Mental health has been having an increasing impact on the workplace for a number of years. In fact, it has now become the biggest reason for workplace absence.
The NHS is seeing demand for mental health support outstripping capacity for provision and the government is setting expectations on employers to step in to support employees.
Covid has far from disappeared, although we are endeavouring to return to some normality including a return to office working or certainly hybrid forms of working. Working from home brought its own challenges although many employees adapted well to the flexibility this enables. Now we are seeing some customers and their employees report apprehension of a return to office working despite the benefits this can bring, including the social aspect we missed in lockdown.
Long Covid presents a new challenge. We are finding it is important to view every case holistically. Some employees report fatigue as the predominant issue, while others may have respiratory problems or other multiple concerns. It is important that we focus on functional and cognitive ability as much as disability, and work to ensure mental health is also considered.
We continue to see problems in the workplace that cause presenteeism as well as absence. This has often been influenced by staff sickness through the pandemic, increased workloads, reduced training to enable people to fulfil their roles, or employees simply feeling they are not properly supported.
Since 2016 we have offered rehabilitation intervention for presenteeism cases. Supporting our customers and their employees, we can help address issues before they lead to poor performance and ill health. We have worked with many individuals facing relationship problems, addiction, and financial worries and sadly, the latter is increasing.
Our rehabilitation team has continued to adapt to the changing workplace environment, the needs of our customers and the evolving health barriers that prevent employees from working effectively.
Consequently, the scope of our rehabilitation support is broad, and the focus is on prevention as much as management. Our in-house, medically qualified, and vocationally skilled team, support employees, their line managers and HR. Many of our experts have mental health qualifications and post registration training. We have general nurses with experience in most areas, as well as physiotherapists, and expertise in treating long Covid conditions.
We focus on delivering what our customers request, based on trends faced by the working population. This includes a calendar of webinars open to HR, line managers as well as Occupational Health teams. Sessions include key topics, such as occupational burnout, suicide, neurodiversity in the workplace, menopause, Covid and the ageing workforce to name a few. These events are live and often trigger strong debate. We also have huge demand for Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) courses.
With many of our customers, we work increasingly in partnership with their other providers. Not just on individual cases but also at round table meetings in the workplace, such as Private Medical Insurance providers (PMI), Occupational Health (OH) and other wellness specialists to ensure we are working cohesively for best outcomes.
We ensure HR teams have immediate access to bespoke rehabilitation advice via our dedicated access service, which is also a direct route to refer a presenteeism case swiftly. The calls are varied including questions to pose to Occupational Health, through to how to support someone they feel is at risk of self harm, or recovery durations for certain conditions.
Crucially the last few years have taught us to expect the unexpected and be proactive in adapting to changing workplace needs. HR teams are often so stretched, increasingly line managers are our main contact, so ensuring we offer them training and support is critical. It is essential for an effective rehab team to be dynamic and responsive, which is why we continue to explore with our customers what more we can offer that can assist them in addressing evolving workplace
Paula Farmer is corporate risk rehabilitation services manager at Zurich
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