These issues constitute a high proportion of group income protection notifications. From 2013 to 2017, absence referrals for mental health issues rose from 38 per cent to 46 per cent* of all reasons of notified absence.
It’s often said that prevention is better than cure. So what steps can employers take to avert workplace stress and mental health issues? Could small, less invasive interventions really work, and if so, how could they be implemented? One approach would be to ensure that any chosen group protection product should include a comprehensive wellbeing suite, through which employers can promote health and wellness in the workplace.
Intermediaries can now choose to introduce their clients to a growing range of wellbeing services which are designed to encourage the positive behaviours which help keep employees physically and mentally fit. Since a certain level of specialist expertise is needed to do this effectively, providers may draw on a support network of external wellbeing partners who specialise in mental health, resilience, sleep and other psychological issues.
Such services can cover: health promotion and wellbeing training; employee and manager support; clinical rehabilitation services and return-to-work support services.
Technology has an important role to play within the prevention space, and the 21st century’s oracle – the smartphone – is very much a part of this. In our technology-driven world, employees are more likely to consult their smartphones for information than knock on a neighbour’s front door for help. This has led to the evolution of mobile tools to help self-manage anxiety, stress and depression. Apps can show different ways to cope and help employees to build resilience. They can also help them track and record how they feel, learn about different ways of thinking about immediate emotional support, advice and practical information, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
In Aviva’s experience, there has been an increased demand in the number of income protection customers who are seeking face-to- face intervention through employee assistance programme (EAP) partners. This seems at least partly due to campaigns aiming to make it more socially acceptable to talk about and seek help for mental health issues.
In recent years, the Mental Health Foundation – through its annual Mental Health Awareness Week – has generated considerable publicity and awareness about the extent of these issues. At the same time, popular entertainers and sportspeople have become
more open about mental health challenges. In short, psychological counselling is no longer the taboo subject it once was.
In practical terms, interventions may start from an EAP app, moving through to phone counselling and human interaction. Although psychological issues can be complex, early interventions – admittedly at a distance – have the potential to prevent things snowballing. A properly joined-up EAP (smartphone app, telephone support, face-to-face counselling) can take real steps to shift the focus from intervention to prevention.
Enlightened providers are making huge strides forward in areas where insurance companies once feared to tread, which is good news for employees, employers and society. The intermediary can now draw on a far more comprehensive range of support services and prevention measures to help their clients meet the mental health and wellbeing needs of their workforces.
*Source: Aviva Group Protection data, 2018