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Mental Health Awareness Week: Managing Stress and Anxiety

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has caused the world of work to change.

The impact has been in two main ways: rising unemployment with whole industries in lockdown, with more than a million jobs at risk due to the forecast recession; whilst those who have continued to work have seen their routines completely changed and face the challenge of remote working. Consequently, individuals, society and businesses are having to adapt to a new ‘normal’. A “new normal” that is yet to be clearly defined or implemented, apart from the initial discussions about social distancing protocols.

As the somber economic news begins to filter through, the work prospects are not looking positive for either the younger generation looking for their first jobs, nor for those employed in many of the affected industries due to the lockdown. There is both job and career uncertainty threatening the harmony of many households across the UK. This uncertainty is creating enormous amounts of stress and anxiety, with people worrying how they will pay their bills and provide for their families. When this stress becomes prolonged, which it is forecast to become, it threatens both the physical and emotional wellbeing of individuals, which in turn can have a real impact on the prosperity of businesses. These emotional wellbeing issues have become more visible in terms of the discussion about the new way of working during Mental Health Awareness Week.

The question for businesses is: “Do they have the emotional wellbeing tools already in place to support their employees?” The impact of stress can lead to difficulty concentrating, decision making, irritability, and depression with long-term stress eventually leading to exhaustion, burn-out and serious mental health conditions. Employees will face many more challenges when life is supposed to go back to the “new normal” and this could see spikes in mental health issues around:

  • Anxiety about travel – public transport
  • Returning to the workplace
  • Children returning to childcare and schools
  • The fall-out of businesses potentially looking to downsize following the economic impact of COVID-19 now and the next 6-12 months
  • Reduced access to health services in the NHS

There a wide range of services that can help employers address the wellbeing services that employees need now and into the future. Employees need to have the reassurance that their employers care about them.

Companies like Busy Bees Benefits can provide services such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), which gives access to information and counselling services, or we can help employees with their financial wellbeing through education support and access to accessible loans and salary advances. Other benefits include retail discounts for online shopping, virtual GP services, or cycle to work.

In terms of our EAP, we would normally expect to see a split of 65% of all cases being for emotional support and 35% of all cases being for work/life practical services. Workplace issues would also be a major contributing factor to employees making use of the EAP helpline due to workplace stress, anxiety, depression, overload, breakdown in relationships in the workplace. Since COVID-19, and as a lot of employees workload has either stopped or been reduced considerably, the number of workplace support cases we have seen in the last 2-months has reduced drastically, but this has led to an increase in calls / cases in other areas.

  • 85% of all calls into the service centre are now emotional wellbeing related
  • Workplace stress has been replaced by stress around financial / debt issues
  • General practical advice around money management and advice has increased
  • A big increase in anxiety around the coronavirus and the impact this is having on employees lives generally
  • A sizeable increase in issues around personal relationship problems
  • Increase in requests for managing relationships and supporting children and elderly relatives also

EAP services are low cost and available 24/7, so providing an important benefit at a time of need can help employees have a sense of control.

To help support travel to work and keep social distancing, the cycle to work scheme may offer a practical solution in avoiding public transport and the costs of using cars or taxis. It can also be a practical wellbeing aid in keeping people healthy whilst gyms are still closed. So not only can they help employees to exercise, but shop and travel to work whilst maintaining a safe distance from others. With the introduction of more e-bike, makes cycling accessible for many more people. By taking away some of the hard work, this will help employees arrive at their place of work cool and refreshed.

The cycle to work scheme is an affordable way to purchase cycles as it a Government-backed initiative which helps employees save 25-39% on the cost of bikes, e-bikes, cycling accessories, clothing and bicycle components by spreading the cost interest-free (typically over 12 months). Employees can choose from a vast range of bike brands available in the UK market. The employer will then provide employees with their chosen bicycle and take an equivalent amount of the employee’s normal salary as a salary sacrifice. Unlike the salary, employees do not pay any tax or National Insurance on the value of the bike, so there are savings for both the employer and the employee.

The range of services covered above all aim to help employers support and facilitate a workplace culture that keeps their employees healthy and emotionally strong, at a time when the world of world is in such turmoil. The benefits that these services provide are more important now than ever.

Wojciech Dochan

Managing Director, Busy Bees Benefits

Provider of the SmartHive Platform busybeesbenefits.com

Smart Hive is an integrated, cost effective employee benefits platform that provides your employees with access to all their health and wellbeing benefits in one place. Talk to a member of our team today or book your very own demonstration.