Absence management - EAPs and mental health

If PMI providers are still developing their proposition for tackling mental ill-health, intermediaries are confident of the role of IP. An obvious advantage of having the benefit in place is that the provider has an incentive to intervene early and prevent a short-term absence becoming a long-term claim. A specific advantage for employers is the support that a provider can offer in facilitating discussions between the employee and line managers.

The value of this should not be underestimated. Research from the Mental Health Foundation suggests that the return to work is fraught with difficulty for both employees and their managers, with both sides feeling ill-equipped to discuss problems and challenges along the way. According to the organisation’s research, employers perceive employees with depression and anxiety as more difficult to adjust back to work than those with physical illnesses, because problems are intertwined with work-related stress, perceptions of bullying or poor working conditions.

“When people go off sick, it is often when we find that the line manager has not been in contact with the employee,” says Unum’s Professor Michael O’Donnell. “Rehab staff can act as a go between so that they can discuss what can be discussed with the employee, for example.”

While Origen’s Steve Herbert acknowledges that it can take “a couple of big court cases to go horribly, horribly wrong to make people sit up and take notice,” intermediaries may welcome the renewed emphasis on mental health in the workplace from both the government and the third sector (see Mind comment, right). It presents a real opportunity to knit together a package that does more than tick boxes, but improves the lives of both employers and employees, from reducing costly sickness absence to improving relationships between line managers and their staff. As Mike Blake points out: “Employers are looking for advice and it is too easy to throw a product at the problem.”

TIM RANDLES SENIOR EXECUTIVE AT LAYTONS SOLICITORS, SPECIALISES IN EMPLOYMENT LAW AND RESOLVING DISPUTES

“EAPs are a cost efficient way of providing good support to employees but they are not a replacement for management taking an interest in what is going on. Judges will consider whether the mental health harm suffered by an employee was reasonably foreseeable and if it was, whether the employer made a reasonable response. Too many companies looked at Baroness Hales’ Proposition 11 and felt that providing an EAP was all they needed to do in order to discharge their duty of care. That is not how it works or how it was meant to work.”

EMMA MAIMER SENIOR POLICY AND CAMPAIGNS OFFICER AT MIND, LEADING MEANTAL HEALTH CHARITY

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