Ahead of  World Mental Health Day[i] on 10 October, Anna Spender, Director of Actuarial & Data Analytics at Psyon, a digital and analytics company specialising in employee benefits solutions, offers some thoughts for UK companies on how to use company and employee data to support their employee mental health strategy.

New research from mental health charity Mind[ii] has highlighted that poor mental health affects half of all UK employees, however, only half of those who have experienced stress, anxiety or low mood told their employer how they felt.

Anna Spender says the increasing awareness and rise in concerns around mental health is leading more UK companies to focus on mental health in the workplace within their wellbeing strategies.

The latest Employee Wellbeing Research 2018 from Punter Southall Health & Protection in partnership with REBA found that a growing number of companies are prioritising wellbeing, with almost half (45%) of organisations, now having a defined wellbeing strategy in place – up from less than a third (30%) in 2016.

However, just 16 per cent of UK employers currently have a defined mental health strategy in place, although 37 per cent plan to introduce one in the next 12 months and a further 26 per cent by 2020.

Anna Spender highlights that although it’s great to see so many companies investing in wellbeing many to date have approached this in a reactive way by putting in place some employee facing initiatives but not as part of a planned strategy that considers wider organisational culture change as well. This can limit how effective they are at supporting employee mental health.

Anna says,

“Some companies we talk to have rolled out wellbeing programmes without an overarching plan, defined goals, ongoing communications and engagement, or any analysis of what is needed based on the demographics of their workforce in terms of their age and health.”

“To really address mental health and wellbeing, we advocate companies using an evidence-based, data-led approach to ensure that any wellbeing programme is focused, resonates with employees and has the most impact for their wellbeing budget.”

Data analytics can provide insight into the key health risks in an organisation, what employees will value most in terms of wellbeing initiatives, the communications people will prefer and what is most likely to engage them, as well as the impact of their spending on wellbeing.

This data can be used to help companies create, monitor, and adapt a wellbeing programme over time that properly meets their needs and keeps employees engaged.

The kind of data companies can pull off will depend on their business, their processes, and individual aims and objectives, but combining both qualitative and quantitative data is a powerful way to get a full picture of the workforce.

Five ways to create a data-led approach to mental wellbeing

• As a starting point, companies can gather employee data such as workforce demographics, turnover rates, information about training, competency tests, annual achievement scores, or productivity measures

• Companies should analyse health and wellbeing data, including absence statistics to see common reasons for absence, and look at how well existing wellbeing services are used including occupational health, EAPs, health kiosks and fitness facilities

• Employee benefits data should be examined too such as health insurance (membership and claims), as well as take-up and experience of voluntary benefits

• Employee feedback from staff surveys and exit interviews is another useful source. Companies should also involve their employees and find out what they really feel about working at the company, its approach to wellbeing and suggestions for what they would value. This can easily be done through focus groups or interviews.With this data, companies can define their purpose, both in terms of the use of the output from the analysis, but also what success measures are important.

Anna says,

“The kind of data companies have will depend upon their business, but even employers with potentially limited data can glean a lot from combining their basic employee demographics (age, gender, occupation, location) with national statistics and external health and wellbeing research, which can pin point some key focus areas.

Mental health and wellbeing can’t be solved overnight. Every company is different, so a one size fits all approach won’t work. But using an evidenced based, data-led approach can ensure companies are focusing on the right areas and supporting their employees where it’s most needed.”