Canadian Underwriter

Assessing mental health in the P&C industry

January 27, 2021   by Adam Malik

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The mental stress on property and casualty insurance professionals can be heavy in a normal year. But when the challenges of a global pandemic are added to the mix of handling the bad news phone calls day after day, it can be even tougher to manage mental health.

Take frontline insurance professionals as an example, from brokers to claim handlers. While dealing with whatever issues they’re dealing with personally, they’re also working with clients who may have lost everything in a house fire or been injured in a car crash.

“As insurance workers, our frontline staff are really exposed to some very uncomfortable situations,” said Shelley DaCosta, vice president of total rewards and employee experience at RSA Canada. Total rewards at RSA encompasses employee compensation, benefits, well-being, pension and recognition at the insurer.

She used the example of clients who had to deal with a wildfire out west. Staff were phoning people who they knew would have to leave their homes and helping clients navigate those days they would be away.

“We have frontline workers that are regularly dealing with a customer who has just had a flood, just had a death in the family, just had a massive car accident, etc., and so they’re now dealing with their own pandemic crisis situation, but still continuing to put the customer first,” DaCosta continued.

“And you can imagine the strain that is on everybody’s mental health. And it’s not like where they might have prior, where they were in the office where they could take their headset off, turn around and then talk to [a colleague] about what you’ve just been through on the phone with a poor woman or poor man and how tragic the situation is.”

Many people are living alone. They don’t have that immediate outlet for their emotions. “And it’s really changed everything,” DaCosta told Canadian Underwriter.

Jan. 28 is Bell Let’s Talk Day, perhaps the biggest day of the year devoted to raising awareness around mental health. It may hold greater importance this time around due to the extra feelings of stress by people of all stripes who are coping with loss, pressure, loneliness and a myriad of other forces.

According to an October 2020 Statistics Canada report, only a little over half (55%) of Canadians felt their mental health was excellent or very good — a drop from 68% in 2019. Additionally, older age groups felt better than younger ones — about 70% of those aged 65 and over said they were excellent or very good compared to about 50% in the 35-44 age group.

“The stress and uncertainty of COVID-19 has impacted all of us, and the need for a heightened focus on the mental health of Canadians is clear,” said Mary Deacon, chair of Bell Let’s Talk, in an announcement leading up to the event.

DaCosta agreed. “I could go on and on and on about how the pandemic has really challenged every aspect of mental stress.”

Employers supporting causes like Bell Let’s Talk Day is an example of showing employees that their work environment is a safe space to discuss challenges. “So people feel comfortable going on that Yammer community and say, ‘I’m suffering’ or ‘I’m struggling’ or ‘I’ve always had a problem,’ or ‘I have a child who has a situation’ or ‘I live with a spouse who has a situation,’” DaCosta said. “’It really helps so much that I can tell my employer this.’”

Mental health in the P&C industry can’t be ignored, even if it may not be immediately obvious.

“It’s just been about overcoming all those challenges as they’ve come at us,” said Dan Good, head of total rewards and employee experience, RSA Canada. “We’ve had to adapt and just be flexible in listening to employees’ needs and doing our best to support them.”

DaCosta worked in the healthcare and retail industries before RSA six-and-a-half years ago. It’s easier to see the mental health strains there, be it a nurse or doctor constantly in life-or-death situations with patients or frontline retail employees dealing with unruly customers on a daily basis.

“But I didn’t realize that insurance, in a lot of cases, your frontline people, [they’re] trying to help [customers] in one of the most stressful situations that they’ve ever been in,” she said.


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