Why talking about mental health matters

We're becoming more open to talking about mental health. The impact of the pandemic, as well as shifts in how we interact with each other, has led to an increase in mental health issues among young people. The charity Mind also predicts that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health issue each year. Here are just a few reasons why talking about mental well-being is essential.

It reduces stigma

As a society, we've got a lot better at talking about mental health, but there is still some stigma attached to admitting mental health difficulties. Creating an open conversation about the scale of the issue helps to reduce the stigma.

Creating a support network

Mental ill health can lead to feelings of isolation which create a vicious circle where the individual feels unable to talk openly about their mental health, and their condition worsens. When your employees can discuss their mental health openly, this creates a support network that can promote positive mental health.

Enabling access to appropriate treatment

A supportive network can benefit anyone struggling with mental health; however, professional help is sometimes needed. Talking openly about mental health problems can help increase awareness of times when further treatment may be required and reduce the stigma associated with seeking help.

Improving overall health and wellbeing

Talking about mental health and finding ways to improve it can have a knock-on effect on employees' overall health and well-being, as they'll feel more motivated to look after themselves both physically and mentally.

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Why is good mental health important to your business?

Supporting your employees in looking after their mental health benefits your business and overall well-being.

Productivity and employee engagement

Recruiting and retaining the best people is crucial to your business's success. It also makes sense to ensure that they remain engaged and motivated to be productive at work. A culture that makes its' employees feel supported benefits from increased morale, greater staff loyalty and higher productivity.

The economic impact

The 2017 'Thriving at Work' review found that mental health issues at work cost employers between £33 billion and £42 billion per year, with part of the cost coming from reduced productivity amongst staff who remained at work. This suggests that an investment in providing support to employees to prevent or alleviate mental health issues could offer a significant return, both in reduced absence and increased productivity.

You have a duty of care

As an employer, you must take care of your employees' health, safety and well-being. That includes a duty to consider their work's psychological impact and help them manage stress. Equally, if their mental health issues are significant enough to represent a disability under the Equality Act, you also must make reasonable adjustments to their work.

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Mental ill health impacts physical wellness

If an employee is struggling with a mental health issue, this can manifest in ways that directly impact their ability to work, including lack of concentration or low motivation. However, they can also have a direct link to physical wellness. They may feel unable to look after themselves or be slow to seek medical attention. Depression has been linked to headaches, digestive issues and insomnia, which can also lead to other health problems.

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The mental health difficulties your employees could be facing

The HSE found that stress, depression and anxiety are the most common mental health issues facing the UK workforce, accounting for 50% of all work-related ill health. There had been signs of increased rates of mental ill health before the COVID-19 pandemic, and this trend has continued into 2020 and 2021. In 2019 and 2020, 17.9 million days were lost due to stress, depression or anxiety.

Whilst mental ill health can arise for various reasons, either related to work or an employee's personal life; businesses must support and promote good mental health to reduce workplace stress and the associated employee absence.

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Benefits of creating an employee wellness program

Health benefits

We've already mentioned that good mental health support can help to create higher productivity levels and increased employee engagement. It also supports increased employee retention. Employee wellness programs indicate a culture where staff are supported in achieving a good work-life balance and reaching personal and workplace goals.

You can create a program that incorporates different forms of support, including counselling and mindfulness, which helps employees to reduce stress. This can also help them to find the motivation to improve their physical health with the right support.

Financial benefits

Reduced absences because of mental or physical health issues mean fewer lost days and reduced revenue loss. Wellness programs can include health checks and other support that can encourage employees to take action to improve their health before any problems arise.

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Elements to include in an employee well-being program

A good workplace wellness program needs to be tailored to meet the needs of your workforce and may be more wide-ranging than you think. Here are a few of the elements that you may wish to include

Mental health support

Your company culture forms a vital part of any wellness strategy. Offering access to counselling or mindfulness classes looks great on paper but may not be effective if your staff are struggling with unrealistic workloads and unsupportive management practices.

It's essential to be aware that your staff may want to avoid discussing their problems with someone from within the company. Providing access to third-party support in the form of a telephone helpline, the ability to self-refer for CBT or to use resources to support their mental well-being is the ideal approach. Offering support with financial wellness can also help to reduce stress.

Physical health initiatives

Physical activity can also impact mental well-being, so encouraging employees to increase their activity levels can help them reduce stress. It's vital to include a range of options; some people enjoy a trip to the gym, but others may prefer a lunchtime walk or a Pilates class.

You may also want to consider ways to promote healthy eating or help staff quit smoking. Offering health checks or free flu vaccinations can help to prevent illness altogether.

It's also worth looking at their working environment and practices and whether these promote good overall health. Maximising natural light in the workplace or encouraging employees to get outside during the day can help to combat mental health issues, particularly Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Investing in standing desks could improve employees' posture and prevent back or other musculoskeletal problems.

Go beyond physical and mental health

Mental health problems can arise due to workplace stress and personal worries. Helping employees achieve a good work-life balance helps them feel valued and supported, improving their mental health.

Introducing policies that enable them to take leave, spend time with their families and even get involved in charity work can all have mental health benefits.

Google's employee benefits even include access to cooking classes and art programs.

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How private health insurance can help

Group health insurance lets employees quickly access private healthcare to deal with health issues. However, it can also play a valuable part in supporting their mental health.

Psychological cover

With the right cover, group health insurance enables employees to access treatment for mental health conditions, including inpatient psychiatric care or outpatient services, including counselling and CBT. Some insurers also offer a cash allowance that employees can spend on therapies as they choose, which may enable them to access treatment that isn't otherwise covered by their insurance.

Virtual services

Health insurance typically provides support services such as helplines offering informal support and advice. This can also include help with relationships or financial issues.

Most insurers also have an online or virtual GP service that operates 24/7, allowing employees to arrange appointments that fit around their other commitments.

Well-being content

Access to online content that employees can read in their own time can help them to manage their health and well-being. Health insurers offer articles on various well-being topics, including practical advice. Some also offer life skills courses online that can help with managing stress.

Incentives and discounts

Vitality focuses its health insurance offering on promoting good health and includes incentives and discounts for clients who take care of their health. These include discounts on gym memberships, health screening and fitness watches, free coffee, cinema tickets and a subscription to the Headspace mindfulness app.

Business support

Corporate group health insurance also includes resources that help you manage your team's health and develop an employee wellness program to fit your workforce's needs. It reflects that you're likely to be managing a large number of staff with diverse healthcare needs.

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Other ways to support employees with their benefits package

Other elements of your employee support package can also help them to manage stress and give them peace of mind. They may worry about the impact on their family if they need to take time off work because of stress or ill health, which creates a vicious circle that could create additional mental health issues. They may also have concerns about what would happen to their loved ones if they were no longer around.

The employee benefits you offer could help reassure them that their family will be taken care of should the worst happen.

Group income protection

Income protection insurance pays out a regular monthly income if an employee cannot work because of ill health or injury. Depending on your chosen policy, it can pay up to 80% of an employee's gross salary, allowing them to keep paying their mortgage and bills and maintain their family's quality of life. The payments continue until they're able to return to work or retire. This gives your employees peace of mind knowing they're financially secure even if they're off work for a long time.

Factors that affect the cost of cover

Your insurers will consider the risk of an individual claiming the policy when they provide you with a quote. The factors they consider will typically include the following:

  • Age
  • Health, including family history and pre-existing conditions
  • Risks associated with their work
  • An employee's lifestyle, including health risks and any dangerous hobbies
  • The level of cover required.
  • The deferral period between the start of an absence from work and the first payment

Own occupation policies

Another factor in the cost of your insurance is how it defines incapacity. An 'own occupation' policy offers comprehensive coverage and pays out if an employee can't do their normal job. Other types of policy may only pay out if they cannot take an alternative role or if they can't do any work at all.

Whilst circumstances may make these your preferred option; an own occupation policy is the gold standard as it allows your employee to make a straightforward claim without needing to consider alternative employment or undergo a medical assessment.

Taxation issues

Group income protection isn't generally considered a P11D benefit in kind by HMRC, and premiums are an allowable business expense deductible against corporation tax. Whilst personal income protection policies aren't taxed as they're paid for out of income after tax, if you pay the premiums on your employees' behalf, they will need to pay income tax on payments when they claim. The available cover level is typically higher on group policies to account for this.

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Life insurance

Group life insurance offers death-in-service benefits to your employees, which pays a lump sum to their loved ones after they die. It supports your employees' mental health as it gives them peace of mind knowing that their family will be supported if they're not around.

There are two different types of life insurance that employers can provide. Group and relevant life cover both pay a lump sum to your employee's family when they die. Depending on an employee's circumstances, you can offer one or the other or a combination of the two. The main practical difference is in the taxation arrangements for each type of policy.

Group life cover taxation

When you set up a group life policy, it must be registered with HMRC as it forms part of an employee's pension lifetime allowance. Any pension or group life insurance benefits an employee receives over £1,073,100 are taxed at 55%. However, the insurance isn't classed as a benefit in kind, so your employees won't need to pay income tax on the premiums.

Relevant life cover taxation

Relevant life cover provides a lump sum to an employee's family in the same way as a group policy. However, it doesn't form part of their pension lifetime allowance for tax purposes and isn't classed as a benefit in kind.

As it's set up as part of a trust, it isn't subject to inheritance tax either. It's an excellent way to offer additional life cover to high-earning employees in a tax-efficient manner.

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Getting professional advice

If you'd like to find out more about how insurance can form part of your employee well-being strategy, contact us for a comparison quote.

Matt Fletcher
Senior Broker

Matt Fletcher

Matt, one of our senior brokers, joined us from Axa several years ago. His knowledge and expertise span health, life and income protection insurance alongside critical illness cover.

Frequently asked questions

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