How to prevent mental health issues with workplace wellbeing

Stress – the ‘fight or flight’ response – has been with us since the dawn of time, but it might surprise you to learn that the term was first used in a psychological context around 90 years ago.

How to prevent mental health issues with workplace wellbeing

Today, stress is one of several mental health issues facing the UK’s diverse workforce. And for Aviva, these issues represent a high proportion of Group Income Protection (GIP) notifications. From 2013 to 2017, absence referrals for mental health issues rose from 38 per cent to 46 per cent* of all reasons for notified absence.

It’s often said that ‘prevention is better than cure’. So what steps can employers take to avert workplace stress and mental health issues? Could small, less invasive interventions really work, and if so, how could they be implemented? At Aviva Group Protection, we’ve examined these issues and our extensive wellbeing suite enables employers to promote health and wellness in the workplace.

Wellbeing services: from intervention to prevention

Our wellbeing services are designed to encourage positive behaviours which aim to keep employees physically and mentally fit. We offer a range of complimentary initiatives with our GIP policies. In addition to these, we have a support network of external wellbeing partners who specialise in mental health, resilience, sleep and other psychological issues.

Broadly, the services cover: health promotion and wellbeing training; employee and manager support; clinical rehabilitation services and return‐to‐work support services. Overall, our most recent rehabilitation statistics show that our intervention services are highly effective, as 84 per cent of all employees who receive our support for mental health conditions made a safe and timely return to work within our GIP policy’s deferred period*.

Within the prevention space, we have incorporated a comprehensive in‐house wellbeing support suite to support mental health in the workplace. First, we deploy the 21st century’s oracle: the smartphone. In our technology‐driven world, employees are more likely to consult their smartphones for information than knock on a neighbour’s front door for help.

That’s why we launched ‘Stress Free Island’, a mobile tool to help self‐manage anxiety, stress and depression. The app shows different ways to cope and helps build resilience. It can also help employees track and record how they feel, learn about different ways of thinking about a situation and guide them to support when they need it. Given such easy access to the app, it’s a first line of defence. 

Second, we provide a confidential, professional telephone counselling service to help employees proactively manage stress at work. It can provide immediate emotional support, advice and practical information, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Finally, we provide face‐to‐face intervention through our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) partner when the going gets tough. At each stage of the process, we manage interventions which start from our app, move through to phone counselling and if required human interaction. Although psychological issues can be complex, our solution is simple: these early interventions – admittedly at a distance – have the potential to prevent things snowballing. Our joined‐up EAP has taken real steps to shift the focus from intervention to prevention. 

Huge rise in demand for EAP services  

Overall, our statistics show that the number of Aviva GIP customers requiring EAP counselling and information services has increased significantly over the past year* – by 45 per cent.

Although part of the rise can be attributed to the increased level of business we undertake, it is also possible that seeking help for mental health issues is more socially acceptable than before. It’s also worth noting that our EAP is open to all employees, not only the insured lives on the policy.

In recent years, the Mental Health Foundation – through its annual Mental Health Awareness Week – has generated considerable publicity and awareness about the extent of these issues. At the same time, popular entertainers and sportspeople have become more open about mental health challenges. In short, psychological counselling is no longer the taboo subject it once was.

To sum up, we’ve responded to what our data has shown us: there is simply more demand for EAP services, based on the increase in mental health absence notifications as shown in our statistics. We’ve also moved from intervention to prevention, through the initiatives and processes we’ve outlined here. 

Aviva Group Income Protection’s joined‐up approach to supporting employers with mental health in the workplace has made us feel that we have made huge strides forward in areas where insurance companies once feared to tread, which is good news for employees, employers and society.

(*Source: Aviva Group Protection data May 2017 – May 2018)

The author is Julian Nurse, group protection propositions manager at Aviva.

This article is sponsored by Aviva.

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