Tackling stress and anxiety in the workplace – a new model for support

Henry Jones, CEO at Big White Wall, discusses the tangible benefits of a collective, community-based response

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Apr 05, 2019
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If you’ve heard it once, you’ve now heard it a thousand times – ensuring your employees are mentally healthy is top of the business agenda, and for good reason. The ‘Thriving at Work’ Stevenson-Farmer report, released in 2017, found that 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year and around 15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition. It costs businesses between £33 billion and £42 billion annually in lost productivity and it costs the economy between £74 billion and £99 billion per year from lost output. The figures are so large, they are almost incomprehensible. It’s time to change and time for action.

Shoulder to shoulder

For some, stigma around mental health struggles continues to be a very real and silencing factor in the workplace. We need to ensure that resources are in place to override this, so employees feel comfortable to open up and disclose how they are feeling. Often staff need to understand they are not alone in what they’re going through. Support needs to sit outside of HR, outside of EAP programmes, and available confidentially to all. This is where peer support resources can really help – the solution does not always need to be medicalisation (there is plenty of clinical research to prove this). Simply providing a safe a space to share experiences, advice and ideas about how best to cope through tough times can be enough support for some.

A break from the norm

At Big White Wall (BWW), we’ve recognised the opportunity to use technology for good. UK-wide, there are ambitious plans from the government to tackle and support the rising numbers of people who suffer with mental health problems in the NHS Long Term Plan, but simply doing more of what’s been done before isn’t necessarily the answer. We know that 86% of adults in the UK are daily internet users, using the web to help with almost every part of their lives. Why should this not include support for their mental health and wellbeing?

Community matters

Providing an online community of people who support, advise and encourage one another is a powerful concept, but it’s not without its challenges. As evidenced by several reports in the media recently, social media sites and forums can house all sorts of content, differing in levels of support and opinions. The key is to harness the power of shared experience and sense of community whilst keeping the environment clinically safe, something which we at Big White Wall feel passionately about.

Outcomes focused

From our 2019 annual survey of BWW members, 9 out 10 experienced a positive improvement in their wellbeing as a result of using the service. We explored a variety of aspects of wellbeing including feeling less isolated, increases to self-esteem, improvements to emotional health, better coping skills and decreases in levels of stress.

Anonymity is a key component of Big White Wall, with 3 out of 4 members identifying this as an important factor in their ability to share their feelings. 77% of members said they could cope better with their work or higher/further education responsibilities and starkly, our survey revealed that a third of our surveyed members said BWW was their only source of support.

Collective response

Collectively, we should all be held accountable for supporting employees with mental health challenges. We all have a responsibility to check on those around us, provide resources, tools and coping mechanisms to help with growing demands of modern life. We need to work together to seek and embrace new solutions, listening to our employees to deliver support in the way that they want is key to help tackle growing anxiety and stress levels in the workplace.

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Vitality

We’re the first insurance company to reward people for healthy living. We aim to be the best at what we do, offering comprehensive and award-winning Health and Life cover and positively different investments to our members. We believe in the idea of ‘shared value’: we help you take a more active role in managing your own wellness, which can encourage you to develop healthy long-term habits that are good for you, good for us and good for society.

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