In 2016 and 2017, business insurer QBE introduced a range of wellbeing measures designed to support the mental health of its 1,950 employees across 16 countries.
The benefits and initiatives the organisation implemented during this period included an employee assistance programme (EAP), mindfulness workshops, a story-sharing page on the staff intranet and talks from mental health campaigners around reducing stress and anxiety.
However, QBE’s own employee research, conducted in the summer of 2017, found that despite this increased focus on wellness, a fundamental issue remained: many managers still did not feel comfortable talking to employees about mental health. Amending this was vital if the business was to create a positive and proactive culture around employee wellbeing.
Caroline Fraser, HR business partner at QBE, explains: “The research showed that while managers were very comfortable talking to someone about a physical injury, such as leg or back pain, they didn’t know how to open up conversations about mental health in the same way.”
To address this, the organisation felt that it needed to help managers better understand mental health issues and feel more confident in directing staff to the appropriate support. “For example, the fact that the EAP wasn’t just a counselling hotline, but also a useful resource for employees affected by money worries, legal disputes and childcare or eldercare issues, all of which might lead to mental health problems if left unaddressed,” explains Fraser.
QBE therefore partnered with its EAP provider Validium in the autumn of 2017, and piloted half-day workshops for managers and the HR team to help teach employees how to self-solve certain issues. This allowed staff to talk through their problems without their manager offering advice. Managers were also given tips about how to stay on top of their own mental health.
The workshops were then expanded into two-hour sessions and rolled out for spring 2018; these were delivered on-site for managers in London, Chelmsford and Stafford. Managers based in Europe or working outside of the office instead participated in an interactive webinar.
Three-quarters of the firm’s managers attended these workshops and 97% said they felt comfortable about applying their learning back in the workplace. “Although it’s too early to assess the impact on the business, managers now feel confident and informed around mental health issues, recognising difficulties, listening compassionately, signposting to the right support and managing absence and return,” concludes Fraser.