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Managing mental health in the workplace

Eugene Farrell, Mental Health Consultancy Lead at AXA Health and Claire Russell, CEO of consultancy Mental Health in Business, consider the importance of soft skills.

3 December 2021

We’ve been confidently told that our collective pandemic experience is going to result in a wave of workplace mental health issues.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics seem to support this with around one in five adults experiencing symptoms of depression in early 2021, a doubling since pre-pandemic times.

But expecting something and being prepared to deal with it are two very different things.

According to Eugene Farrell, Mental Health Consultancy Lead at AXA Health, while there hasn’t been the predicted workplace impact yet, the expectations placed on managers has likely changed for good.

“Those feelings of depression and anxiety will continue as we move into hybrid working and organisations have to train line managers to look more closely at their interactions, ask wellbeing questions and do regular check-ins with their people,” he says.

These are the kind of soft skills that he believes managers may lack at present but that they will need for the future as a failure to develop them could cost their business dearly.

A Deloitte study found that the cost of poor mental health to employers in the UK was around £45bn per year with financial services and insurance firms standing to lose the most by not taking mental health seriously – around £3,000 per employee.

There are a wide range of employee assistance programmes (EAP) available but they’re only effective if they’re being used by employees.

“It’s about every business looking at what’s available and doing something that’s consistent and meaningful that their people are going to engage with,” says Claire Russell, a broker of over 20 years and CEO of consultancy Mental Health in Business.

“Sticking something on the intranet and doing something once or twice a year is not going to work.”

And unless the leadership of the business, from the CEO down, are willing to show their own fallibility, the will to open up and ask for help may elude many employees.

“I’ve found that leaders in insurance are unwilling to talk about their own experience, but that’s something that we drive and encourage in the work we do with organisations. This has to be led from the top and you have to be willing to be vulnerable and truthful about your own experience,” Russell advises.

Getting an EAP into the business is just the start of supporting employee mental health.

“You have to track the EAP data, get the insights and listen to your line managers,” says Farrell.

“What are they picking up in their interactions about employee concerns? That’s a rich source of good data to get started on this.”

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