Mental and physical health are fundamentally linked – so employers must embrace an all-encompassing approach to health at work


In recent years workplace physical health initiatives have become more commonplace. However, it seems that mental health initiatives remain chronically under-resourced. As BHSF’s Breaking the Cycle report identifies, stressful lifestyles are directly leading to mental health issues and absenteeism, it is clear that employers must address the subject of health on a much wider scale.

Employers have the same duty of care for mental as for physical wellbeing, but some may argue that visible physical issues are easier to respond to than invisible mental health issues. Our findings suggest that physical health initiatives are being prioritised over mental health.

Gym memberships, health screenings and even lunchtime yoga sessions, are now an expected part of many employee benefits package. In many respects this is a positive outcome. However, with 83% of employees revealing they receive no mental wellbeing support from their employer, the lack of consistency is an issue.

The problems of stress

The Breaking the Cycle survey found that one in four employees have taken time off work in the last year due to stress-related problems. Finances, for example, have been identified as the greatest contributor (31%) to employee stress, and therefore an issue that should not be overlooked when addressing health at work.

The uncomfortable truth is that over half the working population would not inform their employer about a mental health problem and the reasons for this are clear. Employees believe, rightly or wrongly, that their employer would either lack empathy, or that they would not receive the support they need.

Our findings demonstrate that the approach to mental and physical health is not equal and because of this there is a perceived stigma still attached to mental health issues. The cultural change within the workplace ultimately lies in the hands of the employer. By taking a more proactive approach to wellbeing, employers can benefit from a more productive and resilient workforce.

Personal finance and issues around debt have a major impact in the area of mental health. It is increasingly difficult to separate the two. It is as though concerns about debt are becoming the watermark that permeates issues of stress, reducing resilience.

Employers can play a vital role in encouraging the uptake of sick pay insurance, cancer cover, debt advice and intervention, all of which can often be delivered at zero cost to the bottom line. Processes like these can be easily implemented, ensuring finances need not be an additional stress factor if time is needed off work.

Products like BHSF’s Pay4Sure sick pay insurance, which also provides a GP consultation service and telephone helpline, not only offers financial support, but also provides employees with the tools they need to become more resilient.

When looking at the bigger picture of health at work, early intervention strategies are key. Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can be revolutionary in terms of helping to build a resilient workforce. The BHSF EAP offers a 24-hour helpline with access to a telephone counselling service 365 days a year, providing support on a host of mental health and emotional issues for employees – reducing absentee rates and increasing staff retention.

Apps can lead the way

The EAP can also be accessed through BHSF Connect, a healthcare and benefits web app which supports both physical and mental wellbeing. The app allows employees to speedily access services any time of the day or night such as GP helpline, EAP and fitness support, based around a lifestyle discounts platform. It also makes raising a physical or mental health related issue a much simpler and straight forward process for the employee, providing a positive step towards improving the perceived stigma.

Employers are best placed to promote wellbeing, by looking beyond physical health and influencing culture change. Implementing products like BHSF’s EAP and Pay4Sure to promote a consistent approach towards health can also ensure employees are well equipped to become more resilient.

Download the Breaking the Cycle report here:

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