Wider mental health initiatives are useful, though employee welfare should be subject to frequent review
15-21 May marks Mental Health Awareness Week this year in the UK. This year’s theme is anxiety. With more than one third of adults feeling anxious about their finances in the ongoing cost of living crisis – and one in six adults in England feeling anxious or depressed in a given week – it’s understandable why the Mental Health Foundation would choose this as their subject.
But anxiety is hardly a new problem. While we all feel anxious from time to time, numerous studies point to a large increase in anxiety levels over the past 15 years. The COVID-19 pandemic, the cost of living crisis, and work stressors are just some of the causes for this. Rising anxiety rates should ring alarm bells for employers – because quite apart from being the right thing to do, it literally pays to do all you can to reduce stress and anxiety among your talent. The Health Service Executive reported 36.8 million working days lost from 2021-22, of which stress, anxiety and depression accounted for over half. The financial costs this incurs run into the billions, which in turn adds to the human costs of being signed off work.
At Venari Partners, we pride ourselves on doing all we can to invest in and take care of our most important asset: our people. For several years now, we’ve been offering our staff wellbeing benefits – but just saying we look after our talent isn’t enough. It needs to be an ongoing process. We invite staff to provide anonymous feedback frequently and review our offerings regularly to make sure we’re doing all we can to support them.
In April, we announced some new company policies framed around Stress Awareness Month. In Mental Health Awareness Week, we’d like to go further with our five-point guide to healthier choices in the office, all aimed at reducing stress and anxiety and making the working environment as positive as possible.
Food choices. We all enjoy sweet treats, but as the Romans said: a healthy mind in a healthy body. We’ve recently introduced complimentary fruit so our staff can enjoy nutritious and delicious snacks when they’re in the office.
Renewed focus on flexible working options. We’re only too happy for staff to avail of free fruit when they’re on site – but if you feel like working from home is less stressful for you, that’s okay, too. We’ve made Friday our core in-person day for the team to catch up and socialise in-person; for the rest of the week, employees can work from the office or at home as they please according to their own personal schedules and preferences.
Corporate gym membership. Exercise is an important part of not just physical wellbeing – it’s a powerful and effective tool in combating stress and anxiety. As such, we’ve renewed our contract with a local health club so that our employees can enjoy premium access at a discounted rate.
Charitable fundraisers. For us, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is about deeds, not words. CSR is woven into the very fabric of how we operate, and this year we have decided to further our commitment to making a positive impact on the communities in which we operate. Volunteering is proven to be beneficial for your mental health – and our staff have plenty of chances to get involved with the good causes we support, from volunteer days to active events.
Renewed and refreshed support both in and out of the office. There are times when all we need is someone to listen to us, and we want to make sure that our employees feel supported both in and outside of work. We’ve introduced mental health first aiders for staff in need, and are also scheduling regular one-to-one catchup sessions with our HR team for employees to share feedback or concerns in confidence. For off-site support, we have renewed our subscription to a dedicated employee assistance programme (EAP), which offers anonymous access to resources such as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy in addition to a free 24-hour helpline. Too often, these schemes are seen as a last resort; we would like to reframe this as a tool and preventive measure for staff to use as and when they need it. Finally, we are reviewing the discounted health insurance we offer to employees to ensure they have the best cover.