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How can employers select the right mental health support for their organisation?

Thursday October 8, 2020

Need to know: 

  • During the Covid-19 pandemic, employers have the opportunity to assess the level of mental health support that best suits the needs of their workforce.
  • There are many avenues for organisations to go down to select the right mental health initiatives.
  • Mental health support may differ depending on sector, demographic and business size, for example.

Mental health has risen up the agenda for many employers. The Employee Benefits Healthcare research, published in September 2020, found that 46% of employers have increased their focus on employee health and wellbeing due to the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. With Westfield Health’s Divided together report, published in March 2020, reporting that more than 50% of employees have seen their mental health deteriorate since March, rising to 66% among furloughed parents and 56% for furloughed staff, employers clearly have a role to play in selecting the right mental health support for their workforce during difficult times.

Selecting the most effective mental health support

Communication is an important aspect when introducing mental health support initiatives. Through pulse surveys and line manager catch-ups, employers can regularly gain a grasp of how employees are feeling so they can then decide what further support to offer. 

Rebekah Tapping, group HR director at Personal Group, says: “The right mental health support considers the whole person, life challenges and current job role. By looking after employees’ social, physical and financial wellbeing, businesses are also helping to protect their mental health.  

“Leaders should not look to introduce mental health schemes in isolation. A better approach would be to look at the bigger picture to understand how various schemes overlap and complement each other.”  

The level of mental health support typically varies depending on the industry and organisational size, but it is important that employees know that it is available and how they can access it, says Andy Bibby, chief executive at mental wellbeing platform provider 87%. “At 87%, we have seen many organisations overcommunicate the mental health and wellbeing support that is available to employees so they can at least access this support if they need it,” he says. 

What different avenues of support are available?

Digital mental health support is one option available to employers. Dr Wolfgang Seidl, workplace wellbeing lead at Mercer, says: “Webinars can be an effective way for [employers] to offer the right mental health support; employees can have the flexibility to access this information whenever they need it. Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can also go a long way in gaining a pulse check of employees through regular communication.

“Line manager training can be useful to support initiatives not only in mental health, but in diversity and inclusion to increase awareness around cultural awareness across the business.”

Additionally, offering free mindfulness sessions and online courses that employees can access in their own time, can give them the flexibility they need to improve their wellbeing without any time constraints attached. 

How does mental health support differ from one another? 

Depending on organisational size and function, mental health support may vary. For a business that works with a smaller team, one-to-one communication and conversations are the best way to understand the right mental health support to offer. For larger organisations, formal pulse surveys and giving line managers the responsibility can be key. 

Communication is the most important aspect when adopting mental health strategies, says Bibby. “Making sure that employers are listening to employees is important to check that a specific route of supporting mental health is the right way to go . 

“When [an organisation] increases [in size], it may be more difficult to get an informal check on what works best, but that is where surveys and managers are key in finding out this important information. 

“Sometimes it can be difficult to find the best mental health support and best understand what works best, that is where a data-driven approach to wellbeing can be crucial in adopting the best strategies.”

Employee opinion is crucial to ensuring that any schemes and initiatives that are put in place will be of use and valued by the individual. “By introducing schemes that employees want, they are more likely to access them,” says Tapping. “Organisations can hold an employee survey or workshop to discuss the different options which could be available. Taking into account budgets, team and implementation time is also crucial here.  

“For some organisations, getting this right is not be about introducing a specific scheme such as employee assistance programmes. It is about the way it is communicated with employees. Are line managers effectively engaging with employees to ensure they lead happy lives inside and outside the workplace? A simple-to-implement education programme can be effective to ensure all staff are aware of mental health initiatives and respond in the appropriate way.”

Mental health benefits

While there is a wide range of mental health services available that suit different demographics and size of organisation, an employee assistance programme (EAPs) is one benefit thatcemployers should consider adopting, says Siedl. 

“Employee assistance programmes provide the best level of support for employees who need mental health support due to the versatility of the benefits,” he explains. “It can be adjusted to align to different work types. It is important, however, for [employers] when integrating a mental health strategy to first find out which provider best suits their workforce and situation.” 

A multi-national organisation may also benefit from using a provider to create a mental health intranet to suit staff working different shift patterns, instead of personal one-to-one sessions. Ultimately, culture is the way forward to help employers understand the right apprpach to mental health to suit their organisation, says Natasha Wallace, co-founder of wellbeing and leadership consultancy Conscious Works. “For employers, regardless of size, getting a grasp of how every individual employee works and lives is one of the first steps the organisation can take to select the right level of support,” she says. 

Employers can look at what experiences staff are going through on a daily basis, and adjust their wellbeing strategies accordingly. For example, the mental health worries that an employee working in a manufacturing role may be going through will be entirely different from an employee working on the front-line in a retail role, says Siedl. 

“It is important to differentiate this level of support depending on the function, by understanding the needs and demands of a workforce,” he explains. 

Finding the right level of mental health support for employees is the first step, however, communicating this and ensuring that employees access this as much as they need is imperative to support the mental health of employees. 

Article published in Employee Benefits on 8th October 2020

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