The ultimate list of employee benefits to champion workplace mental health

In 2016, 137 million workdays were lost due to sickness according to the Office for National Statistics, while mental health issues have increased by 71.9 per cent since 2011, found the Change at Work: How Absence, Attitudes and Demographics are impacting UK employers (2017) report.

The ultimate list of employee benefits to champion workplace mental health

It’s clear wellbeing can’t take a back seat anymore, and the right employee benefits can be an invaluable aid. With the ever-growing call for improved wellbeing at work, specifically surrounding mental health, we’ve compiled the ultimate list of benefits to improve mental health in the workplace. From the reliable basics, to one-of-a-kind luxuries; take a look and see what may be missing from your wellbeing strategy.

The basics

1. Healthcare Cash Plan

Many businesses offer a Healthcare Cash Plan (HCP) to employees, but did you know this often covers additional treatments such as massages and acupuncture? When reviewing your HCP, consider what extras it may include (or could be expanded to include) for wellbeing. A massage is a great opportunity to spend time away from the workplace and away from a screen.

2. Employee assistance programme

An employee assistance programme (EAP) is considered a fundamental basic in workplaces, and it’s a great starting point if your organisation is new to wellbeing and can’t invest in a full scheme yet.

Most companies have an existing EAP, but many employees may not know what this is, how it works or even where to find it. Many EAP offerings also include face-to-face counselling sessions. Try to promote your EAP across the board, emphasising its confidentiality and how it can be used for any problem your employees might be facing. Whether their mental health has suffered because of work, relationships or money, EAP services offer a valuable and much underused service. 

3. Flexible working

There is a multitude of supporting research and case studies for flexible working – above all, it provides people time to rest, rejuvenate and recuperate, which results in happier, healthier (and more productive) employees. While not all jobs can be tailored to flexible working, there are many small adjustments businesses can make, even if they are unable to completely do away with the nine to five.

Encourage employees to take longer breaks, to use a welcoming social space, work from home or listen to music at work when possible. Enabling employees to remove or soften areas of stress like worrying about childcare or spending a long time commuting can have a much bigger impact than we perhaps realise.

4. Onsite gyms or discounted membership

Across our clients, discounted gym memberships are one of the most popular leisure benefits, only surpassed by travel insurance and holiday trading. Offering a discounted membership not only encourages employees to take care of their physical wellbeing, or embrace general wellness practices such as yoga or meditation, but it gives workers an extra incentive to get out of the office during breaks. Exercise is also one of the best ways to alleviate stress and improve mental health, so it’s much more than just a physical wellbeing approach.

The extra mile

5. Employer charitability

Doing good feels good, and looking after our own wellbeing by caring for others is a powerful company value to promote. The benefits of a Give As You Earn scheme include increased motivation, happiness and employee loyalty. Companies like Salesforce and Sage give their people time off to volunteer, while other businesses offer to match employee Payroll Giving donations. Even a relatively small gesture like sponsoring a charity improves overall workplace wellbeing, as it humanises the organisation and shows workers that their employer cares about them, and their causes.

6. Financial education and wellbeing

UK employers see more than two million working days lost each year due to money worries. The amount of financial pressure employees face is only increasing, but with the help of financial education and wellbeing, employers can ensure their people are equipped to combat this.

7. Mindfulness training

Although mindfulness has historically been overlooked as ‘trivial’, many companies have begun to take it more seriously. Studies show that mindfulness and meditation helps brain activity, productivity and mental health. Among those adopting the technique are business giants Apple, Google and Nike, who all run meditation and mindfulness classes in their offices. For me personally, practicing mindfulness has had a significant effect on my mental health.

8. Discounted app memberships

At Benefex, we provide all our employees access to a discounted annual membership with Headspace, an app offering guided meditation, soundscapes and mindfulness exercises. With hundreds of mental wellbeing apps like Headspace, Moodkit and Happify out there, why not offer your people a contribution towards their membership, or partner with an app to offer discounted rates.

Above and beyond

9. Nap pods

Some companies, like Google, Uber and Ben & Jerry’s have introduced nap areas onsite, where employees can catch some Zzzs on the job – whether they’re new parents, insomniacs or just need some extra rest! Napping in the day can actually improve productivity, and compared to falling asleep at the desk, doing poor quality work, or even going home, surely providing a comfortable place to have a rest is preferable for both employee and employer?

10. Onsite yoga and meditation

With more and more companies becoming aware of the uses of mindfulness and meditation, facilities such as onsite gyms, meditation and yoga classes have become popular among business giants like Apple, Google, Yahoo, Nike and Twitter. While not all organisations can afford to invest in luxurious wellbeing facilities, giving employees access to regular yoga, meditation or mindfulness workshops with an instructor in the workplace, can drastically improve focus and mood.

11. Staff allotments

A truly one-of-a-kind benefit introduced by British Airways garnered buzz a few years ago: the travel company offered staff members garden allotments, located at their headquarters in London. Not only does this encourage green-fingers, but it emphasised that the company truly cared about their employees’ wellbeing. With proven links between nature and our mental health, perhaps this unique benefit is the start of a new trend.

12. Online therapy subscription

Finally, perhaps one of the most beneficial employee benefits – providing your people with subscriptions (whether complimentary or subsidised) to online therapy services, such as Better Help.

Traditional therapy can be costly and require months on a waiting list, and then consists of in-person visits; which for many makes it difficult to be open, and ironically, is difficult to fit in around work commitments. In contrast, online therapy allows 24/7 access to offload your thoughts at any time, then discuss them in scheduled sessions via text, video or phone. While some EAPs include access to counselling, often employees feel these remain linked to their employer; or the programmes are constricted to basic self-help style guidance. For full, professional mental health help, an online therapy programme can be a literal life saver.

Not all organisations have the resources or justification for fully-fledged wellbeing schemes, but implementing even just one of these benefits can make a world of difference. Instead of suffering in silence, your people can prosper at work in peace.

The author is Gethin Nadin, director of employee wellbeing at Benefex.

This article was provided by Benefex.

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