Mental Health Awareness Week: Aon surveys show growing employer support before/during COVID-19 lockdowns

New research from Aon, a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions (NYSE: AON), shows that 79% of employers have enhanced or further promoted their Employee Assistance Programmes since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In other measures to support employees during lockdown, 73% of organisations have offered staff flexible working hours and 87% say communications from senior leaders have increased.

The survey, ‘Adjusting Total Rewards Programmes and Workforce Strategies in Response to COVID-19’, was conducted by Aon’s Reward Solutions Practice between 7- 10 April and gained responses from 1,889 organisations around the world, including more than 800 responses from the UK and mainland Europe. It followed an initial study conducted between 17-20 March.

A section in the survey entitled ‘Protecting and Supporting Employees’ shows that 73% of organisations have offered flexible working hours for employees with young children, while 36% have provided a temporary increase in sick leave entitlement. Other adjustments include the ability to use sick leave for quarantine, or to care for children when they are off from school (in addition to what is required by law), allowances to pay for work-from-home equipment and special arrangements for vulnerable groups, such as employees with chronic conditions, as well as additional insurance coverage or allowances to pay for childcare.

In addition, Aon’s UK Benefits and Trends Survey 2020 published in January, showed that 94% of employers believe employees’ expectations of their work experience are changing. Of those, 88% believe staff expected better awareness and handling of mental health issues, while 72% believe a better approach to diversity and inclusion is expected. The survey also showed that 57% of employers have specific mental health strategies.

Charles Alberts, head of health management at Aon, said:

“The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness – which is timely and appropriate given the varied challenges that we are all faced with at the moment. There are signs of increased empathy and kindness from employers towards their employees in such difficult times.

The pulse survey shows that nearly 80% of organisations have either reached out to their people to make sure they are aware of the services in their Employee Assistance Programmes, or they have enhanced the programmes. It takes pre-emptive thought, effort and resources for employers to do this, not least when faced with so many different operating challenges. Indeed, nearly three-quarters of employers are offering flexible working helping employees to juggle childcare needs, while others have adapted their sick leave or vulnerable groups policies.”

The Adjusting Total Rewards Programmes and Workforce Strategies in Response to COVID-19’ also shows that many employers have increased communications, with 87% of senior leaders communicating more, while 67% have equipped managers to better communicate with their staff.

Charles Alberts continued:

“It’s not always easy for organisations to be ‘kind’. Every business has its own corporate realities, and in line with this, managers are expected to drive business performance. While empathy and kindness can drive increased engagement and loyalty, there can be a conflict with delivering more immediate results.

“Yet, a basis of a good mental health strategy is ensuring people, especially managers, have the right qualities – being supportive, empathetic, open and available. Having the right support structures in place and creating a culture where people feel able to reach out for help when they need it is vital.

“However, convincing employers – perhaps those with goal-driven, high performance roles – that kindness is a business imperative is likely to be an uphill battle.

“To me, kindness is a cultural issue that is driven right from the top where the tone for ‘the way we do things’ is set. The good news is that kindness is already part and parcel of many Corporate Social Responsibility and Diversity & Inclusion strategies and can also be encouraged through infrastructure such as Appreciation schemes. As we have seen from our research, COVID-19 has prompted a more human element to work, through better communication and offering flexibility. We now have an opportunity to consider ways we can make a kinder, more empathetic approach to our employees’ ‘business as usual’, far beyond the current pandemic.”

Results from the Adjusting Total Rewards Programmes and Workforce Strategies in Response to COVID-19’

More info about Aon’s UK Benefits & Trends 2020 Survey

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