De voordelen van preventieve mentale zorg: een gids voor HR

14 Dec ‘22
7 min
Work performance
Editorial Board OpenUp
Gecontroleerd door Psychologist Pia Linden
preventieve mentale zorg
If we had to pick one saying to pin to our wall, it would be: to prevent is better than to cure. There are few sectors where this piece of wisdom really hits the nail on the head quite like it does in the mental health care and well-being sector.

 

So, here’s the question: how can you act preventatively as an HR professional or manager and why is that so important?

 

Why is prevention important?

 

In a lot of European countries, mental healthcare is still primarily geared towards treatment rather than prevention. Even though focusing on prevention in the first place could pay off in many ways.

 

Here are a number of benefits:

 

  • More severe mental health symptoms are avoided, and as a result, (longer periods of) sick leave are avoided.
  • Treatments are more likely to be effective when you catch things in an early stage.
  • Employers avoid paying out large amounts of sick pay.
  • Mentally resilient employees are more innovative, creative and productive.
  • Mentally resilient employees are less likely to resign.
  • Mentally resilient employees are more engaged and more loyal.
  • Companies with good mental health policies find it easier to attract new talent.

 

 

To sum up, it’s really important to offer employees preventative support for their mental health. And you as an employer can play a key role in this.

 

Prevention is about maintaining good mental health

 

You get a car inspected and maintained annually to prevent it from breaking down. You go to the dentist to look after your teeth and you exercise to keep your body in good condition. But when it comes to our mental health, we have a tendency to not raise the alarm until it’s too late.

 

Prevention is about helping employees maintain good mental health. You’re creating the kind of environment that minimises the chances of challenges developing into problems.

 

How can you offer preventative mental health care to your staff?

 

When it comes to preventing mental health challenges in your employees, there are three main areas that you as an HR manager can have an influence on.

 

  1. Corporate culture
  2. Physical health
  3. Appropriate tools for mental health

 

Psychologists Eva Rüger and Pia Linden are going to explain what these pillars involve and what you can do within each of these 3 areas.

 

Pillar 1: Creating a healthy corporate culture

 

This might sound obvious, but a healthy corporate culture promotes good mental health in the workplace. How can you create a healthy corporate culture that prioritises transparency and mental- and  physical safety?

 

  • Normalise mental health. “The more mental health is discussed, the more approachable the topic becomes and the easier it is for employees to speak up about their challenges,” says Eva. “So, make sure that the topic is discussed often. In newsletters, during meetings, in speeches, and on the Intranet.”
  • Invest in diversity, equality and inclusion. A pleasant corporate culture doesn’t mean the same thing for everybody. That’s why it’s good to start a conversation about this: what does a healthy corporate culture mean to you? How does your background or environment play a role here? You can discuss this in surveys, interviews or focus groups.
  • Focus on empathetic relationships. It’s important to have a corporate culture based on healthy work relationships, meaningful interactions and ample opportunity to check in: employees will feel more comfortable and they’re more likely to speak up if they’re feeling a little off. Also, pay plenty of attention to social activities outside of work, such as get-togethers or a workout class.
  • Normalise and introduce  mental health days. In a perfect world, it would be normal for everyone to take a day off every now and then for the sake of their mental health. Just as you sometimes physically can’t work, there are sometimes moments when rest is necessary for your mind.
  • Prioritise a healthy work-life balance. Overworking shouldn’t be the norm. Make sure that everyone is getting rest in the evenings and weekends, taking enough holidays and getting the opportunity to buy extra annual leave. Ask employees regularly how much overtime they’re working and if they think that this is expected of them. Pia: “I often see a huge gap between what managers and HR professionals say about their expectations regarding overtime and what employees actually experience. They’ll often say that overtime isn’t the norm, when in reality it is.”
  • Give employees plenty of autonomy. One of the most accurate predictors of employees developing mental health symptoms is the degree of autonomy that they have. Employees who are under a lot of pressure and have little autonomy are the more likely to become exhausted. Let employees make their own decisions about working hours, tasks and scheduling.
  • Have an open-door policy. Make sure that employees always know that they can come to you if they have a problem – no matter how big or small. It’s sometimes easier for employees to turn to a colleague or impartial person. A buddy or mentor system and appointing a counsellor might help here.
  • Introduce meeting-free Fridays, so people can focus on their tasks. This way, they’ll feel better going into the weekend.

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Pillar 2: Focus on physical health

 

There’s an increasing shift towards focussing on employee physical health as part of company benefits packages. We’re pleased to see this because good physical health contributes to good mental health (and vice versa!).

 

Physical health affects our mental health. This means it’s good to know what you can do to support your employees with their physical health:

 

  • Fresh, healthy meals and fruit at work or an allowance for healthy food options.
  • A gym membership or access to a gym at work.
  • A bonus for people who opt for a “company bike” instead of a company car. Or just give employees a free (e-)bike regardless.
  • Allow employees to take enough breaks and encourage them to go outside and be active on their breaks. A sedentary existence is pretty unhealthy, so daily walks are important!
  • Keep workspaces ergonomic with plenty of daylight, plants and fresh air. Also consider standing desks- or even walking desks.
  • Introduce walking meetings. For many meetings, it’s not necessary to sit around a table together. Getting some fresh air while discussing things can be really constructive.
  • Organise weekly bootcamps, pilates- or yoga classes at work.
  • Offer employees a medical check-up, for example through OpenUp Medical.
  • Take part in sports events as a company, for example your local marathon or half-marathon. 
  • Have a masseur make periodic trips to the office.

 

Pillar 3: Make use of the appropriate tools

 

Finally, there is a range of tools and resources you can use to provide preventative mental health care to your staff. There are also a number of employee benefits that can help prevent your employees from developing mental health challenges.

 

Offer your employees anonymous and unlimited access to licensed psychologists, group sessions and self-help modules. Psychologist Pia: “Employees from companies affiliated with OpenUp often address their problems much sooner. We often see that they start tackling them first through the self-help modules. If that works, then great! If not, they often make an appointment that same week for a one-on-one consultation with one of our psychologists.”

 

 Some other solutions could be:

  • Subscription to a meditation app, such as Calm.
  • Additional annual leave for doing voluntary work or pursuing a hobby (but don’t make employees account for this). This increases satisfaction and is a good opportunity to recharge the batteries.
  • The option to take a longer period of annual leave every now and then. Despite this being an option at many companies, many employees still feel like there are obstacles preventing them from taking long periods off. So, help employees with this. Whether it’s by encouraging them to take long periods of leave, or by helping them with practical matters (for example, if they’ve always dreamed of taking a faraway trip).
  • Flexible working hours and the option to work remotely.
  • Reimbursement for health insurance, so that employees aren’t reluctant to go to their GP when they have mental health symptoms.
  • Childcare at work, so that parents can stay close to their children. This reduces stress and saves parents – many of whom are already busy – a lot of time.
  • Recreational subscription of their choice. For example, a magazine subscription or a subscription to the sauna.
  • Mindfulness at the office or through guided video sessions, like those offered by OpenUp.

 

 

How can OpenUp help prevent mental health challenges?

 

Many people who work in HR, also have backgrounds in psychology. This is great because it means that mental health is highly valued at a lot of companies. But it would probably take too much time to double serve as an HR professional and a psychologist at the same time.

 

It’s good to acknowledge that there is a limit in terms of how responsible you are for the mental health of your employees. And that many of your employees would prefer to speak to an external party about their mental health, over someone who is directly associated with the company.

 

Our focus is on prevention

 

OpenUp is here to support HR teams. 95% of the work we do with clients is aimed at prevention. We offer timely support, before everyday challenges turn into something more serious. This means we know how to prevent challenges that crop up, caused by mental health symptoms, 

 

Pia: “Since people know how to find us quickly and easily, they often knock on our door when their symptoms are still in the early stages. That’s what we want to see, obviously! It’s the reason why in 90% of cases, employees already feel their problem has been solved after 3-5 consultations.”

 

And what happens in the case that your employees need further support? We will point them in the direction of specialist care and continue to support them until they get further professional support. 

 

👉 Discover how you can engage in preventative mental health care with OpenUp.

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