Encouraging regular catch-ups with line managers
- Promoting a better work-life balance
- Encouraging peer support
- Taking advantage of free services offered by mental health charities.
Advisers play a critical role in helping businesses distribute the right budget and resources to the right mental health services. Ones that deliver high quality support for the long-term stability of the company and wellness of its employees.
4. Traditional employee benefits and added-value services
As mental health in the workplace becomes a growing concern, and the statistics more and more compelling that action needs to be taken, the role of the adviser is changing. It has become more consultative, with a growing need to communicate and then implement bespoke products and services that cater for the specific needs of each business.
Here, many employee benefits - both traditional insurance products and added-value services - can complement an employers' mental health strategies and wellbeing initiatives.
Two of the more traditional products: private medical insurance and group income protection can help employees in different, but equally important, ways.
Private health insurance enables individuals to get quality, safe, effective treatment and negates the need to wait for interventions on the NHS - which, sadly, can take longer than is acceptable. Access to swift treatment can play a significant role in helping to prevent employees being absent from work.
Group income protection provides a financial safety net for employees who are suffering with poor mental health. At a time when their focus should primarily be on getting better, group income protection alleviates the situation by providing a replacement income for employees who are off work for an extended period.
Then there are the added-value services, such as employee assistance programmes, virtual GPs, wellbeing apps and mental health support lines, that employers can use to support mental health in the workplace.
While they all have their merits, they share one key characteristic that often encourages better outcomes: they all empower employees to take greater responsibility for understanding their own mental health issues.
Added-value services are only valuable if employees take advantage of them. Simply implementing them and hoping people will use them isn't enough. We must also engage employers by clearly communicating the benefits of such services, harness leadership buy-in and accentuate the positive outcomes of their employees using them.
Ignoring mental health in the workplace will prove to be a costly lesson for employers. Not only do the statistics highlight just how much they stand to lose financially, but the benefits underline the importance of solid mental health strategies.
Advisers therefore need to work with employers to:
- Adopt a proactive approach to promoting better mental health in the workplace
- Develop a culture that sees mental health championed by senior leaders and managers
- Encourage open dialog about the importance of mental health throughout the organisation
- Implement cost-effective initiatives that are designed to make a positive difference
- Offer traditional employee benefits alongside added-value services.
Taking such steps will help businesses realise better mental health outcomes; be less impacted by absenteeism and presenteeism; and be seen as an employer that genuinely cares about their employees.
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