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Nationwide reduces mental health absence

Nationwide reduces mental health absence

“The majority of individuals invited to take part in the return to work programme welcomed the support and wanted to get better.”

Tina Sherrington | Occupational Health & Wellbeing | Nationwide Building Society

The challenge

When Nationwide, the UK’s largest building society, decided to adopt a new approach to helping employees affected by mental health issues to return to work, it had to find a way of helping them overcome the barriers limiting their recovery...

Tina Sherrington, Nationwide’s occupational health and wellbeing specialist, explains, “Nationwide is an excellent employer and we want to help all our employees be healthy, and have that all-important work-life balance. We knew that at least 25 per cent of our sickness absence was due to common mental health disorders, such as stress, depression or anxiety, and we wanted to explore if there might be something more we could be doing to help employees recover and return to work. There were also a number of cases where we didn’t fully understand what was causing the person to be on long-term sick and without this understanding we were unable to help and support them fully..”

She adds: “Going forward, we wanted to properly understand the barriers preventing people with a mental health related issue from returning to work, so that we could explore ways of helping them and the organisation to overcome these.”

The approach

“Having worked very closely with Validium, our Employee Assistance Provider, for ten years, we were aware of their clinically proven return to work programme, so invited them to conduct a pilot with us.”

She adds, “Our HR Case Managers worked in partnership with our Occupational Health provider to identify 27 potential people who might benefit from the programme. These individuals were then invited to take part in a clinical assessment, carried out by one of Validium’s chartered psychologists, so that an effective action plan, featuring a tailored counselling programme and an agreed return to work plan, based on the assessment, could be put in place to help them recover.”

The solution

“The majority of individuals invited to take part in the return-to-work programme welcomed the support and wanted to get better, but were struggling to make progress by themselves,” says Sherrington. “Of the 21 employees who went on to have the psychological assessment, most were found to be struggling to overcome a mental health issue, such as depression after a long illness, bereavement, an anxiety disorder or work-related stress.”

She adds: “The insights provided about the barriers preventing the employee from returning to work gave us a very clear picture of their health in relation to work. This allowed the employee, their manager and HR to discuss suggested amendments to their role and responsibilities, such as a phased return to work, re-deployment, adjusted working hours, revised role responsibilities or appropriate training. For example, an individual who was anxious and depressed following a long absence for a physical health problem might benefit from working part-time or reduced hours to help them build up their confidence and settle back at work. While a manager in a key role who experienced stress as a result of family break-up could transfer to a less high profile job for a while, to help to build up their resilience to return to their previous position.

The results

“Nearly half of the 27 people we put forward to take part in the absence reduction programme have now successfully returned to work and are back to full effectiveness,” says Sherrington. “The other 14 cases were resolved through resignation, retirement or left on grounds of sickness incapacity to successfully resolve 100% of the absences. Most significantly, we now have a proven process in place for successfully resolving seemingly intractable mental health related absence. This is now being used across the business.”  She adds, “Overall, we’re delighted with the results. Cost isn’t the driving factor here but it’s worth noting that even after you take out the cost of rehabilitating employees, the absence reduction programme provided by Validium has still saved the business £150,000 in direct costs. When you factor in the cost of training and recruitment required to cover a prolonged absence, the total saving is £395,000.”

She concludes, “Validium has clearly researched its product offering to create a robust solution that delivers results. We particularly liked the support given just to get the individual over the threshold of their place of work, which is often one of the biggest barriers to a successful return after a prolonged absence. It is a real partnership that enabled everyone to focus on providing the optimum support required to achieve an excellent outcome. All of which has helped us to reduce the average number of days lost per mental health related absence to just 28.5 days, compared to a national average of 45 days.”