The first step is taking a good look at your company. The fabric of every company is very different, just like the DNA of every individual. By its very nature, tailored mental health support should be specific to the organisation it’s serving.
So before even thinking about the kind of support that may be required, think about your business: where are employees located? Are they remote workers? Office based? Moving from one place to another all the time? Is the work physically or mentally demanding? Or both? What’s the current level of skills and understanding with regards to mental health – particularly among line managers? And have you got a good handle on what support employees need? Are you even at a stage where they’re likely to tell you?
These questions need to be answered first and foremost.
Although the exact look and feel of the resultant support framework will differ from company to company, the process of getting there is broadly similar across all organisations and might follow the five steps outlined below.
1. Encourage openness
“You first need to go through a programme to break down barriers and stigma so that people feel comfortable to tell you the support they need,” says Alison Pay, Head of Marketing and Operations at Mental Health at Work, one of Generali’s wellbeing investment matching partners.
“The most important skill is to ask questions and actually listen to responses. It sounds simple but we find it isn’t,” adds Pay.
2. Identify training needs
Business in the Community’s Mental Health at Work Report 2017 found that three out of every five employees has experienced mental health issues where work was a related factor. Yet only 11 per cent disclosed it to their line manager.
Meanwhile, less than a quarter (24 per cent) of managers have received any training in mental health.
Pay comments: “It’s important to identify the skills you need in the workplace to manage mental health in a way that is relevant to each individual workplace.
“The main support should be from line managers. They’re usually best placed to help identify potential issues and signpost people to appropriate help and then continue to manage the business, while the employee manages their mental health.”
3. Keep the conversation going
“You then need activity in the organisation that helps to keep mental health topical. Something that helps to normalise it,” says Pay.
She explains that this might necessitate new policies. For example, if your company is suddenly moving from being mainly office-based to a new remote working model, it raises huge questions around how you’re going to notice changes and support mental health before it becomes an issue or impacts on performance. Creating mental health allies and champions in the workplace is great where you’ve got lots of employees in one place, but it’s less relevant to remote workers.
“Only after looking at all these things can you start to put in place the training, benefits and services that might help. In short, the framework depends very much on the organisation,” says Pay.
4. Set objectives
So you’ve got to grips with the needs of your business and employees, now is the time to set objectives: What do you want to achieve by putting in place mental health support? What will the framework look like? And how are you going to ensure tangible outcomes?
As part of this, assess the benefits and services you currently offer and look at whether you could better utilise those before seeking to obtain funding for anything new.
For example, if you have group income protection (IP) in place, you’ll probably already have a complimentary Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), allowing for 24/7 confidential helpline support for employees and access to face-to-face counselling where required.
The mental health support available via group IP might also include personalised pathways, incorporating cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling – either through the EAP service or with other qualified individuals – and psychiatric assessments.
Anything that falls out of the remit of these added value services – and where an employer has identified a specific wellbeing need – might be part or fully funded by some group IP insurers to help employers make much-needed initiatives happen.
5. Measure outcomes
In order to demonstrate meaningful results – or outcomes – the goal needs to be articulated from the start. This could be, for example, raising line manager awareness of how to identify potential mental health issues. Then put in place an appropriate service. This might be facilitated training, such as that provided by Mental Health at Work.
Finally, assess what line managers have learnt and, in a few months’ time, whether they’re feeling more confident with this responsibility and whether employees are happy.
It’s as simple and problem specific – or meaningful – as that.
Pay adds that an outcomes-based approach is more relevant to wellbeing initiatives than return on investment (ROI).
“Outcomes are simple: define what you want to achieve and then ask yourself, have you changed it. I liken this to a company investing in leadership activities. They don’t measure success in terms of ROI. They measure it by assessing whether management skills and practices have improved and whether teams are happy and satisfied.
“There’s no ‘one’ outcome measure for all companies, in the same way that there’s no ‘one’ mental health programme for all companies.”