Canadian Underwriter

Your staff’s mental health: What to watch for

February 18, 2021   by Adam Malik

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Investing in the mental health of your staff has always been important, but the COVID-19 pandemic has driven home just how important it is, says one Canadian P&C insurer executive.

“I think we’ve really learned through 2020 and now into 2021 that it’s critical — investment in your employees’ mental health is critical,” said Dan Good, head of total rewards and employee experience at RSA Canada. “I think at this point, we’re all feeling pandemic fatigue.”

Isolation is a big problem, he observed in an interview with Canadian Underwriter. It’s difficult when you can’t see your colleagues, and it’s especially so when you’re starting with a new company. Good himself started with RSA in September and has yet to meet his team in anything other than a virtual setting.

“We’ve onboarded employees remotely, we’ve had many remote meetings, [so] it is working,” he assessed. “But, as you know, it’s not the same as being in person and getting to [see colleagues]. I can use my own experience — I started in September and I haven’t met my team [in person].”

It’s a struggle whether you live alone or have a house full of kids. “Depending on the employee situation, you can be suffering from isolation — like those who are living alone — and those parents who are are kind of struggling right now, and have been for a while, as we’re back to online learning. They are having the kids home [while] working at home full-time.” gin tan

Employees have a variety of challenges to which employers need to listen, and for which employers need to offer support.

“I think the best thing is to let the employees know that you’re there to listen, to support and help them, whatever the challenges are that they as individuals might be facing,” said Shelley DaCosta, vice president of total rewards and employee experience at RSA Canada. “And they’re quite different —everything from the person who says, ‘I don’t have the office equipment and I have to be using my patio furniture,’ to somebody who says, ‘I can’t work every day during the day because I’m teaching my kids, but I can log in in the evening and work for four hours tonight.’”

The insurance industry is often described as a relationships-based sector, in which many are used to venturing out and meeting colleagues and clients. For those who are naturally outgoing, not being able to socialize has had a significant impact. Those who are exercising to stay healthy have been challenged by gym closures as a result of government-ordered lockdowns. Marital problems could arise, since couples who aren’t used to being together all day are now doing so and sharing potentially small spaces.

“We’re seeing breakdowns in relationships because of people spending more time together,” DaCosta said.

Employers must be aware of all of these factors to help their staff out, she added. “We know the new normal won’t be the way it was before, and so we’ve had to even adapt our strategies for mental health.”

Ensuring staff take vacation is also important for employers. While some may have allowed employees to delay vacations from 2020 into this year due to the inability to travel, DaCosta felt it was important to ensure staff take their vacation in the calendar year so that they were indeed getting that break.

“And so I think that is one big piece that employers need to do is to allow employees that time to breathe and to step away because it’s a stressful time,” she said.

The pandemic has highlighted the fact that people took for granted the sense of community offered by the work environment, as well as the support employees get out of being with each other.

“We had people working virtually prior to the pandemic,” DaCosta said. “We had virtual leaders, and we had done training for leaders on having virtual teams. But at any point in time, those employees…could come into the office, could come in for a meeting, could come in for a day, a week, whatever and attend sessions together. And of course, the pandemic has made all of that impossible.”


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