Updated: May 12, 2022
Mental health support became a true business imperative in 2021 requiring many organisations and HR teams to significantly accelerate their learning curves.
Sadly, much of the mental health related learning has come at the cost of the emotional health of HR professionals and managers who have been overwhelmed with the burden of trying to support a deluge of struggling employees (Something which I have written about previously).
The impact of HR teams and managers being left to handle the situation was made even clearer in the Wellbeing Partners’ 2022 survey which reported that almost half of HR managers have considered leaving their current roles due to the pressure of dealing with employee mental health and burnout.
To their credit, many companies have tried to respond with a range of new mental health initiatives and messaging - but has it really helped? Or has a great deal of time, and money been spent procuring external ‘mental health solutions’ at the expense of engaging in the meaningful but complex business of more internal organisational enquiry, research and solutions around mental health?
At Amplify, after more than 800 1:1 employee referrals and over 200 HR and senior manager consultation, advice and support sessions, we have seen that if the C-suite and HR leadership want to achieve lasting, positive change they shift focus away from solely external solutions to understanding mental health and mental health within their organisation at a deeper, more insights-led level.
Defining the problem
As someone who speaks regularly with senior managers and HR professionals in large organisations across the finance, insurance and wealth management industries I regularly observe an ad hoc approach to mental health at work. Typically such an approach involves a few workshops, a few (usually unused) mental health first aiders and a close to burnout HR team who are trying valiantly to help struggling employees. Without relevant support, they are left doing this using a combination of their own (exhausted) emotional capacity and a hotchpotch menu of benefits such as EAP/PMI/or private therapy providers that can be unresponsive, unpersonalised, and, crucially, difficult to access.
Often this results in substandard, unstarted, inappropriate mental health interventions and a steady downward spiral - meaning additional distress for the employee and more stress and worry for the HR teams involved.
Asking the right questions
Mental health at work is a profoundly complex issue. The right approach must be highly personalised to the needs of individual employees, whilst also holding in mind organisational context and operational process (key for anything to work at scale). It must be as proactive and accessible as possible whilst also being able to react to employees, managers and HR teams and the organisation as a whole when needed.
Achieving this is hard - but seeking answers to the following questions is a good place to start.
‘What mental health benefits do we have, how much are they used and by whom? What about the rest of the employee population?
What is the experience of our employees who try to access these benefits?
Does our mental health benefits package utilisation look accessible and effective when we consider that 14.7% of people experience mental health problems in the workplace?
‘How is our current approach working and not working, and why?’
‘What does success look like for us?’
Truly interrogating these questions requires some deep thinking, some real reflection as leaders and an examination of any available pertinent qualitative and quantitative data sources.
Gathering meaningful data
Organisations today have access to endless reams of data. They can look into EAP reports, mental health app user reports, staff surveys, stress audit data, sickness absence reports, employee engagement surveys - we could go on.
Yet, access to an enormous data set doesn’t often convey anything valuable about the state of mental health of the workforce. Especially if we consider issues such as mental health stigma, medical confidentiality and issues of data quality.
Within this difficult context what is needed is clear, relevant, highly contextual information about the ever-changing mental health needs of the workforce. It is insights of this nature that can prompt the small but meaningful actions that result in lasting change.
One of our clients’ HR team, for instance, was able to take steps after their in-house Amplify clinicians noticed a particular trend in women's health issues in the course of their clinical practice. Our clinicians fed this theme back to the HR team and highlighted the organisational and individual benefits of taking action. As a result of insights and focused discussions, our client enhanced women's health benefits and associated policies.
Finding relevant insights
Given the reams of data available what can be relied on?
The kind of data companies can access depends on their business and their service providers but even organisations with limited sources can gather useful information that can help to identify focus areas and kick-start important conversations about next steps. These 5 steps are a good jumping-off point:
Talk to the workforce. Where they are willing, talk to them about mental health and their experience of accessing support via the company. Welcome both the positive and negative. For more general enquiry consider interviews and focus groups.
Gather data such as workforce demographics, EAP reports, mental health app user reports, sickness absence reporting, turnover rates
Analyse data and look for common themes, patterns and trends
Focus on mental health benefit utilisation data and talk to your suppliers about what their reports really mean. How well utilised are your existing mental health benefits? What more can your suppliers do to push this up? Does anybody use the mental health first aiders?
Consider what you have learnt within the broader context of the mental health at work challenge. Freely available information from reputable sources such as Deloitte and McKinsey can help paint a more detailed picture.
Cutting through the noise and finding clarity
Addressing mental health and wellbeing is a process specific to each organisation, it is not an overnight, start and finish task. It is a constant process of learning, iteration and evolution.
Having an accessible, flexible, data-driven, in-house psychological support that works at the employee, manager/HR and organisation level can help to truly understand what is happening in terms of mental health within an organisation.
The insight generated from operating such a service can provide a highly relevant, data-led, clinically interpreted, continually iterating feedback loop and road-map that managers, leaders and HR teams on the ‘front line’ of workplace mental health can rely on to drive lasting change.
Reduce the stress of caring about how you manage mental health
After a 3-months long open dialogue with over 20 HR directors and senior managers, Amplify recently launched the HR and Manager Consultation programme, a pioneering service that specifically helps HR teams and managers reduce the stress of caring about how they manage mental health at work.