Opening up about mental health

Modern Insurance Magazine spoke to our Director of HR & Learning, Lisa Meigh, about how we are tackling mental health in our Diversity & Inclusion strategy.

The following interview was published on the 13/09/2019 in Modern Insurance Magazine issue: 40.

 In this special Dive in Festival   edition, can you explain how   mental  health fits in with your   diversity strategy? 

 Our overall aim is to create a great   place to work, and that means creating   a supportive inclusive environment for   everyone. We all have mental health in   the same  way we have physical health, so supporting someone with a mental health problem is as important as supporting someone who has a broken leg. Developing a culture that promotes good physical and mental health is core to us being a truly inclusive employer. 

Mental health is the number one cause of disability worldwide and the issue is real and growing. *72 million work days are lost each year due to mental health, **15 people die of suicide and over 300 attempt to take their own life every day in the UL. ***1 in 4 adults will suffer from depression at some point in their life, yet there still remains a stigma to admitting you're suffering from it.

Mental health can affect anyone, whatever their sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, physical ability, education, social background or role in the workplace; mental health doesn't discriminate. 

What are the benefits for businesses to addressing mental health in the workplace?

The fundamental belief that underpins our diversity strategy in broad terms is that it's simply the right thing to do! Beyond that, we believe diversity delivers better customer outcomes by promoting innovation and more diverse thinking. Essentially, all employees want to succeed in delivering the best customer experience, so our aim is to create a culture and environment that enables them to achieve this. 

This view is validated by independent research, which has proven companies with greater diversity have better reputations, are more successful financially, are more creative, make better decision, have higher employee engagement and lower employee turnover. So, the bottom line is diversity is good for business!

What barriers exist to companies tackling mental health in the workplace, and how are you addressing these?

Without question, the greatest barrier to supporting employees with mental health issues is convincing people it’s ok to talk about how they’re feeling. I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to ‘open up’. It feels much easier (and safer) to wear the mask of being happy, coping and confident, than admitting the turmoil and aguish going on inside your head. Admitting you need help can be even harder if you manage a team of people who look to you for support and leadership, because that may be perceived as a weakness.

To tackle this, we’ve launched ‘Covéa Minds’ which is raising awareness across the business and providing information, advice and support from employees, (and managers supporting employees) dealing with mental health issues.

Some brave employees have shared their personal stories about their mental health publicly (me included) to say it can happen to anyone and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed at your job, or that you’re weak, just that you need a bit of time, understanding and support whilst you put yourself back together and bounce back.

On a practical level, we’ve trained a team of mental health first-aiders and managers across all our sites. They’re not counsellors, but they can offer advice and options, signpost employees to external organisations, or just provide a sympathetic, non-judgemental listening ear.

It’s also important to promote flexible working and encourage employees to have a good work-life balance which helps increase resilience to stressful situations. Running well-being events like massages, yoga and meditation sessions provides light-hearted stress relief in the office, creating a talking point and reinforcing the importance of taking time out do ‘de-stress’.

Later this year, we’re really excited to be running a resilience roadshow inviting all of our people to participate and develop strategies to enable them to be more resilient to stress and protect their own mental-health, or support those around them, be it work colleagues, family, or friends. These are being led by Luke Ambler, a former international rugby player who witnessed first-hand the devastating effects mental illness can cause, following the death of his brother-in-law, Andy. Following Andy’s death, Luke has become an ambassador for suicide prevention, setting up Andy’s Many Club to provide support for men struggling with mental health issues to give them a forum to talk about their experiences and share coping mechanisms. I know many of our employees will find this immensely helpful and engaging.

What are the benefits to this approach that you’ve seen so far at Covéa Insurance?

It may sound cheesy, but we know people enjoy working here because of the positive culture and strong sense of community that exists, something we track through our annual employee engagement survey. Anecdotally, we’re also seeing a real buzz and an increasing openness to share personal stories, which is creating a momentum for our internal #Itsoktotalk campaign.

We recognise this flows into the way we treat customers, so it forms an important part of our overall customer proposition. 465 of our people have become dementia friends so far, and we’re running a series of vulnerable customer workshops to enable us to provide the best possible service to our customers who may also be suffering from dementia or other mental health problems.

I think it’s fair to say there’s an authenticity to our approach that we’re promoting through our ‘Real People, Real Purpose’ and ‘Real People Real Stories’ campaigns.

What advice would you give other companies wanting to improve mental health in the workplace?

The most important thing to have is commitment from the top and to empower the people in your organisation who feel passionately about supporting and creating a great culture around mental health.

We couldn’t have achieved what we have so far if we didn’t have the leadership from our Executive Directors and CEO, with one Director paving the way by sharing his own personal experience. Coupled with this, the energy, ideas, commitment and drive that the people on our Covéa Minds groups have put into making it ok to talk has been inspiring.

It’s incredibly reassuring to know that your colleagues and managers are much kinder than you imagine, and that acknowledging your vulnerability can be a hugely positive and empowering experience. And I speak from experience!

Top Tips for protecting your mental health

Exercise

Our physical health and mental health are closely linked, so exercise can be beneficial for both! The endorphins released when we exercise trigger positive feelings

Go outside

Even going for a walk at lunchtime and having a change of scenery can help us put things into perspective. It might even be worth putting your phone on silent in order to enjoy your surroundings.

Mindfulness

Sit quietly for a few minutes and take a few deep breaths. You’ll be surprised at how much this simple exercise will calm you down!

Sleep

Getting the right amount of sleep is just as important for your mental health as it is for your physical health. Our body repairs itself and our brain recovers and regenerates, so try and make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep.

Spend time with loved ones

Being around those closest to us will always make us feel better, as we enjoy their company. This could include a family, friend or even a pet!

Talking

Last but by NO means least, speak to someone. Talking can be beneficial as you won’t be bottling things up. Family and friends will always be there for you. You don’t have to be an expert to talk and to listen, and often it’s the little things that make a big difference.

* Chief medical officer report 2014

**ONS 208

***WHO - World Health Surveys 2013

(Image also from Modern Insurance article)

 

-Ends-

 

Notes to Editors:

About Covéa Insurance

Covea Insurance plc is the UK underwriting business of leading French mutual insurance group Covéa, who are number 1 for property and liability insurance in France, generating over 16.3 billion Euros in premiums in 2017.  

Covéa Insurance looks after the insurance needs of over 1.5 million policyholders; delivering financial reassurance through its Standard & Poor’s A+ stable rating, as a guaranteed subsidiary of Covéa. 

The company offers motor, household, protection, pet, mid and high net worth insurance and a range of commercial insurance products, through a range of distribution channels. Employing over 1800 people, Covéa Insurance has a strong people and service ethos, having Investors In People Gold accreditation and is signatory to the HM Treasury Women In Finance Charter. It also has World Class service accreditation from the Institute of Customer Service for its Motor Claims, Home Claims and Underwriting Services teams as well as Chartered Insurer status for its Commercial and Mid/High Net Worth business.

In 2018, Covéa Insurance were recipients of the Personal Lines Insurer of the Year award at both the British Insurance Awards and the Insurance Times Awards and was the top rated insurer in the Insurance Times Broker Service Survey for both Personal and Commercial Lines.

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