Head Lines: Mental health support for insurance workers

mental health colleague support

As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close Insurance Age asks what employers are doing for the people keeping the industry moving as they cope with Covid-19.

Mental Health Awareness Week kicked off on 18 May with the theme of kindness.

This year the event seems to have more resonance than ever as people learn to live with the spectre of coronavirus, the isolation arising from it along with health worries and economic concerns.

To mark the week and as part of the Head Lines campaign Insurance Age asked the industry what it was doing to ensure the mental wellbeing of its workforce as it moves through this challenging and uncertain time.

Ardonagh Group told us the mental health of its staff was at the forefront of its thinking.

To create a sense of togetherness it has created Radio Ardonagh. Every other Friday colleagues have been able to request songs, send shout outs and connect through the live chat – a way to bring everyone together while they work apart.

It has also created materials online covering everything from coping with the lockdown to stress management and working from home effectively to mental health awareness. Resources have also been created specifically for line managers on how to lead and support their team through this period of uncertainty.

These e-learning modules have been supported with internal video sessions from its trainers, which have also provided opportunities to signpost to internal and external resources, and further supported by webinars hosted externally by Axa PPP Healthcare.

The organisation has 60+ mental health first aiders and ‘drop-in’ call sessions have been introduced to share best practice. The business is also facilitating calls for fun, charity challenges and, where required, is signposting staff to its employee assistance programme.

Ardonagh has also made a £10,000 donation to Mind’s emergency Covid-19 appeal on top of the £140,000 it has raised for the charity since 2018.

Chief-of-staff, Kelly-Ann Knight, commented: “Across The Ardonagh Group, mental health has been a focus for a long time, however like everyone in the industry and across the world, the past few months have proven that looking after all aspects of our health is vital. Everyone is feeling the impact of the pandemic; adjusting to a new way of working, socialising and living, being away from family and friends, feeling worried for those who are facing the virus head on as key workers and sadly for some, the loss of loved ones.

“This uncertainty, worry and loss takes a toll on our mental health and we need to encourage people to talk, share and reach out for support if they need it. It’s vital that as we slowly emerge from lockdown we remember to look after our mental and physical health – as it really is the most valuable thing we all have.”

Throughout Mental Health Week Zurich has spent each day discussing a different theme.

  • Monday: mental energy
  • Tuesday: nutrition
  • Wednesday: resetting
  • Thursday: kindness
  • Friday: sleep

In addition, a variety of services are on offer to staff including 100 mental health first-aiders, a wellbeing hub, access to support hotline Lifeworks and guidance and support provided on working from home, managing anxiety, social isolation, talking to children about Covid-19, posture, managing work life balance and staying connected.

The provider has also acknowledged the financial worries of its staff with an emergency loan policy where staff can receive up to £750 in under 72 hours. It has also refreshed expectations around Flex Work and time off to help with parental challenges of home schooling and removal of childcare facilities.

Steve Collinson, head of HR at Zurich UK commented: “Now, more than ever, we’re all adjusting to a new way of life under lockdown which means self-care has never been more important.

“Flexwork is something we’ve been huge ambassadors of for many years. This means we can empower our teams fit their work and personal commitments together in a way that works for them. The majority of our UK employees enjoyed this flexibility before lockdown started, working hours that meet their needs in a location that works for them. This has made the added pressure of juggling childcare, home schooling and day jobs less stressful for people as they have our full support to do what is realistically possible in the current circumstances.”

This week Axa launched its ‘How Are You?’ campaign for staff. The workforce is also getting free access to Thrive, a mental health app approved by the NHS. Created by experts using real-life clinical experiences, it helps people boost their mental wellbeing, manage their mood, and build resilience.

Thrive uses computerised cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness techniques and distraction-therapy games. Content is updated monthly and is available 24/7. Users can set wellness goals, track their progress, identify stressors and learn relaxation techniques to help them to sleep.

Richard Sadler, head of reward & HR insights at Axa UK and Ireland, explained: “The mental health and wellbeing of our people has always been a key priority at Axa, with a wide range of benefits and support streams available from mental health first aid to onsite training and activities. And we’re extremely proud of how, during lockdown, these services have been adapted to deliver support virtually to our people.”

Aviva pointed to its wellbeing programme which includes mental health training, mindfulness sessions, meditation apps, online wellbeing support guides, plus our employee assistance line, which has been in place for a number of years.

During Mental Health Awareness Week it has also been promoting the theme of kindness, encouraging colleagues to share digital kindness cards through internal social channels and take part in acts of kindness for colleagues, communities, friends and family.

Danny Harmer, Aviva chief people officer said: “Providing support for our colleagues’ mental wellbeing is even more critical today as we all face new challenges and uncertainty caused by Covid-19, which we know can contribute to people feeling anxious and stressed.

“We’re doing this in a number of ways, from informal virtual chat groups and regular leadership live Q&As to a Covid-19 helpline and free access to mental wellbeing apps.  We are providing our people with online wellbeing guides and resources with simple hints and tips tailored to various audiences such as colleagues with caring responsibilities, people living alone or those who are at risk of domestic abuse.

“One of the most important things we can all do is stay connected and check in on each other.  As we say to our people, the Aviva family is here, even when you cannot see us.”

Partners&, Phil Barton and Stuart Reid’s new venture, has also been promoting Mental Health Awareness Week to staff on social media. It has introduced flexible working and Wellbeing Wednesday emails with tips on coping with stress and a Feelgood Friday e-shot to end the week on a positive note. Training on managing teams remotely is also on offer.

Natalie McClean, HR director at Partners& told Insurance Age: “Our philosophy from the beginning was that we’re in this together. Working from home for many colleagues was a new experience – with that change comes inherent stress…Every week is different: from exercise and recipes to relaxation and remote working. Based on feedback from our people, we’ve also created a version they can share with clients.”

She added: “We also have a comprehensive employee benefits programme for all Partners& colleagues that includes counselling, financial and legal advice services, as well as private medical. For us, it’s important that our people know that whether you’re the CEO or a client administrator, you’re valued.”

Culture is important when it comes to wellbeing of employees according to Richard Beaven, Brightside Group COO

He detailed: “As well as providing the right tools and support, businesses also need to build trust with their people so they feel safe to ask for help when they need it. Without this culture, businesses could find themselves with serious problems on their hands in a few months’ time.”

Sharing examples of what the broker is doing he explained: “Our offices remain closed, so activity this week is geared around opening up conversations, getting people involved and making sure they know what help is available, but we’re also focussed on building connections  and creating shared sense of purpose and solidarity. 

“For our ‘Brightside Runs for Mind’ fundraiser, we are asking colleagues to join in by virtually travelling the 348 miles round trip from Aust our HQ, to Torquay, then to Southampton (where we have offices) and back to Aust, by running/walking/cycling 5k individually and making a voluntary donation of £5 to Mind.”

Broker PIB is ensuring teams keep in touch with weekly video blogs and a dedicated microsite featuring advice on working from home, managing mental health and wellbeing, fun competitions and a shout-out corner to recognise colleagues across the business.

It is also producing live webinars on a range of topics including managing change, mental health and preparing for the longer term impacts of Covid-19 to support their teams.

A spokesperson continued: “A lot of fundraising efforts having been happening locally which we actively encouraged, and as a Group, we launched a ‘PIB 5k challenge’ to encourage colleagues to move over a distance of 5k which raised a total of £4,724 for the NHS.”

Staff can also create their own content via the intranet and the business has surveyed the workforce to understand their feelings on returning to the office and build them in to its plan. In addition its HR team are trained mental health advisers and the business offers access to an employee assistance programme (EAP).

‘Wellness warriors’
It is a similar picture at Aston Lark which has a mental health and wellbeing committee along with a team of ‘wellness warriors’ across all of its branches who promote its EAP services. The broker offers a designated ‘Wellbeing’ page on its intranet where it promotes useful links to additional support services available like Shout and Headspace and it also held a Wellbeing Conference in February.

Since the lockdown it has teamed up with performance coach Thomas Hatton, who has recorded bespoke material for us on the subjects of mindfulness, hints and tips to deal with anxiety, and the creation of a good home/work life balance. Video updates led by Peter Blanc, our Group CEO, and Stuart Rootham, Group MD are also available to keep staff informed.

It now undertakes bi-weekly quick poll surveys which ask staff to rate their wellbeing and personal morale, and they are also invited to leave comments. In support of Mental Health Awareness Week it also asked staff to carry out an ‘act of kindness’ and share these on its private employees Facebook page which now has over 500 followers. It is also hosting weekly quiz nights and has helped raise £6,500 in support of our corporate charities in recent weeks.

Lisa Smith, executive director, and a member of Aston Lark’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Committee said: “At Aston Lark we realise being an award-winning insurance broker is an honour, but this is only possible if we have fully engaged, happy and dedicated staff who truly care about the work they’re doing.

“We’ve tried very hard to support all our people to the fullest extent possible whilst they’ve been working from home during the lockdown period’’.

Global Risk Partners also outlined the actions it was taking. 

Julia Marsan, HR director for GRP, told Insurance Age: “Mental Health Awareness week has come at a really important time, and at GRP we are acutely aware of the potential risks to our employees’ well being of working remotely, in lockdown conditions, without the normal support networks within our business. 

“To provide assistance for people if they need it, we are running a weekly HR blog that includes ideas to help people manage mental well being; we have also implemented an online GP service to supplement our existing online Employee care service, which is available to all our people, in normal times as well as during this very challenging time.”

QBE has also prioritised surveying its staff in order to assess wellbeing. It also offers staff a free Headspace subscription, employee assistance programme, and shares resources and advice from its charity partner Mind.

QBE also has a dedicated mental health employee network – OpenMind. During Mental Health Awareness week, the OpenMind network put together a schedule of webinars, talks, and guidance to support employees on topics such as mindfulness, sleep and confidence.

The insurer has also been reminding our employees about the importance of switching off while we’re all working from home and hosted a webinar on Wednesday on mental resilience featuring its rehabilitation experts and SAS: Who Dares Wins’ Ollie Ollerton for internal and external participants.

Finally, RSA has published a suite of new activities to mark Mental Health Awareness Week. It ran webinars on emotional fitness, offered help for its leaders around managing people with stress, and shared refresher courses for its mental health first aiders. It is also publishing podcasts on general mental health and how to look after yourself, entitled ‘Mental Health & Kindness during Covid-19’.

Commenting on RSA’s virtual approach to Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, head of health, safety & wellbeing, Tony Bough, said: “At the beginning of the current lockdown, we created a Wellbeing Hub for our people, which is an ever-growing collection of really valuable advice and support.

“And this week’s enhanced mental health awareness has only boosted that library’s popularity, which we’ve added to with further content from external experts and people within the organisation with knowledge and advice to share.”

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