Addressing mental health and building resiliency during uncertain times
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is affecting the lives of so many around the world. Asena Degirmenci speaks to insurance firms to learn how they are acknowledging mental health and well-being in the workplace
This year has been nothing short of a series of unfortunate events, and has certainly put a test on people’s mental health and well-being. The rapidly spreading COVID-19 outbreak, temporary travel ban in most countries and the closing of many businesses was just the beginning. With the spread of the virus turning the world upside down, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and feel that everything is out of our control.
Professionals in the insurance industry have nonetheless been acquainted with the challenges COVID-19 has brought to their lives. Like many professionals, the current state of the global environment has put a strain on insureds’ mental health. Insurance leaders have since stepped up and have now put a strong focus on protecting the well-being of their staff to combat this virus from causing any more devastation.
According to one CPO, who spoke to Verdict InsurTech, insurance companies can only look after customers if they care for their people.
“It’s so important that there’s support available for all employees, whatever their circumstances,” says Aviva’s CPO, Danny Harmer.
“The impact of the pandemic means more people are more likely to struggle with their mental wellbeing. Many employees are juggling work with extra caring responsibilities and this, combined with the uncertainty of lockdown restrictions, is bound to test our resilience.”
BREAK THE TABOO
Talking about mental health has long been considered a taboo subject, with many individuals reluctant to communicate their struggle with mental illness. Certain mental disorders coincide with personality changes, such as aggression. When such symptoms are displayed, individuals are more likely to encounter a negative reaction from the public, such as hatred or fear.
In recent years, we have been seeing more and more people talk about mental health, with individuals reaching out to family, friends and people in their community. Harmer also agrees that it is vital for organisations to have a culture in which employees can ask for help and tell someone when things are tough.
“It’s so important that there’s support available for all employees, whatever their circumstances,”
Aviva’s CPO, Danny Harmer
“It’s a message that is part of our DNA at Aviva. The campaign we ran this year during Mental Health Week involved our colleagues sharing their incredibly powerful and poignant personal stories about mental health on internal social media channels,” states Harmer.
Speaking to Verdict InsurTech, Vitality CPO Judy Parfitt explains: “The mental wellbeing hub on our intranet features employees’ stories and videos about their mental health challenges, and how they’ve dealt with them.
“We also have a network of more than 50 trained mental health champions. Our CEO often talks about mental health in his regular town halls with employees. Vitality’s mental health offerings for its members are unparalleled, and our employees enjoy all these benefits.”
Mental disorders have been on the rise over the last few years – the outbreak of coronavirus this past year certainly not easing the situation. Although most mental illnesses cannot be cured in their entirety, a great deal can be done to help individuals cope in their day-to-day lives. If no action Is taken, there is a risk that individuals will find it difficult or be unable to deal with everyday tasks.
The most common practice that reaps many benefits is therapy. Access to therapy should be high on the list of priorities at insurance firms, so that their employees are secure in knowing they are supported. It is essential to take a proactive approach so that every individual can regain control of their life and be able to perform successfully in both their work and social life.
Parfitt adds: “A comprehensive approach is called for which recognises the inter-dependence between mental health and other elements of wellbeing. This is something we feel strongly about here at Vitality which is why the wellbeing strategy for Vitality employees is based on five pillars: physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, financial wellbeing, social wellbeing and lifestyle (including nutrition and smoking).
“We pay attention to all of them, and track the wellbeing of our staff through Britain’s Healthiest Workplace surveys. The results of these surveys inform targeted interventions. All employees also participate in the Vitality programme that accompanies their PMI.”
Participation in activities including, yoga, and online self-help tools to boost mental health have all been encouraged. Several campaigns have also been rolled out on physical well-being, as there is a strong correlation between physical and mental health.
Harmer says: “To remove the stigma on mental health, we need constant open dialogue. Companies also need to give colleagues access to practical tools, from mental health apps to employee assistance programmes. Kindness and connection are really important, so the role of the leader is absolutely key here in terms of checking in and supporting their people.”
There is a strong focus to provide employees with learning content and materials to better manage stress and anxiety, whether that be from working in the office or working from home. Additionally, there is an emphasis for managers to provide all the resources their employees need at this time and to remember that they do not have to go through it alone.