AXA Health UK Mind Health webinar takeaways: Three key ways to create a culture of care

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Employers must focus on younger workers, managers and families to shift the mental health needle from languishing to flourishing.

AXA Health last week brought health and wellbeing experts and academics together to debate the findings of their 2024 UK mind health workplace report. Claire Farrow, global director of content for Make a Difference, facilitated the live webinar, as health and wellbeing experts from AXA Health, Accenture, Clifford Chance, Edinburgh University and Nomura shared their best practice advice and reflected on the report’s findings.

Opening the discussion, Heather Smith, CEO for AXA Health, revealed that, “Half of workers in the UK are not in a positive place with their mind health. 37% are living with a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression and less than half of those are being supported professionally, so people are struggling to access help.”

Other key takeaways from the UK mind health workplace report include  the extent to which managers and young people are struggling. 41% of people are also affected by issues outside of work.

The resulting dynamic discussion focused on addressing these challenges – giving rise to three ways employers can cultivate a culture of care to nurture the mind health of all generations.

1. Support younger workers: by increasing connectedness to reduce isolation

“It’s really striking to see that young people feel isolated and lonely a lot of the time according to AXA Health’s UK mind health workplace report,” said Dr Jasmin Wertz, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Edinburgh.

“The public often thinks of loneliness as being an issue in old people, but we know from research and this report that it’s a really big issue in young people. There’s been a trade-off in terms of having the flexibility of working from home, but also having that connection and the social benefits that come from being in an office environment.”

“We’re seeing the same thing in the workplace so we’re shifting back to in-person training for new joiners, so they get that sense of community,” said Paul Duggan, global health and wellbeing lead, EMEA for Accenture. “We also have dedicated communities for junior staff, sponsored by senior people and peer groups for people who’ve been with us for 18 months to answer questions in a safe forum from new joiners. Our younger employee groups are also launching a financial wellbeing community.”

Young people are coming into the workplace, with a greater mental health vocabulary, seeking that sense of connection, said Catherine Ritchie, employee wellbeing and experience leader for global law firm Clifford Chance. “That focus on connectivity is something to really focus on as it’s in their vocabulary. We’ve set up an affinity network and reverse mentoring, mental health champions and a buddy scheme. It’s also important to onboard people properly so they know about all the tools and resources available.”

There was consensus that ease of access to the wide range of preventative and holistic support, such as those services available via AXA Health, sends a clear message to younger workers that they are joining an organisation that cares about their wellbeing and is equipping them with the tools to thrive.

2. Reduce the strain on managers: with people skills training and psychological safety

Another striking finding from the UK mind health workplace report is that as well as being twice as likely to take sick leave, managers were found to report higher rates of stress, depression and anxiety than non-managers. “Managers are suffering and they of course look after our people,” said Heather. “Meaning the education and programmes we put in place for them to support themselves and others is really important.”

It’s important managers don’t feel like it’s all up to them when people come to them with their problems said Kirsty McLean, head of wellbeing at investment bank Nomura UK. “We don’t expect them to be therapists. Occupational health, HR and line managers must work together. Everybody needs to understand what the processes are, for things like reasonable adjustments, and how to get people the right support.”

Although the panel agreed it is important that managers lead by example and have the right skills. “The best line managers are the ones that will open up and say, I’m leaving early today because I’ve got this appointment to go to or this commitment or thing going on,” said Kirsty. “It gives that psychological safety that allows team members to open up as well.”

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Paul cited the importance of helping managers to close skills gaps when it comes to supporting others, to reduce the strain on them. “They might be twenty years into the firm but there are some common skills we wanted everyone with people responsibility to have. Part of that is about using AI for people to practice having a difficult conversation. It’s taking some of the fear out of it and reinforcing that they’re not there to solve people’s problems.”

Accenture is also demystifying the idea that just because you go into leadership you have to become a flawless person that’s got everything under control. “Senior leaders talk to people close to being promoted about their own vulnerabilities and what they do to take care of themselves. It emphasises the importance of self-care for a sustainable career. We need to do our bit in terms of working culture, but having the right supports from AXA Health to be on the front foot is also helping us to create a culture of care,” says Paul.

3. Extend support to families: from parental leave to neurodiversity and menopause

By offering a range of wellbeing support that reflects varying needs at different life stages, progressive employers are helping their people to take care of both their wellbeing and their loved ones.

“Forty percent of people said the issue was with their personal lives,” said Heather, “But we don’t just bring half ourselves to work. We bring our whole selves to work. It’s when people flourish both at work and in their personal lives that we see productivity and happiness.”

Describing what Accenture is doing to support families Paul explained the importance of not just caring for the employee, but also the people around them. “We’ve opened our AXA Health EAP and men and women’s health offerings, including fertility and menopause, to partners,” he explained. “Dependents can also be added to our health insurance and our mindfulness, sleep and financial wellbeing benefits can be shared with up to five people.”

Echoing the importance of supporting families, Catherine said, “Extending our AXA Health neurodiversity cover to families has been incredibly valuable. Children who had been on waiting lists for a while can now can get seen really quickly with AXA Health for both diagnosis and support. You can see the relief. Employees are no longer worrying and waiting.”

“It’s about supporting those life moments,” added Paul. “We’ve been first out of the blocks to offer things like menopause and neurodiversity with AXA Health and financial wellbeing support . That’s had a cultural effect by telling our employees it’s okay to talk about those things. We also recognise that returning from maternity or paternity leave can be a particularly challenging time, so now signpost all returning parents into our healthy minds coaching, supported by AXA Health. That means people are getting help with that transition back to work.”

Kirsty described making their onsite GP available for partners as well, “It’s important to have both upfront support and ongoing support. If the GP refers a family member for specialist support and then requires further testing, be it a mammogram or any other need, that’s when the extended cover comes in.”

Priorities are shifting towards holistic care

A poll conducted during the webinar found that 95% of those attending thought it was very important to provide holistic health and wellbeing support. A view the panel agreed with. “It’s recognising the person as a whole person and offering a number of benefits to support people in the moments that matter,” said Catherine.

Results of the opening webinar polls

A final poll conducted showed that prioritising the needs of younger employees had shifted from just 6% of delegates at the start of the webinar to one in four (25%) by the end. Eight out of ten delegates (79%) said supporting people across all life stages was a focus. Four out of ten said they want to focus on protecting managers’ mind health.

Results of the closing webinar poll

“How we support young people is equally important to how we support managers,” concluded Heather. “It’s about creating a culture where people are naturally supportive towards each other and providing them with the tools to manage life’s complexity and challenges. Employers can help by creating a caring culture where people are naturally supportive towards each other. I’ve been really heartened to see the way people doing emotionally difficult work in our cancer care team reach out to each other.”

The panel summed up the event with one thing they thought would help to create a caring workplace:

Paul Duggan encouraged us all to keep talking about the importance of wellbeing
Catherine Ritchie said organisations should integrate their wellbeing offer and ensure it supports across generations
Kirsty McLean believed listening to all employees was the most important factor
Dr Jasmin Wertz said employees should be able to bring their whole selves to work
Heather Smith reminded us that that empathy and care, whilst it sounds simple, can go a long way.

You can download your copy of AXA Health’s 2024 mind health workplace report here and view the recording of the full roundtable webinar here.

About the author

Kathryn Jellis is a corporate journalist who writes about the employee wellbeing and mental health issues facing employers today. She has written ground-breaking research reports, that have helped to provoke changes in legislation when it comes to occupational health and flexible working. She reports on thinking from workplace wellbeing events for the HR and national press. Her articles have been featured in titles ranging from Make a Difference Media to the Evening Standard. She also writes for the CEOs of employee benefits providers and is founder of the workplace PR agency Benicate Ltd.



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