Blog: Do you know how to help a stressed workforce?

Matthew Reed

On World Mental Health Day Matthew Reed, of Equipsme, discusses how stress can hit workers and outlines what SMEs, including brokers, can do to help staff.

Facing outwards, the insurance industry has got better at talking about vulnerable customers and considering how a change in life circumstances can affect both financial resilience and require a more supportive method of communication.  

The broking industry has also started to accept mental health as an issue that affects us as a profession as well. But there is more to do to support employees on a day-to-day basis.

Tipping point
Mental health charity Mind describes mental health as being on a continuum in which stress is the crossover point between wellbeing and mental ill health.

When people are exposed to stress over a long period of time, they can begin to feel anxious and risk developing anxiety disorders. 1 in 4 of us experience mild-to-moderate anxiety and/or depression in any given year.

From there the continuum moves through to anxiety disorders and severe mental ill health such as severe depression, bipolar, personality disorder and psychosis and schizophrenia. Mind reports that 1 in 10 of us will experience severe mental ill health in our lifetime.

Even a boss stuck in the pull-your-socks-up stone age has to admit that avoiding a stressed workforce makes business sense.

The latest figures from the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) show that mental ill health is still the most common cause of long-term absence and is a growing issue for nearly 60% of organisations.

On the flip side, an independent Government review in 2017 highlighted a significant return for employers investing in mental health interventions: an average of £4.20 for every £1 (with a range up to £9)

There’s no denying we are making strides in the right direction and beginning to put more emphasis on the importance of speaking out about mental health. BIBA’s ‘Opening up about Mental Health’ session was one of the most popular and talked about events from the conference this year, rightly receiving praise for its ‘inspirational’ and ‘thought provoking’ content.

But while these public and very honest declarations from celebrities or well-known figures go far in demonstrating that it’s good to talk, too many brokers have no one they feel able to talk to.

Who you gonna call?
Ecclesiastical’s survey of brokers, published last year, revealed 78% of brokers feel stressed at work and one in five has contemplated leaving the industry as a result.

But only one-in-three would feel comfortable talking to their manager about mental health and even fewer (26%) would approach their HR department.  They are more likely to phone a confidential helpline – but not all firms offer these to staff.

There are simply too many people in our profession who are stressed and unsupported. When you consider many of us don’t give a second thought to registering with a GP surgery in case we become physically ill, it seems senseless that we don’t routinely put similar support structures when it comes to mental health.

Employee assistance programmes offer a channel for people to help cope with issues that may be having a negative impact on their work. A service which is completely confidential, open 24 hours a day and that employees can use in the knowledge they can open up without fear of judgement or worrying it might risk their reputation or job.

While these programmes have traditionally been out of reach for smaller firms due to high minimum spend, the introduction of affordable health insurance packages and stress support are removing the administrative and cost barriers of doing the right thing.

Some 18 months after we launched Equipsme, sold exclusively through insurance brokers, we’re delighted to see how many employers are providing stress support to their staff. 

We now have so much more information on mental illness. We know that mental health problems are caused by a combination of factors; a mixture of genetics and social, economic and emotional influences.

We also know that talking and seeking help really does make a difference. It’s now time for the conversation to shift from the stage into the office.

Matthew Reed is founder and managing director of Equipsme

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