Taking control of stress in the workplace
Posted Thursday 20 May 2010
This is the part of a series to launch our Taking care of business campaign on employment and mental health.
At leading consultancy firm Hewitt Associates, the management decided to review their health policy in 2006, after realising a large chunk of employee sickness and stress at work was preventable. James Kenrick tells us how and why they made radical changes to their business strategy.
At Hewitt Associates, we needed to understand the true impact of mental ill health on the business: this was achieved through a health audit. In this audit we reviewed current absence policies, procedures and experience, all health-related benefits such as private medical insurance and Income Protection, all health services offered to employees such as Occupational Health and our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and the indirect costs of absence, such as lost productivity. We realised Hewitt was losing £5.7 million per annum (£2,850 per employee), and that stress, anxiety and depression were real issues within the organisation.
Until 2006, stress-related absences were referred to Occupational Health. After the health audit we sourced a stress vocational rehabilitation service, which has a vocational focus and is staffed by psychologists. Employees who have been absent for 10 days or more are referred for an initial assessment, and recommended the most appropriate treatment plan. We have found that this service, along with early intervention, has greatly reduced the days lost through stress-related absence and stopped stress-related disability altogether.
To ensure all our employees have support to cope with the stresses and strains of modern living we have also actively promoted our Employee Assistance Programme within the organisation. We created a direct link from the absence telephone recording service to the Employee Assistance Programme, so employees can immediately contact a counsellor, where appropriate. Whereas 3 per cent of employees used this service in 2006, since the overhaul 16 per cent of employees now utilise it.
Of course, it's not just stress that is managed: our finances have also benefited. Through preventative techniques and the assistance programme, we’ve saved nearly £400 per employee: saving £700,000 per annum net of all investments. The savings have been realised through:
- reduced lengths of absence (from 6.0 days to 4.2 days per employee, per annum)
- retention of employees with mental illness (saving on recruitment costs were they to leave)
- increased productivity in the workplace, leading to increased revenue
- lower benefit costs.
Our restructure to date has been reactive, supporting existing working patterns. The next phase of our employee programme ‘Be Healthy with Hewitt’ is to introduce a number of health and wellbeing initiatives designed to encourage and enable our employees to take more responsibility for their own health. This will include a particular focus on managing the stresses and strains of modern living.
Although the business case is self evident with substantial net savings to the business, it's the intangible elements that are most rewarding. The feedback from staff who have been helped to recover from difficult circumstances has been exceptional. Our associate engagement scores continue to rise and this, if nothing else, justifies the company's investment in the rehabilitation and support programmes.
James Kenrick, Hewitt Associates
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