By Natalie Rogers, chief people officer at Unum

2020 has tested us like nothing in a generation, businesses have conflicting priorities, and there can be so much information to sift through. It’s no wonder grappling with a company-wide approach to mental health, wellbeing and absence management can feel overwhelming.

For some businesses, creating and implementing initiatives, and aligning wellbeing strategies to the company’s wider strategies and policies can be seen as unwanted extra hassle. It’s an attitude that makes it that much harder to prioritise, deliver and measure the success of any plan.

With that in mind, I’ve created this step-by-step guide to better support employers looking to improve their employees’ health and wellbeing going forwards.

Step 1: Review and plan

As an employer, it’s important that you understand how well your current mental health and wellbeing initiatives are working. Using the government’s ‘Thriving at Work’ and the Mental Health at Work Commitment as a framework is a good starting point.

However, at Unum, we can also offer in-depth consultations and can produce a comprehensive mental health and wellbeing report, plus a proposed plan for you. We can also partner with you over a 12 month period, providing follow-up consultations, reviewing progress, and implementing solutions.

Step 2: Get started

Just 33% of employers have a written policy or guidance to help them reduce stress, and 41% of

employers have a more reactive than proactive wellbeing strategy. Putting mental health and wellbeing on the agenda, and defining your approach is an important part of the process. Prioritising mental health and wellbeing with a well thought out plan or policy demonstrates accountability and sends a clear message about your business’ approach.

Step 3: Prevent and manage absence

Whether you’re trying to tackle short or long-term absence, the best starting point is to start monitoring your absences, if you don’t already - unless you know what you’re dealing with, it’s pretty impossible to manage. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be difficult; if you’re a smaller company, it could be something as simple as setting up an Excel spreadsheet to monitor staff absence.

Having a thorough plan for absence management at work is key to supporting your staff before, during and after sickness absence. Your plan should encompass both those employees making a safe and sustainable return, but also consider those employees who may still be at work but struggling.

For example, particularly after what we’ve learned from lockdown and long-term remote working, installing better flexible working policies can help staff achieve a better work/life balance, reducing their chances of developing stress-related illnesses.

Step 4: Get training

Recent research by Business in the Community revealed only 11% of managers have attended training that focused specifically on mental health.

Chances are, when you conduct a mental health and wellbeing review it is likely to have identified certain areas where you can focus training – either from the absence data, trends that’ve been spotted or where the Mental Health standards are not fully met.

With Unum’s employee benefits, we can offer our CPD-accredited suite of training for HR people and line managers which can have a great impact on both your employees and your outcomes when aimed at the areas causing concern. And for your employees, our U-First suite of workshops is specifically designed to improve their resilience and wellbeing. With almost 80% of attendees stating the session had a positive impact on their wellbeing, U-First is a great weapon in your wellbeing armoury.

Step 5: Digital health and wellbeing tools for all

Ensuring your staff have access to digital tools and resources is vital to help prevent and proactively manage issues before they become too serious. Whether employees have attended their workplace throughout lockdown, are furloughed, returning to a physical work environment, continuing to work remotely or simply need to speak to a medical professional where it may be otherwise difficult - ensuring staff have easy access to health and wellbeing support can help employers minimise absence, improve productivity and keep employees present and engaged.

Remember, providing digital support also gives you a quick, simple, and effective way to show your employees you care about their physical and mental wellbeing, while receiving real business benefits.