5 tips to maintain mental health support

For a number of years, doctors have believed that mental and physical health problems are inextricably linked – a view shared by many health organisations. Simon Thomas, Director – UK Employee Benefits, Generali, offers guidance for employers to help their workforce stay healthy in both mind and body.

Research has consistently shown that poor physical health can increase the risk of people developing mental health problems. Equally, poor mental health can have a negative effect on someone’s physical wellbeing. If one or the other isn’t correctly supported it could lead to longer recovery periods for the individual concerned and could mean their return to work is delayed. For example, someone with a long-term physical health problem could become depressed or stressed, losing their confidence and self-esteem.

In addition, the Mental Health at Work Report 2016 from Business in the Community found that “employers have a duty of care to their employees to respond to mental ill-health just as they would to a physical illness”.

So what can employers do to ensure they offer support for both types of condition as and when it’s required?

1.Identify wellbeing needs. Before employers can take steps to address their workforce’s health issues – whether mental or physical – they first need to establish what these are. Determine what your wellbeing priorities are as a business and how you can support staff who need help.

2.Decide which services to offer. Some providers include added-value wellbeing services as part of their group income protection (IP) policies, such as employee assistance programmes, referrals for face to face counselling, eldercare support, access to experts in cancer and chronic fatigue, and second medical opinion services.

3.Provide training for managers. By doing so, employers can help improve awareness of mental health issues. Some group IP providers now offer wellbeing investment matching services to employers fund discrete initiatives such as this where a need has been identified. For example Generali recently partnered with charity-backed organisation Mental Health at Work, previously operating as Maudsley Learning at Work, to offer one of its clients bespoke and facilitated programmes for managers and staff which focus on understanding what mental health is, the myths, how to identify potential issues and how to manage them and reduce the stigma – for example, by having open conversations.

Alison Pay, Marketing & Operations Director at Mental Health at Work, comments: “The aim is often to give the line managers the confidence to discuss any issues and know how to signpost to appropriate help. In our experience, there is a disconnect between managers thinking they are doing a good job with regards to mental health awareness, and employees feeling they can’t talk about issues.”

4.Communication is key. While training is a big component, getting the message across is equally important. This can be done a number of ways, including through one to one meetings, campaigns and introducing a charitable partner into the business. The overall mission is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Also keep in mind when planning your communications that gender differences have been noted, with men thought to be more reluctant to put their hands up.

5.Remember the business case. Don’t forget, an unsupported staff member is likely to require a longer recovery period from both physical and mental health problems. Conversely, someone who receives the right support is far more likely to recover quicker and therefore return to work sooner. For employers, this means reduced absence and improved productivity. It can also mean improved employee engagement and loyalty, as well as greater staff retention by demonstrating that the employer cares about its workforce.

With this information in mind, there’s no doubt that a holistic approach to your employees’ wellbeing is the best way to ensure you are meeting both their physical and mental health needs and that any absences are minimised. Ultimately, remember – a happy, healthy workforce is a productive one.