Stress Awareness Month: How can employers really help?

Group therapy, people counseling with psychologist, persons in psychotherapist sessions, manage stressArticle by Sally Campbell, Head of Clinical Development, Healix

There have been major advances in our willingness and ability to discuss mental health and wellbeing.

But there is much more work to do to ensure employers are offering the right support to their staff, and have the right structures in place to deal with problems quickly and effectively when they arise.

Initiatives such as Stress Awareness Month, taking place this month, can be an ideal opportunity for employers to spark a conversation about mental health and learn about how existing policies can be improved.

Top down approach

There is no doubt that we are getting better at talking about our mental health, which marks a positive change and a step towards reducing the stigma both in the workplace and at home. However, there is still a long way to go, and while we all have a part to play, openness from senior managers and executives about their own experiences can have a significant impact on the mental health agenda at work.

Indeed, stress at work not only impacts those who are affected, but also their colleagues and workmates. The financial implications that these situations can have on an organisation in terms of reduced productivity has also been well documented. But employers are increasingly beginning to realise the responsibility they hold in reducing excessive levels of stress in the workplace, and there are many innovative ways they can turn to in order to tackle this problem and improve the work/life balance of their staff.

To add to that, it seems that there is no better time to address the issue. In fact, between 2019 and 2020, work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for more than half (51%) of all work-related ill health and 55% of all days lost due to work-related illness. The Stress Management Society also says that stress has increased considerably since the pandemic, with 65% of people reporting they are more stressed than ever before since the Covid-19 restrictions began in March 2020.

Putting steps in place

It is not surprising that loneliness and isolation is a real problem, especially since the various lockdowns endured in the past few years. As employees return to the workplace, there is an opportunity to address these issues specifically.

It is worth considering for example, setting time aside to promote and encourage staff to make meaningful connections at work, whether that is offering a space to meet or regular sessions where employees can chat in a less formal environment than the office floor. Another option is to help workers engage with the local community by offering volunteering opportunities and the chance to get out and about at the same time. Not only can that help in the workplace, but it may also help outside of office hours too.

Then technology can also provide a convenient way for employers to offer further support to their workers. App-based tech such as Healix ConneX, which brings together a number of digital healthcare solutions under one ecosystem, can give employees the power to address their stress and anxiety at any early stage by completing an online assessment designed to tailor guidance and support to that individual. This can be supported by access to virtual GP services and help for musculo-skeletal concerns which are often linked.

These solutions are simple to put in place, low cost and can be provided to members of a Trust healthcare scheme or to the entire workforce. They provide easy access to health care services removing the need for individuals to make an initial call to a helpline to talk about very personal issues. With this type of service, the assessment helps employees to understand their concerns, guides them to the next steps and provides them with the appropriate language to have a conversation with a health professional if needed. It is also a gateway to the many effective self-help resources available where appropriate.

Many of these subjects can be difficult to broach with employees, but Stress Awareness Month is an ideal “foot in the door” when it comes to discussing mental health openly and honestly. But this must go beyond the end of April and businesses can use it as a way of checking they are offering meaningful long-term support to employees. Investing in your employees’ mental health and wellbeing this month could have a positive impact for years to come when it comes to happiness and therefore engagement and productivity at work.

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