- There are a range of measures that employers can implement to help break the stigma surrounding mental health and offer support to their workforce.
- Identifying a wellbeing lead or training employees as mental health first aiders can be a first step to creating a support strategy.
- As cost-of-living increases continue to affect employees’ wellbeing, employers can help by providing access to financial aid and resources.
According to a WorkNest poll carried out between June and August 2022, 79% of employers have not provided line managers with training to support employees’ mental health and wellbeing, despite 93% being aware of their responsibilities towards this.
This raises the question of whether employers are doing enough to support employees’ mental health in today’s climate, particularly as issues stemming from the cost-of-living crisis continue.
Providing mental health support can be considered the foundation of a healthy and productive workforce. There are a range of measures that employers can implement to help break the stigma surrounding mental health and offer support to their workforce.
Many organisations have an employee assistance programme (EAP) and types of virtual coaching in place, says Steve Haynes, director of people experience consulting at Gallagher. “The biggest difference in mental health benefits is businesses changing their culture and creating an environment where people can open up,” he says. “Employers are getting smarter at optimising existing benefits that relate to mental health.”
A strong communications strategy based around wellbeing and signposting to benefits is vital; many schemes include value-added services such as virtual GPs and access to mental health practitioners, but these need to be promoted effectively to staff.
Employers may have all these relevant tools and support mechanisms in place, but sometimes the challenge is the way in which they are implemented, rolled out and communicated.
Employers need to provide a broad range of benefits and tools, as well as hold open conversations to normalise the topic, says Leo Savage, global wellbeing consultant at Howden Employee Wellbeing and Benefits.
Free guidance via an employer’s intranet with links to wellbeing apps and mental health charities is a good place to start. “Providing mental health training for managers is also key so they can recognise warning signs in their teams,” Savage adds. “If employees are struggling and showing clear signs of distress, managers are ideally positioned to identify and make recommendations for where they can get support if needed.”
Identifying a wellbeing lead or training employees as mental health first aiders to offer initial support to colleagues can be valuable elements of a mental health strategy.
Comprehensive mental health support
To truly address mental health, employers need to offer a suite of comprehensive care solutions that support all employees.
Digital offerings, such as mental wellbeing apps, are a scalable way for organisations to address the individual needs of their workforce while protecting employees’ privacy, says Nicola Hemmings, head of workplace psychology at Koa Health.
Anonymity, discretion and accessibility should be guiding words for any employer reviewing its support options, because the ability for staff to access professional guided support, be able to talk to someone discreetly and have an out-of-hours option is important, says Tim Barker, chief executive officer at Kooth Work. This may mean there is a need for both in-person or digital options to provide flexibility and choice.
“Having a support option that can be extended to the family unit can also be effective,” says Barker. “For example, an employee’s mental health and their ability to function could strongly be affected by either a partner or child experiencing mental wellbeing problems. Extending mental health support to the family is relatively easy to provide, especially if it is via a digital platform.”
Understanding a workforce’s mental wellbeing is key and will help employers know what they are trying to address through their benefits, explains Haynes.
“Three key things that employers may want to consider in terms of addressing and supporting mental health in the workplace are: equipping leaders as mental health first aiders, understanding what is preventing workers from thriving through identifying and mitigating exposures to stress, and getting the most out of what is already on offer by optimising the support structure,” he adds.
As cost-of-living increases continue to affect employees’ wellbeing, employers can help by providing access to financial aid and resources. This could include clinics or advice forums, partnering with external advisers, providing technology that offers instant access to earned pay and also allowing staff to sell back unused annual leave.
Improving signposting to free debt support charities, resources and organisations, while also looking at and understanding what benefits are already in place can help, says Haynes. “Some employers are reviewing their expenses policies and petrol allowance prices, as well as their overall financial wellbeing strategies and better communicating what’s already available.”
Employers could also offer increased flexibility around ways of working, for example, allowing staff to work from home more often to save on the costs of commuting and reduce travel expenditures.
A season ticket loan will offer staff some savings by committing to an annual ticket without paying the lump sum at the start of the year. “Giving staff the ability to pay this back with interest free monthly instalments, largely reduces the pressure an upfront lump sum may bring,” Savage says.
While there are a variety of ways in which employers can support the mental health of their staff in today’s climate, perhaps the best place to start is by identifying what they need and want and building their mental health framework around this.