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Insurance policies and EAPs for workplace mental health are outdated: it’s time to revamp our approach

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Mental health in the workplace has, thankfully, risen higher up the agenda in recent years, with HR and business leaders recognising the positive impact happy employees have on the organisation. COVID-19 has brought workplace wellbeing into even sharper focus, as employees have had to negotiate the emotional rollercoaster of the pandemic, while remaining productive in their roles and connected with their colleagues.

While the outlook in terms of pandemic recovery looks increasingly optimistic in the UK, there are areas where COVID-19’s effects are still being felt. Recent research from the Mental Health Foundation has found feelings of loneliness and hopelessness have still not dropped back to their pre-pandemic levels. Combined with the finding that 44% of overall workplace ill-health is caused by work-related stress, depression or anxiety, it’s clear there are major challenges to address.

Unfortunately, insurance policies and employee assistance programmes (EAPs) designed to address workplace mental health issues too often fail to deliver the right level of tailored support to employees. Below, we examine why this is, and what steps leaders can take to remedy the problem.

 

One-size-fits-all

EAPs and insurance policies for mental health are often implemented with the best intentions, but their downfall is that they often provide basic, 'one-size-fits-all' care that doesn’t take into account the very different challenges that people face. These solutions also tend to emphasise a reactive approach where help is only available once something escalates into a major issue, rather than a proactive model where employees can access support at any time.

Someone suffering from anxiety, for example, is not the same as someone suffering from depression. Similarly, an employee seeking help to address emotional trauma is very different to someone proactively looking for life coaching to boost their confidence and self-esteem. When EAPs and insurance policies only cover provisions like basic therapy or counselling, there’s no way they’ll work for everyone.

I’ve experienced this first-hand in my own working life. After spending eight months in and out of hospital a few years ago with an undiagnosed physical illness, I reached out to occupational health at my corporate company to help deal with the accompanying strain the situation placed on my mental health. However, the one-size-fits-all approach meant the support on offer lacked the flexibility I needed. It was only when I found an excellent life coach through my own independent research that I discovered something that worked for me.

 

Overhauling the system

Moving on from this outdated approach to EAPs and insurance policies means embracing a more balanced, comprehensive approach to mental health support. In many cases, current strategies should be transformed so that employees can access a wide range of support, whenever they need it. This should cover all the bases, ranging from therapy and counselling, through to services such as meditation, psychology, careers guidance and life coaching.

To encourage uptake, workers should be offered the freedom to find and choose a service that suits them, and be given time to find a practitioner who they really click with. Crucially, all of this should be done with full anonymity in mind: after all, one of the reasons people are put off seeking help is because they’re reluctant to disclose an issue with their manager or boss.

 

A happier future workplace

We’ve come a long way since the days where a stiff upper lip was the norm in the face of work and life pressures. That said, there’s still plenty we can improve on, and the way we incorporate mental health support into EAPs and workplace insurance policies is a great place to start.

Joel Gujral is Founder of MYNDUP.

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