Employee mental health – the next health crisis?

Russ Piper, CEO, Sovereign Health Care

By Russ Piper, chief executive, Sovereign Health Care

While we as businesses have rightly been focused on managing the physical impact of Covid-19, it’s clear the pandemic has ignited another major crisis: employee mental health.

According to Parliament, the number of people seeking NHS help for mental health problems is at a record high. What’s more, growing demand for mental health services comes at a time when the NHS is already under tremendous pressure, creating the potential for major impact on businesses, particularly those already struggling with Covid-related absence and the national shortage of skilled staff. Evidence suggests that 12.7% of sick days can be attributed to mental health conditions, costing UK employers almost £35 billion per year. So what can businesses do to help safeguard
employees and minimise impact on the bottom line?

Taking a positive approach

While mental health is challenging and complex, there are three straightforward steps businesses can take to be proactive:

  1. Create a culture where employees feel safe to speak up
  2. Equip managers to spot the signs and help team members
  3. Empower and support employees to address worries, stress and anxiety

As employers, we can clearly demonstrate to our people that we care about mental health by putting in place policies and support systems as well as encouraging behaviours that promote a work/life balance. Perhaps consider creating a team of mental health first aiders whereby employees can be trained in how to spot signs that a colleague may be struggling, how to support them to help build their resilience, and where to direct them for help so they can take early action. At Sovereign, we enrolled all our line managers onto the ACAS mental health course to help them handle mental health issues in the workplace.

Employee Assistance Programmes

One of the most direct and impactful steps businesses can take is to offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to employees and their families. Quick and cost effective to set up, EAPs offer help with personal and/or work-related problems that may impact performance, health, and mental and emotional wellbeing.

EAPs provide confidential support, assistance and counselling to help employees deal proactively with challenges such as stress, childcare, family and relationship matters, and health issues such as nutrition, smoking and drinking, anxiety and depression. EAPs also offer practical support such as legal and financial assistance, enabling employees to access guidance and information to help resolve issues before these become a source of stress. Importantly, EAPs also help managers deal with workplace challenges within their team.

At Sovereign, as well as offering these to our customers, we also provide a comprehensive EAP to our own employees as part of our support for their wellbeing. We have found it to be an invaluable tool for providing immediate, expert help for employees and managers, allowing business leaders to focus on the day job. For more information, read our new employee health and wellbeing guide and find out more about EAPs at sovereignhealthcare.co.uk/business.