Get your employees talking during Mental Health Awareness Week

Jo Potter, Group Protection Account Manager at Aviva, discusses how employers can use Mental Health Awareness Week to start conversations.

The meaning of mental health will be different for everybody and be affected by various influences: family, friends, work, sleep, exercise and diet to name just a few. So, it can be difficult for an employer to know where to start in tackling mental health issues in the workplace.

Now, more than ever, it’s important for employers to think about how to engage employees when so many organisations are working with social distancing, remote working or even have a number of employees on furlough. Peoples worlds have been disrupted, some more than others, but inevitably everyone’s mental health will have been challenged to an extent.

Each year, there is a growing focus on mental health and this year is no different with these very new challenges presenting themselves. Starting on 18 May, Mental Health Awareness Week gives you the chance to talk to your employees about the subject and consider the support available.

Mental health is not something businesses can ignore

In 2019, 60% of referrals for rehabilitation through Aviva’s Group Income Protection were for mental health conditions. That statistic is largely reflected across a number of industries and often much higher in certain sectors such as professional services.

At any given time, one in four people suffers with mental health issues. That makes it hugely important for employers to embrace any opportunity to remind employees help is available and to make talking about issues the norm.

As part of your solution, you could consider adopting an employee assistance programme. These are a great first touchpoint for employees to confidentially discuss any issues and get in-the-moment support. They also help employers gain advice on how to handle potential issues in the workplace.

During the current pandemic, employee assistance programmes are providing invaluable support, in addition to the regular support, they can also offer live webinars on key topics concerning employees at this time: balancing work and home life, looking after your mental health, self esteem and many more.

With mental health, giving support as early as possible is vitally important. By addressing issues, signposting where to find help, and potentially providing treatment, early intervention support can help you focus on keeping employees well and in work. If an employee has to take time off, it can also help get them back to work more quickly. 

Use the awareness week to let your employees know where they can find help

Often, employees are unaware of the support available to them. As an employer, you can use awareness weeks to promote useful services and educate your employees on what help is out there.

Awareness weeks can also show how different areas of support can work well together. For example, a combination of educational sessions through seminars or presentations works well with interactive sessions or information stands with ‘giveaways’ to encourage engagement, where feasible.

During the current climate, why not use the time to have virtual sessions with employees, book in a coffee and chat to allow employees some time to speak about how they are feeling and let them share ideas for coping at this challenging time.

An approach like this not only helps promote the support available but can also create a ‘feel good’ atmosphere. As an employer, your workforce can see you’re proactively looking after their health and wellbeing by putting practical steps in place to support them. 

Use the awareness week to help you build a wellbeing strategy

Promoting Mental Health Awareness week is a perfect opportunity to remind employees that it’s okay not to feel okay – but you can also let them know where they can find help. It’s a budget friendly, time-efficient way of promoting mental wellbeing in the workplace and provides a key focus for an ongoing wellbeing strategy throughout the year. 

Within your business, you can create a calendar of events based on relevant topics and make this known to employees. You could even use Wellbeing Champions within the business to co-ordinate local events, which works well for multi-sited organisations. 

Using absence management data, you can also identify specific trends impacting your business. Once you have this information, you can target these areas to promote the best return-on-time investment for these events. 

Employment engagement surveys are another fantastic way of gauging how employees are feeling. By including questions related to wellbeing, you can gather invaluable data on what’s on the minds of your employees. And once you know that, you have a chance to change things for the better and make a difference in your employees’ lives.

Raising awareness of wellbeing issues will help you support your workforce

Awareness days or weeks are often backed by charitable organisations. Most of these charities want to spread their message as far and wide as possible.

To do this, normally they would provide hard materials such as posters and information packs but they have now adapted to provide online information which can be a great resource. You can signpost them to your employees or use them as inspiration on topics you can cover throughout the year.

This Mental Health Awareness Week could be a great time to start talking about wellbeing with your employees, but it’s not the only awareness day or week. As part of your strategy, you could consider adding other awareness dates to your diary to support your planning and help promote wellbeing in the workplace.

After all, the happier and healthier your workforce is, the more you’ll succeed as an employer.

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