Over the course of the last decade, mental health issues in Britain have reached crisis levels. Approximately one in six people in England meet the criteria of having a common mental health problem such as anxiety or depression. The claim statistics GRiD and the ABI recently released show that mental illness is the most common cause of claims for Group Income Protection. It is responsible for a quarter of all claims, as well as half of the people who were helped back to work before a claim was needed, thanks to proactive engagement with early intervention services provided by insurers.
Despite this, support from employers to tackle the problem remains largely absent. The Group Insurance industry’s approach to supporting employers with mental ill health problems has to be more holistic than simply offering early intervention services and Employee Assistance Programmes. These are certainly effective tools, but are necessarily reactive. Far more needs to be done in order to empower organisations to get to the root cause of their absence trends.
Very few insurers offer support to the employer and employee while individuals are still in work – but this is counterintuitive. Many employers have invested heavily in a health and wellbeing strategy with the aim to try and keep their employees in work. Unfortunately most employees in Britain have not yet accessed any of the support services that exist to help prevent them becoming an absentee; it is always a reaction to an issue that has presented itself. While a call to a nurse or an EAP provider is a great support mechanism, it is also an indicator that the employee is already struggling to cope.
As an industry, Group Insurance has the opportunity to step back, partner with intermediaries and use meaningful data to really address what support is required to help prevent employee absence before it happens.
As a starting point, it is important to recognise the differing needs of the relevant people who co-exist within an organisation: employees, line managers, Human Resources and the Finance Director. The development of an in-house suite of mental health support could help provide the right support to the right people in the organisation, at the right time.
Employees are offered pre-absence support via nurses who can triage the individual onto the right pathway while still at work and, importantly, before the concerns have manifested themselves into an absence. But more needs to be done. Stress and resilience training for employees from registered nurses, particularly in business areas that are undergoing significant change, is hugely beneficial in heading off potential mental ill health issues and keeping people healthily in work.
For line managers, the same stress and resilience training is crucial not only in helping them cope, but also enabling them to help others. The line manager role is vital as they are at the coal face with their teams, seeing up close what they are doing and how they are managing. Support needs to be doubled up for these organisational lynchpins with a Mental Health Toolkit. This provides real hands-on support delivered by a Mental Health First Aid Practitioner, helping line managers spot the warning signs of a mental health issue and the difference between mental ill health and performance or capability problems, which may need to be addressed separately.
The same nurse can also provide accreditation for key employees to become Mental Health Fist Aiders. Ideally, this matches the same level of first aid support you see from a Health and Safety perspective but for mental health: one person per floor, providing on-the-ground support from within the workforce itself.
Finally, partners such as ACAS can provide training and support on the difficult conversations around conflict management, mediation and conciliation, particularly if an employer is demonstrating adverse work-related trends.
Alongside the intermediary and by supporting the employee, line managers and HR Team, it is possible to develop a coordinated approach that will help reap the rewards from employers’ Group Insurance offerings and their other health and wellbeing pathways. This enables everyone to present a true return on investment to the Finance Director and/or procurement, often alongside the HR Director.
When pre-absence support is provided alongside Group Income Protection policies, it is evident this product (not just as an employee benefit but also as an employer benefit) is vital to UK organisations. Those who are serious about tackling mental ill health in their workforce stand to make particularly strong gains, as the product embodies the old saying: you get out of it what you put in. Engagement at all levels of the business, driven by clear communication of the complete range of support available, will get the most out of the product.