Mental health: prioritising workplace wellbeing for insurers

The cost of mental health issues is hugely affecting the sector right now with rises in long-term sickness, loss of staff and presenteeism. Petra Velzeboer, founding member of mental health network LikeMind, asks what should we prioritise this year in order to overcome this.

The global pandemic has had such a huge impact on the mental health of everybody. While it certainly is taking its toll, one positive thing to come from this is that no organisation can ignore that employee wellbeing needs to be prioritised this year in order for businesses to succeed.

We’ve been working with a number of organisations across the insurance sector recently. Whilst pre- pandemic I think it’s fair to say across the industry, mental health wasn’t a big priority, we have definitely seen that progress is being made.

Some of the challenges and trends that we have seen affecting the sector in particular when it comes to mental health are impacted by generational and gender differences:

  • Pressure on female employees: The impact of the pandemic and the pressures that female employees are facing outside of work in particular (more of the burden of childcare, household management etc) means that women are twice as likely to be experiencing anxiety as men
  • Changing employee culture: While the insurance sector is still very traditional, an increase in millennial/ gen-Z employees with a very different set of expectations and needs means that we have a growing proportion of workplaces that are keen to be open about mental health and wellbeing often working with traditional managers – in particular males over 55, that just haven’t come from a background where this sort of conversation took place at work.

Because many millennials without families have found themselves feeling very isolated during lockdown, the issue here and how it is being handled by managers is even further pronounced.

The cost of mental health issues is hugely affecting the sector right now with big rises in long-term sickness, loss of staff and presenteeism – so what should we prioritise this year in order to overcome this?

-Make mental health a priority always – not just in times of crisis. An organisation that has mental health ingrained in its vision and values looks to support wellbeing as a priority and not just mental ill-health. Create open and safe cultures where employees feel encouraged to talk about mental health and increased productivity and retention is guaranteed.

– Provide better support for managers. Changes in modern workplace expectations mean that traditional task focused management styles can be seen as toxic. Managers need support in how to have difficult conversations and build psychological safety in their teams long before a crisis comes along. We must remember that male suicide rates have never been higher, and workplace stress is one of the highest contributors to this.

-Leaders must take ownership. Where mental health initiatives fail is where they are being led by Colleague Resource Groups (CRGs) and not from the top. Seeing that leadership is engaged in supporting mental health is of huge value to teams and employees, giving them permission to look after their own mental health.

We have seen some great initiatives across the sector and huge benefits in breaking the stigma. On average for every £1 spent on mental health in the workplace organisations see a £4.40 return. When we support senior level execs to understand the science behind high performance and communicate to their teams when and how they are looking after their own wellbeing, there is a powerful effect that can ripple through the culture.

Although it’s a tough time for everyone, now is the time to focus on a strategic approach to mental health in the workplace and move past awareness initiatives once a year. Mental Health needs to be embedded in all levels of procedure, process and human management which will lead to massive returns on staff retention, reduced absence and enhanced productivity.

Petra Velzeboer Ltd partners with Likemind to ensure minimum standards are achieved for mental health in the insurance industry.

We’ve been working with a number of organisations across the insurance sector recently. Whilst pre- pandemic I think it’s fair to say across the industry, mental health wasn’t a big priority, we have definitely seen that progress is being made.

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