With lockdown restrictions easing, many people are no longer working from home. With employees’ mental health in mind, Insurance Times asks the sector what it should consider as staff return to the office post-pandemic

Diana Bratt, Group Operations and HR Director at Seventeen Group

Diana Bratt, Seventeen Group 

Diana Bratt, group operations and human resources director, Seventeen Group

The industry needs to accept that some staff will be nervous about returning to the office post-lockdown.

Flexibility and communication are key to ensuring a smooth transition from the new normal of your home being your office, to work being your actual office again.

Staff have adapted and some have enjoyed working at home. I have heard stories of ironing boards being used as desks, and sheds and lofts being used to get away from noise in the house and to find a peaceful spot to get work done - not everyone had the luxury of a home office.

Staff should be praised for their efforts and for how they have adapted in these difficult and stressful times.

I would encourage the industry to move slowly in welcoming staff back to the office and to listen to each and every story of how this can be achieved.

In addition, I firmly believe that promotion of mental health support in the workplace is vital.

The pandemic has highlighted the types of challenges that can be faced by staff. In response, we need to ensure that the provision of support to help address these potential issues is embedded in our culture. We all have our Covid scars to bear.

Remember, it’s a new world now and we have a new normal of ’working from everywhere’, because we can.

Claire Russell, founder of MHIB

Claire Russell, Mental Health in Business 

Claire Russell, chief executive, Mental Health in Business

The Chartered Insurance Institute’s Covid Impact Study, published in January 2021, showed that six out of 10 insurance professionals suffered from depression, anxiety, emotional distress, or another mental health condition during the pandemic.

Some of those people will never have experienced mental ill health before and may not have developed the coping strategies and resources needed to regain good mental wellbeing, to rebuild resilience and to be well equipped to face future challenges.

Most people can recover from episodes of poor mental health, or mental illness, if they are properly supported.

Business leaders and managers of people in the insurance industry need to be aware that some people will be struggling more than others – and some are going to need additional support and understanding as they return to office working or hybrid ways of working.

As a bare minimum, all insurance businesses should ensure they have in place an organisational mental health and wellbeing strategy, a suitable workplace mental health training provision, a consistent year-round mental wellbeing communications plan, documented support pathways and signposting for staff that require additional help and support.

Tom Welchman, partner, McKinsey and Company

Tom Welchman, McKinsey and Company 

Tom Welchman, partner, McKinsey and Company

As staff return to the office - or the hybrid model their employer has adopted post-lockdown - it is not only the workplace that is evolving.

Changes in work continue to gather pace - 84% of executives said their company has accelerated automation and artificial intelligence (AI) through the crisis.

The workforce is also evolving. By 2025, 97 million new roles may emerge - six years of diversity, equity and inclusion progress could be erased in one year as a disproportionate share of women contemplate leaving the workforce.

Amid this turbulence, employers should look beyond roles and the nature of work to focus on the mental health needs of each individual.

How has an individual’s situation evolved and how may it continue to evolve as we transition to the next normal? Might the individual have family, friends and colleagues in parts of the world still very much in the grip of further waves of the virus?

Employers that focus on flexibility, agency, autonomy and trust in the coming transition are likely to be those that create the most meaningful - and healthy - relationships with employees of the future.

Victoria Canton, HR Director at Clear Group

Victoria Canton, Clear Group 

Victoria Canton, group human resources director, Clear Group

It is imperative that we remain focused of all our employee wellbeing initiatives that were developed during lockdown as staff resume office working.

Employers need to ensure that the transition back to the office is a consultative and collaborative process so that the needs of individuals can be considered in line with business requirements.

We want employees to feel safe and comfortable in their working environment. Flexible working hours around busier commute times, hybrid working patterns and adjustment periods therefore need to be considered.

As more people return to the office environment, we will also strongly encourage peer-to-peer support. By sharing the experiences of others who have already returned to the office, it will help people feel less isolated.

With this in mind, we have over 30 employees across different departments and levels who are trained in mental health first aid and can offer guidance and support.

Alex Curme, head of finance at Ensurance

Alex Curme, Ensurance 

Alex Curme, head of finance, Ensurance

With staff returning to work over the upcoming months, an excellent opportunity presents itself for the insurance industry to further embrace and promote diversity - not just in terms of ethnicity, religion and gender, but in recognising that every individual requires a different way of working to achieve their full potential.

Some will know they can be at their best operating a rigid, five-day a week, office-based work schedule, whilst others know their performance will thrive with a more fluid, home and office-based hybrid approach.

Understanding that one method will not suit all is going to be imperative to leading a workforce that feels valued, trusted and performs to the best of its ability.

Providing staff with every opportunity to be at their best will increase feelings of personal success and achievement, which in turn helps to create a sense of fulfilment and contributes to maintaining a positive mental mindset.

This heightened positivity will bring about increases in customer service levels, which vitally improves the overall employee and consumer experience.

Victoria Romero-Trigo, director, Romero Insurance

Victoria Romero, Director at Romero Insurance

Victoria Romero-Trigo, Romero Insurance 

At Romero Group, we’re conscious of the important role mental health plays in the success of a business. By providing support for staff members’ mental health, we believe we are simultaneously promoting their wellbeing, supporting productivity and making sure our team are always happy and healthy.

To support this, we have partnered with corporate wellbeing company We Are Wellbeing, which provides tools and training that are available to our entire team.

Working alongside our employee wellbeing strategy, this includes seminars covering key areas of wellbeing, as well as providing an ongoing bank of resources to support our teams in whatever challenges they might face.

This, paired with a trained wellbeing champion in every department, ensures that our teams are supported all day, every day and have ongoing access to support.

Not only have we seen this investment in wellbeing benefit our employees’ mental health, it’s had a direct impact on the success of the business too.

By showing we support and nurture their mental health, we’ve seen our teams be more productive, more engaged in the business and work even better as a team, remotely and in person.

As the industry moves forward post-lockdown, I believe every organisation should integrate these resources as a core part of its people strategy, to secure a positive working environment and organisational success.

Steve Field, Underwriting Manager at QBE

Steve Field, QBE

Steve Field, underwriting manager, QBE Europe

Employees’ mental health and wellbeing has never been so important. QBE research published in May 2019 found the cost to businesses of failing to support employees with mental health issues was an average of £52,000 in lost business or contracts.

It is critical that businesses challenge workplace stigma around mental health to make it easier for those who need help to feel comfortable asking for it. This will be particularly important when people start to return to the office, as anxieties around Covid may still be pronounced.

Many organisations struggle to create a definitive mental health plan with clear goals and priorities.

QBE, in conjunction with mental health charity Mind and business management consultancy Anker and Marsh, has developed a self-assessment tool to enable companies to benchmark where they are on their mental health journey. This includes tools and services to help them implement effective mental health and wellbeing programmes.

As lockdown restrictions ease and more of us return to the office, it is important that we remember just what we were able to achieve by working remotely and to retain some of that flexibility in the future.

A working environment that can flex to the circumstances of the individual and the requirements of their role can be hugely beneficial to mental wellbeing.

Joanne Wright, SRG people and culture director

Joanne Wright, SRG

Joanne Wright, group HR director, SRG

At Specialist Risk Group (SRG), we are building the kind of company we are proud to tell our friends and family about. We work hard to create a sense of community, where no-one should ever feel like they can’t reach out for help.

In the area of mental wellbeing, that means making fewer corporate statements and promises around future actions, but getting on with providing useful and valuable support.

It’s quite normal to hear senior leaders talk about mental health, but at SRG, we have a dedicated wellbeing team, staffed by our own colleagues who are passionate about the subject - they provide thoughtful content and support on mental health.

We also have certificated mental health first aiders and green (our corporate colour) coffee mornings - these are our regular forums where everyone in our business has a coffee break and space to talk honestly about how we are doing and how we are feeling.

The practice aligns with our company values and behaviours, which pervade everything we do - one of the agreed behaviours and measures of success in our business is ’kindness’.

Frank O Malley, chief executive at Arc Legal

Frank O’Malley, Arc Legal 

People don’t just join a company - they join a culture.

This is what employees have been missing while working from home. Many new starters across our profession will have suffered as a result of not being able to find their feet within a supportive, fun and dynamic business culture, which is difficult to replicate over Microsoft Teams.

For organisations that move to a hybrid working model, they must be mindful of striking that balance between allowing people increased flexibility and ensuring they are engaged with the cultural element of the business, as well as have the opportunity to access the skills, resources and dynamism of the office environment and peers.

The readjustment to office life won’t be easy. Our legal helpline has seen a number of recent calls from customers looking for guidance due to employees’ stress about being forced to return to the workplace and anxiety issues about workplace safety.

Wellbeing is key and businesses must provide support and tools to help people make this readjustment.

For example, our people have access to a free one-to-one counselling service, as well as a wellbeing focused app, AmWell, which provides a raft of resources and guidance to support both mental and physical health.

Pete Clark, managing director, Mind Right - part of handl Group

There are two main areas for the insurance industry to consider as staff return to office, the impact on staff and the impact on claims.

Pete Clark, Mind Right

Pete Clark, Mind Right, Handl Group 

Insurance companies’ own staff may have heightened anxiety related to fear of the impact of the virus, social anxiety relating to their interactions with colleagues they haven’t seen face to face in a long time (for example staff may be self-conscious due to weight gain during lockdown which was very common). Staff may also have a new antagonistic view of the employer they perceive to be ‘forcing’ them back to the office.

With all of these issues, as with many others, strong channels of communication are the key to management. Staff may ultimately require the availability of counselling services. The impact of this can however be mitigated through strong, open and honest communication between employees, their peers and management.

Insurers, particularly those offering employer liability policies, should be aware of the antagonistic viewpoints mentioned above. It is absolutely possible that this view may lead to a more claim oriented workforce, jaded by their employers approach to return to office and more susceptible to claim related behaviour when workplace accidents happen. Again, this can be managed the the insurer advocating for and supporting their policyholders to facilitate good, healthy communication between employers and their employees.