Inspire Summer 2019

The latest health and wellbeing news from The Health Insurance Group

Welcome to the latest edition of Inspire, our quarterly newsletter, designed to keep you informed about the issues that could be relevant to your business.

In this edition we look at how you can support employees suffering from the Brexit blues. We also explore how AI is changing the world of employee benefits, the negative effect social media has on our body image, and steps we can take to reduce our risk of dementia.

Supporting employees who are suffering from the "Brexit Blues"

Uncertainty about the future and confusion over what Brexit will mean for jobs and finance is taking its toll on the UK workforce, with around a third of the population citing Brexit as having a negative impact on their mental health1.

The research from the British Association of Counsellors and Psychologists (BACP) showed that whether people voted to leave or remain was immaterial – the ongoing confusion was stressing both sides.

 

Those who voted remain were stressed due to disappointment and worry. Those who voted to leave were stressed by the uncertainty and confusion about the future, according to the report.

The negative news cycle is also a contributing factor to the mental struggles in the workforce with the blanket coverage of Brexit taking its toll, particularly for those who are already suffering anxiety or prone to worrying1.

Another contributory factor is the sense of disorder and chaos which comes from the in-squabbling within the government. With key players involved in the Brexit process leaving and changing, the top level of the country feels unstable, which all contributes towards making the nation feel insecure2.

BACP counsellors said they were seeing clients coming to their sessions struggling with a sense of uncertainty, feelings of powerlessness and feeling stressed out and helpless, in the years following the Brexit vote.

Managers also feeling the Brexit strain

It’s not just employees who are feeling the strain under Brexit. One in four managers surveyed by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)3  reported a much lower sense of job security since Brexit began and they also cited low morale and poorer wellbeing generally.

14% of managers told the CMI their working hours had increased directly due to Brexit and their motivation at work was much lower as a result. The CMI stated the uncertainties around Brexit meant workplace stress and mental health problems were on the rise.

Meanwhile, in The Guardian4 the reporters have quoted a separate YouGov survey in which more than four in ten people said Brexit had impacted their mental health in the past two years - another indication that the Brexit blues is affecting many people across the country.

Young people are experiencing the stress

It’s not just the older generation in the workforce who are feeling blue about Brexit – mental health organisation Young Minds has also reported that the uncertainty and worry over change can have a negative impact on young people, particularly when they are being bombarded with negative news in the media2.

Impact of Brexit anxiety in the workplace

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has also been looking into the impact of Brexit on mental health in the workplace, reporting that around a quarter of UK employees have been suffering from job anxiety post Brexit5.

Studies have shown that job anxiety can cause stress to workers impacting their performance and attendance levels. It can lead to distress, burn-out, intention to quit and higher absenteeism, as well as low self-esteem6.

All of this adds up to a great deal of extra stress and pressure on workers and their managers on a daily basis - so where are people going for support and guidance in this time of stress and uncertainty?

Seeking support for the Brexit blues

Well perhaps another indication of Brexit anxiety is the news that sales of self-help books in the UK have hit a record high this year – up 20% to over three million – making it one of the fastest growing areas of publishing as people seek solace from gurus and celebrity-endorsed books4.

With employees and managers equally stressed and uncertain about the future, it’s important for employers to help provide coping mechanisms. Staff trained in mental health first aid can be a great asset, helping to spot and support anyone in the workplace who is becoming overly stressed or anxious.

Employee assistance programmes can help to provide employees who are feeling stressed and anxious, with somewhere to turn to and independent counselling if appropriate, helping to alleviate the worry and fear.

Mental health resilience training can also be invaluable, giving anxious and worried staff tools and ways to cope with their feelings, which is the best outcome employers can hope for until the Brexit situation is finally resolved and the outcome for businesses becomes clear.

Conclusion

Brexit and the uncertainty it brings is having its toll on the workplace so it’s more important than ever for managers to be mindful of their employees’ mental health and wellness, and to provide supportive programmes whenever possible.

Regardless of which way people voted, the common theme emerging from the data is that both people and business want some much needed clarity and certainty about the path ahead. 

1. https://www.bacp.co.uk/news/news-from-bacp/2019/11-april-one-third-of-adults-say-brexit-has-affected-their-mental-health-bacp-research-finds/ 
2. https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/brexit-mental-health 
3. https://www.managers.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/cmi-press-releases/brexit-blues-workplace-stress-increases-as-managers-work-44-days-extra 
4. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/14/austerity-mental-health-brexit 
5. https://workplaceinsight.net/employee-anxiety-peaks-despite-governments-pledge-to-uphold-workers-rights-post-brexit/  
6. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/47739533_The_influence_of_job_insecurity_on_job_performance_and_absenteeism_The_moderating_effect_of_work_attitudes 

 

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How AI is changing the world of employee benefits

Artificial intelligence (AI) is slowly but surely changing the face of the employee benefits industry. From apps and chatbots, through to wearable technology, AI is gradually infiltrating many aspects of employee health and wellbeing.

This is good news for employers as using AI to help deliver and drive employee wellbeing programmes can help to boost take-up of the benefits and improve overall staff engagement with the schemes. For employees, AI offers an instant and easy way to access advice and information, meaning they can reach the support, help and information they need, at a time that is convenient to them.

 

What does AI look like in healthcare?

As well as apps and wearable fitness devices there is a broader range of technology related to our health and wellbeing which is beginning to surface and grow in popularity to support workplace health.

Recent developments include new occupational health systems, attendance management software, health risk assessment tools and workplace health surveys to monitor ongoing health issues.

They can be broadly split into three areas – preventative, supportive or rehabilitative – depending on the type of technology being used. Generally, platforms, monitoring tools and trackers are used for prevention and support; while technology which offers coaching, consultation and occupational health come under supportive and rehabilitative.

How does AI improve the employee benefits experience?

One of the key ways in which AI is changing the employee benefits experience is through improved targeting. AI can provide more relevant information and advice, based on the employee’s needs, at a much quicker rate than before.

For example, a financial advice chatbot could provide retirement advice and information within 60 minutes using algorithms and the employees’ inputs whereas previously it would have taken around 10 hours to make such calculations.

AI can also provide more personalised healthcare information to help employees make relevant health and lifestyle choices more easily. It works by taking relevant data from a range of sources before directing the employee to the most appropriate resources for their needs.

 

The future of AI in healthcare

Many employee benefit providers have already been offering technology within their programmes through various health and wellbeing apps, and providing employees with access to platforms.

However, according to a survey, wearable technology including fitness trackers, smart watches and other devices should be the top priority for corporate wellbeing and fitness now and into the future.

The American College of Sports Medicine conducted the survey among health and fitness professionals around the world which showed that improved data and technology had helped to raise the value of wearable devices1.

Wearable technology enables employees with health issues to monitor their vital signs and can also alert them to any unknown conditions, providing an early warning sign which they can use to then seek preventative treatment2.

Wearables also provide an easy and non-intrusive way for employees to monitor their physical health and daily activity levels and help to encourage a more active approach, with prompts to take breaks and move regularly.

Developing employee wearable technology plans

Reports predict that there will be around 75 million wearable devices being worn in offices around the world by next year2, so it makes sense for employers to get on board with the technology and incorporate it into health and wellbeing strategies.

The prediction proves that employees are willing to engage with health-focussed programmes and apps, which is another reason that employers should aim to incorporate AI and health technology into their employee wellbeing strategy.

1. https://www.acsm.org/read-research/newsroom/news-releases/news-detail/2018/12/05/wearable-tech-top-2019-fitness-trend 
2. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/industry/entertainment-media/assets/pwc-cis-wearables.pdf 

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The negative impact of social media on body image

Poor body image, fuelled by unrealistic and fake images on social media, is causing mental health issues in the population with a third of adults feeling anxious or depressed about their body image and 40% of teenagers worrying about their bodies1.

The survey, carried out by the Mental Health Foundation, revealed that one in five adults was ashamed of their body and the same number said adverts and social media made them worry about their body image.

 

The worst social media app for mental health

It comes at the same time as another report by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK2 which claimed Instagram is the most detrimental social networking app for young people's mental health.

The report states that Instagram encourages young people – particularly young women - to compare themselves against totally unrealistic images and makes it easy for them to feel as though their bodies aren’t good enough.

Young people who spend more than two hours per day connecting on social networking sites are more likely to report poor mental health, including psychological distress, according to the report.

"Platforms that are supposed to help young people connect with each other may actually be fuelling a mental health crisis," Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the royal society, noted in the report.

Mental health and poor body image

The Mental Health Foundation survey revealed that while body image concerns alone are not a mental health problem it can become a risk factor for other problems including a higher risk of anxiety, depression, unhealthy eating and potentially eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia.

Poor body image is also linked to other problems such as body dysmorphic disorder where the patient spends a disproportionate amount of time worrying over perceived flaws in how they look, to a level which affects their daily life.

On the opposite side, having a good body image is associated with wellbeing and a feeling of overall satisfaction with life, and happiness.

Social media exposure

Using more social media was linked to children and young people having body issues according to the survey. It showed that 40% of young people (26% of boys and 54% of girls) said images on social media had caused them to worry in relation to their body image.

With adults, exposure to unrealistic and idealised images of bodies in the media has also been connected with increased body dissatisfaction. The survey found that one in five adults said images used in advertising (21%) and social media (22%) caused them to worry about their body image.

What can employers do?

With a third of adults feeling anxious or depressed due to poor body image, those health issues are bound to spill over into the workplace and can affect concentration and performance, as well as relationships with colleagues.

Staff might feel so anxious or down that they don’t want to come into work if it gets really bad for them so it is an issue which employers need to be aware of and need to be able to spot.

Mental health first aid training can help managers to learn to spot the signs that a member of staff is suffering and the best way to offer support. These employees might also benefit from resilience training which gives them the tools to cope with their feelings of anxiety and depression when they arise.

An employee assistance programme could also help by providing employees with independent, impartial and professional counsellors to talk to, either on the phone or in person, when they are feeling overwhelmed by negative body issues. 

What other action is being taken to protect mental wellbeing?

The Mental Health Foundation has made a number of recommendations on ways to help improve adult and teenager mental wellbeing in relation to poor body image and social media exposure. One of the suggestions is to create better regulation around the portrayal of body imagery online.

The government is currently consulting on the “Online Harms White Paper” which aims to tackle content or activity which harms users. The Mental Health Foundation report calls for this white paper to address harms relating to the promotion of unhelpful or idealised body image online, beyond content related to eating disorders.

The report also wants adverts to be vetted by the Advertising Standards Authority to make sure they aren’t creating negative or unrealistic body image perceptions – particularly in adverts for cosmetic surgery and weight loss.

Other suggestions include offering support for all children and adults who are suffering mental health issues as a result of poor body image and recognising it as a growing issue thanks to our social media world. 

Conclusion

According to a British Social Attitudes Survey3 almost half of adults believe that how you look affects what you can achieve in life, and 32% said that your value as a person depends on how you look – which shows how much importance we place on our looks, as a society.

That’s why our body image is something which can affect our lives and far from being a trivial, or vain issue, actually has far-reaching implications for our mental health and wellbeing.

1. Mental Health Foundation. (2019). Body Image: How we think and feel about our bodies. London: Mental Health Foundation.
2. https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/status-of-mind.html 
3. Government Equalities Office. Body confidence: Findings from the British Social Attitudes Survey October 2014. [Internet]. London; 2014. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/body-confidence-a-rapid-evidence-assessment-of-the-literature 

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Lifestyle changes today could help prevent dementia

Contrary to popular belief dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing and improving your lifestyle now could actually help to lower your chances of suffering from the condition later in life – according to the World Health Organisation (WHO)1.

Guidance published by WHO says that people should adopt a Mediterranean diet, exercise regularly, watch their weight and cut down excess alcohol now, to help reduce the likelihood of suffering from dementia in old age.

 

Lifestyle changes reduce risk

The report said controlling conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes will also go some way to alleviating the risk of suffering the debilitating brain condition in your later years – providing even more incentive to start living more healthily from today.

While the review of evidence carried out by WHO confirmed that age was the biggest risk-factor for dementia, it concluded that the condition is not an inevitable consequence of ageing – there are other factors which have an impact too.

The new guidelines to reduce dementia

With around 50 million people globally suffering from the condition it is one of WHO’s top priorities, which is why they have published The WHO Guidelines on Risk Reduction of Cognitive Decline and Dementia.

The report states: “Several recent studies have shown a relationship between the development of cognitive impairment and dementia with lifestyle-related risk factors, such as physical inactivity, tobacco use, unhealthy diets and harmful use of alcohol.”

The guidelines make the following recommendations:

  • Adults should exercise regularly to lower the risk of dementia
  • Stop smoking
  • Always eat a healthy balanced diet – the Mediterranean diet is the best option
  • Taking Vitamin B, E or Omega-3 supplements doesn’t protect against dementia
  • Adults need to stop harmful levels of alcohol drinking
  • Brain training activities can sometimes help
  • Those who are obese should lose weight
  • People who have conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol should manage those conditions effectively

Experts in the field of dementia have widely welcomed the report, particularly the advice not to bother taking supplements to stave off the condition, saying it will save people a lot of money that was being thrown down the drain effectively.

Fiona Carragher, Chief Policy and Research Office at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

“Dementia is the biggest health challenge of our generation, so the WHO’s clear commitment to spearheading the global fight against the condition through a public health approach is to be welcomed.

“It’s estimated a third of dementia cases could be prevented, and this report provides the best available prevention advice. But there’s still a lot of work to do - every three seconds someone in the world develops dementia, and there’s still a lack of firm evidence on how exactly we should tackle the many risk factors of dementia. That’s why we’re funding the UK’s largest study focused on mid-life dementia risk factors to begin to address this evidence gap.

“Policy-makers and governments across the globe should take on board WHO’s recommendations and prevention advice. They must also unite in supporting further research to develop more specific, personalised risk reduction advice.”2

What exactly is dementia?

Dementia is not actually a specific illness – it is a broad term which is used to explain brain decline which then leads to mental and physical disabilities further down the line. There are lots of types of dementia but Alzheimer’s disease is the most common one.

Most people who develop dementia are elderly and it is both incurable and fatal. Around two thirds of all dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer's disease.

Dementia symptoms can vary but include problems with memory, difficulty with language, lack of co-ordination and changes in personality. It can also make people physically very frail.

How many people are affected?

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, currently there are around 850,000 people with dementia living in the UK – of these almost 500,000 have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Estimates put the number of people with dementia in 2025 in the UK at over a million.

Risk of dementia does increase with age and it is thought there are many people living with the condition who have not been diagnosed. There is no cure but there are drug treatments available which can slow down the condition.

1. https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/14-05-2019-adopting-a-healthy-lifestyle-helps-reduce-the-risk-of-dementia 
2. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/news/2019-05-14/who-guidelines-risk-reduction-cognitive-decline-and-dementia-alzheimers-society 

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Latest news from the insurers

Did you see the latest updates from the insurers?

Here's the latest from Aviva, AXA PPP, Bupa, Healix Health Services, Medicash, Simplyhealth, Unum, Vitality and Westfield Health.
 

 

Aviva

1 April 2019: UK's struggle to switch off digital addiction stops a good night’s sleep
Many adults are struggling to switch off their digital addiction at bedtime, seriously impacting their sleep quality and overall health. According to new research from Aviva, over half (52%) of UK adults believe they currently don’t get enough sleep.

18 April 2019: Half of ‘sandwich generation’ have under 35 minutes a day to themselves
Nearly two million UK adults have barely half an hour of free time a day, because of the dual challenges of caring for younger and older relatives. A study by Aviva into the so-called ‘sandwich generation’ has found that the pressure of caring for a dependent child and another sick, disabled or elderly adult family member is having a major impact on wellbeing.

AXA PPP

21 March 2019: Employee assistance professionals leadership role for AXA PPP's Eugene Farrell
AXA PPP healthcare’s commitment to supporting mental health at work has been highlighted by the election of its mental health lead for corporate healthcare – Eugene Farrell – to the post of Chair of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association.

Bupa

3 April 2019: Bupa in top five companies to work
Bupa UK has been named in the top five most sought-after places to work in the UK in LinkedIn’s 2019 Top Companies List.

2 May 2019: Baby boomers brushing off mental health issues
A lack of awareness of mental health conditions among older people is leading a significant proportion of baby boomers to neglect their wellbeing.

14 May 2019: Life milestones can impact mental health
Having a baby, getting married and buying a house have been voted the most significant milestones in a person’s life, but despite expectations of these being happy moments, they often leave many feeling vulnerable and stressed when their reality doesn’t live up to the social media hype.

Vitality

15 April 2019: Businesses could save billions by prioritising health and wellbeing
British businesses could save £61 billion per year by prioritising health and wellbeing. Vitality data reveals today that, three-quarters of ill-health related productivity loss is due to factors which can be influenced and addressed through health and productivity management strategies.

Best of the rest

2 April 2019: Unum launches enhanced EAP offering
As part of its ongoing drive to broaden and deepen the services it provides to customers, employee benefits provider Unum is enhancing its proposition by offering more embedded benefits to all its Group Income Protection, Critical Illness and Life customers through its partnership with LifeWorks.

9 April 2019: Rise in stress at work linked to poor management
Nearly two-fifths of UK businesses (37%) have seen an increase in stress-related absence over the last year, with heavy workloads and poor management style to blame, according to a new report from the CIPD and Simplyhealth.

18 April 2019: Mental health affects repatriation
The protocols for medical repatriations when holidaymakers and business people working abroad have been involved in an accident or suffered a physical illness are well established. What is more challenging is assessing the suitability for repatriation of an individual suffering from mental health issues.

24 April 2019: Medicash Foundation helps cancer patients self-image
The Medicash Foundation, the charitable arm of leading Liverpool-based health insurer Medicash, has stepped in to fund a pioneering anti-hair loss system for cancer patients at The Clatterbridge Caner Centre.

29 April 2019: Always on culture to blame for poor mental health
Increasing pressures to work outside of office hours, through annual leave and even on sick days is bringing Britain to a workplace mental health crisis, an essential new report from Westfield Health has revealed.

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