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Data driven mental health training leads to better conversations

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This year’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Week encouraged businesses to explore the myriad of ways to better support employee mental health. Mercer is leading the charge

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As the corporate world takes tentative steps further away from the pandemic, the conversations around the workplace and employee mental health are shifting.

Mental health can affect one in four people throughout their lifetime and have a significant impact on employee wellbeing. While employers have been cognizant to promote good mental health and provide support for employees who are struggling, since the pandemic, conversations around mental health have become even more crucial.

“We’re in a situation where people are very bruised because of the pandemic,” explains Wolfgang Seidl, Partner, Workplace Health Consulting Leader UK and Europe at Mercer.

Mercer, one of the largest employee benefits consultancies and brokers in the world, has seen the change the pandemic brought to the workplace. One of the more significant changes has been the move away from solely focusing on developing a workplace that is focused on creating a purely collaborative space, to one which caters to the needs of individuals.

To help firms, Mercer assists organisations on how to create mental health and wellbeing pathways. “We use data-driven health and wellbeing strategies to enable clients to implement better wellbeing support,” explains Wolfgang.

“We help businesses of all sizes look after their employees which in turn increases productivity.”  Wolfgang notes companies have begun to realise they needed to get stakeholders from across all areas of the business to have “better” conversations, after analysing employee data.

“We bring together all this quantitative and qualitative data to encourage creative conversations and the result is a three-year roadmap of what can be done for employees,” he says.

Everchanging dialogue

It was no secret the pandemic raised serious concerns about workers’ mental wellbeing. The growing uncertainty around job security, remote working models, and personal circumstances tested – and continues to test – employees’ resilience.

Since the onset of the pandemic, numerous businesses have stepped up their efforts to foster mentally healthy workplaces, with a huge push to place wellbeing high on the agenda. Not only is this likely to increase employee retention in the long run, but also save costs.

A study by the Mental Health Foundation and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) showed mental health problems cost the UK economy at least £117.9 billion annually.

Research into mental health by Deloitte in April revealed that 28% of employees left their job in 2021 or intend on leaving in 2022. The study states that 61% of these people are blaming poor mental health for the reason.

Wolfgang notes workers are generally being categorised into three categories: those who are depressed or suffer from other forms of mental distress, those who are flourishing, and those in the middle who are languishing in a haze of brain fog.  This third category of people, Wolfgang says, “have a crisis of meaning”, which is contributing to the phenomenon now dubbed ‘the great resignation’.

To combat this, businesses need to change their approach to tackling mental health within the workplace – and this must start at the beginning. Wolfgang says companies should focus on the benefits people’s roles can have on their lives, rather than the negative impacts working can have.

“What if your job was good for you and we tried focusing on things that are helping us thrive in life?” Wolfgang says. He goes on to quote Sigmund Freud – ‘simple happiness is being able to work and being able to love – noting work is such an essential part of a person’s purpose therefore contributes greatly to a person’s sense of identity.

“A job can be a force for good and that is why at Mercer we emphasise ‘good work or better work.’”

Recognising the signs

Once a conversation has been started, and workers are aware they can comfortably talk about mental health within the workplace, businesses also need to ensure they can spot the early warning signs of troubled employees.

According to a report published earlier this year by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, ‘management style’ is a main cause of work-related stress.  It highlights the negative impact managers can have on people’s mental wellbeing if they are not trained and supported to go about their management role in the right way.

Mercer helps businesses to best assist their teams through training and by encouraging managers to ‘step up’ and get to know their teams again; after remotely working for two years, many managers do not have the same relationships with their team members as they once did.

The idea of these programs is to help managers spot the early warning signs of mental health issues amongst their teams, and equip them with the tools to be able to make the right referral route.

“It’s about balancing business with empathy,” Wolfgang says. “We take data and develop mental health pathways which include proactive elements, such as training and developing core competency skills for managers.”

Wolfgang believes emotional intelligence (EQ) is more important for leaders than IQ. “Our therapeutic part of the pathway is about referrals,” he says. “This is where we bring stakeholders together from the insurer, employee assistance programmes, HR teams or onsite doctors, and ensure they refer meaningfully to each other. When businesses do this, they get a wonderful return on investment.”

Once an employer has recognised an employee needs support there are several approaches which can be taken. This could include seeing professional support from a GP or mental health counsellor, or reviewing an employee’s job role and workload.

Future of mental health training

Wolfgang and his team at Mercer believe businesses need to step away from the idea that a ‘one size fits all’ approach works when it comes to communicating mental health training.

Organisations need to ensure their approach to wellbeing – including the training aspect – treats people as individuals with varying needs requiring tailored support.

Based on how the workforce digests information, businesses need to be prepared to communicate mental health messages through a variety of mediums, be it through the classroom, online, watched on the go via videos, or in-person.

“Learning has to be playful, so any mental health training needs to be simple, compelling, and fun,” Wolfgang says.

“We have taken certain issues and created four 10-minute videos that feature celebrities such as Frank Bruno to Terry Waite. All the content is underpinned by science and the films look at resilience, self-care, empathy, and engagement. It all boils down to self-care and good communication,” he concludes.

Visit the Mercer website to find out more about transforming your businesses’ mental health strategy

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