Perks such as employee assistance programmes can be a valid first step in helping to control and limit stress in the workplace
As well as taking steps to acknowledge and identify stress, it’s also sensible to have measures in place to manage and control it when it does occur.
An employee assistance programme (EAP) is a good first line of defence. These can provide support and information on any problem an employee is experiencing, with many including debt and legal advice as well as counselling. Dr Trevor Smith, clinical director at PMI Health Group, says: “These provide a confidential ear outside the company, which can be useful if an employee doesn’t want to talk to their employer about their problem.”
A full EAP will include face-to-face as well as telephone-based counselling, with an option for the employer to refer employees as well as self-referral.
Whether provided through an EAP or as a service, counselling can be a particularly effective way to help employees deal with stress. Eugene Farrell, business manager at Axa Icas, says: “[Independent] research* has found that therapies including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be effective with good results from up to seven sessions.”
Axa Icas has also monitored how its own clients’ employees have benefited from counselling. “Before counselling, 62% said their problem was having a negative impact on their work but, after, 73% reported an improvement,” adds Farrell.
A recent development in this area is online CBT, with interactive healthcare programmes, such as Beating the Blues from Ultrasis, being used to treat mild to moderate depression. For some people, this treatment can be less threatening than face-to-face counselling.
Income protection is another handy tool, especially now that insurers are focusing on early intervention and prevention. Colin Micklewright, head of business development at Canada Life, says: “Early intervention can make a significant difference. We want employers to notify us as soon as possible, well before the end of the deferred period, as we can then use medical interventions to increase the chances of a return to work.”
Because this approach can reduce claims, some insurers will even give a discount if potential claims are notified to them early. For example, Legal & General gives its clients a 5% bonus of annual premium if 80% of their long-term absences are reported before the sixth week.
Employers can supplement insurance-based solutions, with a supportive company policy that includes perks such as duvet days and flexible working giving employees the space they need to deal with their problems.
Prevention is better than cure
Improving employees’ health is the latest way to fight stress in the workplace. Mark Eaton, director of employee benefits provider Personal Group, says: “A happy, healthy workforce will suffer less stress and be more productive.”
There are now a number of products available to help employees monitor and improve their health and wellbeing. Online health assessments are one of the main ways employees can assess how healthy they are. Services such as those offered by Axa Icas, Bupa and VieLife, ask the employee to answer a series of health-related questions. At the end of the assessment they receive a confidential assessment of their health with personalised advice on how they can make improvements.
Eaton says more traditional health screening can also deliver benefits. “Online assessments are great if you have a workforce with access to PCs but you might also want to consider services where tests take place in the workplace. If you have a large workforce this can be particularly cost-effective,” he says.
There are other ways to empower employees to make health improvements, as Eugene Farrell, business manager at Axa Icas, explains: “It’s good to make education material available on the intranet so employees can dip into this when they like. Additionally, you could run stress awareness days and wellness weeks.”
Employee support companies can provide these services although increasingly the health insurers and cash plan providers are adding them to existing benefits. For example, Bupa and Norwich Union include online health assessments with their medical insurance plans; PruHealth offers a range of incentives, including hard cash, for employees who adopt a healthy lifestyle; and HSA offers health screening through its cash plan.
Details of employee support organisations can be found through the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (www.eapa.org.uk or on 01993 772765).