02 March 2020

Getting mental health support right in the workplace

The impact of mental health on wellbeing in the workplace continues to be a significant problem for UK business. Poor mental ill health costs UK employers between £33 billion and £42 billion annually, and it’s estimated 300,000 people with a long term mental health problem lose their jobs each year.

More and more businesses are beginning to tackle the issue, but it’s important to implement the right support.

Vanessa Sallows, Claims and Governance Director at Legal & General Group Protection is a leading voice in workplace mental health awareness and provision. Vanessa facilitated a roundtable discussion at the recent Employee Benefits Connect event, and spoke to a number of leading HR individuals on how to implement the right mental health support in the workplace.

Q: When it comes to mental health, how can we avoid a tick box solution?

For any mental health initiative to be a success, you’ve got to have management buy in. At Legal & General, we recorded some of our senior managers talking about their, or their families, experiences and challenges with mental health. This was shared with everyone across the organisation - If employees can see that management are opening up and sharing their own experiences, then this will enable others to follow.

It’s also key to have a framework from the beginning, so your strategy, your policy, and your vision embeds any mental health initiatives in the workplace, because unless you’ve got that foundation there, it’s ultimately a tick box exercise.

Q: As a HR professional, we’ve got so many other things to do too. How do we put together a meaningful mental health solution for our business?

You don’t need to re-invent the wheel. There are plenty of resources out there that can work for any business. MIND’s Time to Change pledge, Thriving at Work Report standards etc. In fact, our very own Not a Red Card initiative can help too. There you’ll find a host of resources on how you can setup and manage your own mental health solution in your workplace. It’s about picking what’s right for your organisation and normalising the subject of mental health and making it acceptable to talk about within your organisation.

Q: We’ve recently introduced mental health first aiders, how do you feel about this role?

I think it’s really important and a key component of tackling mental health issues in the workplace. At Legal & General, we have 136 Mental Health First Aiders across our locations and all their names are clearly communicated, so people know who to call in an emergency.

As well as mental health first aiders (MHFA), we’ve also set up a buddy system for the MHFA's. The MHFA meet up every 4-6 weeks to discuss how things are going and identify any issues that people might have. Every quarter our HR has discussions with all of the mental health first aiders to understand trends within the workplace so they can implement new measures that can make a difference. This has helped us understand the specific needs of each location.

But don’t forget, mental health first aiders are there to support their colleagues – not to diagnose, as they are not medically trained.

Q: Is there a screening process to become a mental health first aider?

All our MHFA’s along with our HR and Senior colleagues go through an intensive 2 day mental health training course. As most mental health first aiders tend to be people who have experienced mental health issues themselves, there is a process in place to ensure that they’re safe and remain mentally well – so we give them the option to opt out of the programme and opt back in when they want.

Q: We have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in work but nobody really uses it, what can we do?

One of the most important things that a lot of companies tend to forget is that they need to tell employees about the EAP. It’s important to put posters up around the workplace, or hold benefit fairs to raise awareness and update colleagues. Similarly you could use the company Intranet site, if you have one.

Another key thing to ensure, is that your EAP is easy to access. At Legal & General we ensure that our EAP is also accessible to employees from their mobile device. Meaning employees can access the information and support that they need - anytime, anywhere.
I’d then say that once you’ve implemented the programme, you need to constantly re-assess it, to ensure the benefits it offers are right for your employees. It’s a constant learning circle.

Q: What makes a good EAP?

A good EAP gives your employees choice and offers a wide range of benefits such as 24-hour telephone contact and access to face to face counselling too. Legal advice is good to have, as well as financial planning and bereavement support. It should offer employees easy access to the support they need, that will ultimately help towards reducing absence rates and help improve workplace productivity.

Q: Do you have any good examples of businesses who have successfully tackled mental health issues in their business?

Yes. Rhondda Housing Association. They were one of our winners in the Not A Red Card awards, and showed some great initiatives in protecting their team’s mental health.

We're here to help

Legal & General Group Protection is dedicated to improving the health, wellbeing and productivity of UK’s businesses. In 2018, mental health related absence was the top reason for a claim on our group income protection policies, this is why our Not A Red Card website is dedicated to providing information, resources and support to help employers set up their own workplace mental health initiative. Find out more on how we can help businesses to thrive, and be there in times of need.