Everyone benefits when we make employee mental fitness a priority
It was news none of us expected. And it shocked us to our collective souls.
Twenty years ago in another working lifetime, late night phone calls made the rounds that a co-worker had taken his life. For a small publishing firm where we treated each other like family, the loss was unfathomable. And all too surreal.
Yes, the individual had experienced personal challenges. Yes, there were pressures to perform at work. But no one who toiled day in and out with him ever suspected that suicide, in thought or in act, would ever enter the picture.
Sadly, it did. Predictably, if unfairly, we all self-examined to try to comprehend it all, and asked ourselves what we could have done to prevent it. Ulitmately, we ended up with a greater awareness of the pressures of our personal and professional lives, and a determination to better watch out for each other.
Many who have been in the workforce for years have experienced similar heart-wrenching stories of individuals bent or broken through stress and pressures, and who have gone to the edge or over. They may have been, or are, the story themselves. They come from all business sectors, and the insurance industry is far from immune, for various reasons cited by experts in Michael McKiernan’s excellent piece on mental health in the workplace.
Recent studies show that Canadian companies, and business and financial sectors in particular, have a significant need to increase their focus on employee wellness. In one study, almost one in four employees grouped in the finance, insurance and real estate fields reported “extreme stress on the job”. One in four. Look around. You’ll read in McKiernan’s piece some of the forces impacting the insurance field — but also cautionary flags not to isolate the sector as uniquely vulnerable.
The upside is that within the insurance industry, and in business in general (and buoyed by high profile media campaigns), today there is far greater communication and openness with employees about mental health in the workplace. Innovative programs, employee assistance offerings and an up-and-coming generation more willing to express their feelings and seek greater work-life balance, are conspicuously collaborating to create improved, less stigmatized environments.
Realistically, all the well-intended actions in the world won’t totally eliminate all mental health concerns, stressed-out employees and downward spirals. But those in the insurance field and beyond who are recognizing the need to step up are doing a great service to their employees, and themselves.
Copyright © 2016 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine