Why should employers include emotional wellbeing within their overall benefits strategy?

include emotional wellbeing in overall strategy

Need to know:

  • Employers should adopt a holistic approach in order to accommodate the varying emotional wellbeing needs of employees.
  • Initiatives such as mental health first aid training, an employee assistance programme (EAP) and flexible working can help employees cope with wellbeing issues.
  • Employers should ensure senior leaders are equipped to spot problems within their teams, and are confident about having difficult conversations.

According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics, published in October 2018, 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

It is clear, therefore, that maintaining the emotional wellbeing of staff is a challenge that cannot be ignored. With this in mind, how can employers consider emotional wellbeing as part of their wider benefits strategy?

The importance of emotional wellbeing

Iain Thomson, director of incentives and recognition at rewards provider Sodexo Exchange, says: “It’s an employer’s duty to ensure their staff feel healthy, happy, and productive at work and to be able to spot when things aren’t quite right. Emotional wellbeing offerings should be a top priority for all businesses.”

There are many different factors that can negatively affect emotional wellbeing; these could be work-related, stem from a personal situation, or be a combination of multiple factors.

To tackle this, employers should adopt a holistic approach, explains Patrick Williams, clinical director at LifeWorks. He says: “It is vital that employers acknowledge a variety of factors that contribute towards individual health and wellbeing. This includes mental, financial, physical and social health. It is important to consider all of these aspects in equal measure, because they all have a knock-on effect on each other.”

A strategy to support wellness

For Thomson, products such as discounted gym memberships, counselling services and free health screenings can go a long way in helping employees to feel supported.

However, while traditional benefits, such as private medical insurance (PMI) and dental care, can be effective in improving emotional and physical wellbeing, they are typically only accessed once issues start to develop, notes Elizabeth Strong, HR operations manager at food organisation Kerry Group.

“Putting specific initiatives in place to support and cater for employees’ emotional wellbeing from a proactive perspective can increase employee engagement, reduce sickness absence and boost retention,” she explains.

Employers could, therefore, take a two-pronged approach, observes Mike Blake, wellbeing lead at Willis Towers Watson. He explains: “Not only should employers be looking at how they can support their staff in [cases] of established stress, anxiety or other emotional or mental health issues, but they should also implement preventative measures and the appropriate culture to ensure issues are identified and tackled before they develop further.”

Benefits to help

When emotional issues develop, early intervention is essential to stop the situation from worsening. To assist with this, organisations can train staff members as mental health first aiders; these employees are then equipped to spot red flags and provide support for their colleagues.

Another effective measure to combat poor emotional wellbeing is offering an employee assistance programme (EAP), which is often included in corporate insurance policies. These provide employees with 24/7 access to helplines and trained counsellors.

Of course, many emotional issues require time away from the workplace, so flexible working can also act as a considerable benefit to employees on a personal level; this further has the potential to build trust, as well as boost loyalty and motivation.

Senior support

Alongside these support measures, managers should be trained to be able to identify early warning signs from employees who may benefit from additional support. Furthermore, they should receive guidance on how to have what might feel like difficult or uncomfortable conversations.

This is a strategy adopted by hospitality organisation Mitchells and Butlers, which has 44,000 employees running more than 1,600 restaurants and pubs across the UK.

Katey Capper, head of corporate recruitment at Mitchells and Butlers, explains: “While recognising the needs of employees for independent support, we also recognised that our management teams needed to better understand how they can proactively spot their team members struggling with their mental health and best advise them on how to get the help they need. Partnering with the Licensed Trade Charity has allowed us to offer these senior team members mental health training days.”

Challenges ahead

Regardless of the measures taken, Blake believes it is imperative to establish a proper reporting structure for absences related to stress or emotional issues; this can help develop a better picture of the potential problem. However, any information collected, used and stored would be considered special-category data and require the highest level of protection under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

There are other considerations around privacy, too. Emotional problems are personal by their very nature, so it can be difficult for managers to know when it is appropriate to intervene. It can be a fine line between supporting and judging, offering or imposing, warns Strong.

“[Employers] should be offering choices and services that are available, not dictating how they live their lives or influencing the lifestyle choices they make,” she explains.

Managers should, therefore, avoid making assumptions, and instead create a safe environment in which employees can be open about what support they need, and raise concerns without fear of judgement. However, Blake adds: “For some, coping with and treating mental health issues will always be a private pursuit, and this must be respected by employers.”

Getting buy-in

Another potential problem is that emotional wellbeing initiatives can be seen as ‘nice-to-haves’ at leadership level, rather than being understood as strategic necessities.

HR managers can encourage boardroom buy-in by leveraging health-related business data. “Metrics on sickness absence, [benefits] costs and claims, for example, can help highlight prevalent organisational health risks,” says Blake. “By looking at what business intelligence [employers] have at [their] disposal, a picture of where the business health risks lie can be painted and the case for targeted initiatives can be demonstrated.”

Ultimately, it is about reaching a positive outcome for all concerned. “Ask to be judged on results,” Strong adds. “Tell [senior leaders] which areas [the strategy] will commit to improve and tackle them. Make the link back to [the] organisation’s vision and priorities.”