Tackling stress in the workplace

For Direct Line Group, mental health is at the heart of its wellbeing strategy

We all know what it’s like to cope with the pressures of life but there is a difference between dealing with the occasional stressful situation and feeling regularly overwhelmed by events. It is increasingly well-known that this can lead to people feeling stressed which can lead to longer-term mental health issues or make existing issues worse.

Stress, when proportionate, is not a mental health problem in itself – and can be positive; our stress response is a survival strategy to keep us safe – it prepares us for ‘fight or flight’ in order to protect us from an oncoming threat. However, researchers have found that when stress becomes a way of life and our bodies are constantly on high alert it can have serious implications for our long-term health. The production of cortisol during the 'fight/flight' response can inhibit our digestive system, as well as affect our mood and memory. It can increase our risk of addictive and destructive behaviours, of developing anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. It can also increase the risk of physical health problems, including heart disease, insomnia, muscle pain, and it causes damage to our immune system. In one of life’s bitter ironies, our stress response – which has done so much to keep us alive – may now threaten to drastically reduce the quality of our lives.

Clearly, helping people to cope with and address underlying issues is incredibly important, and at Direct Line Group, we understand that as employers, we have a critical role to play here. Like many other companies, our people lead busy lives which inevitably come with their stresses and strains. We are determined to forge an approach that recognises our responsibility to each other, and make mental health an everyday concern for all of us. For this reason, we have placed mental health at the heart of our wellbeing strategy.

We have partnered with This Can Happen, an organisation dedicated to tackling mental health in the workplace, to ensure that the issue continues to be at the forefront of our agenda. This Can Happen strives to help empower employees and companies to improve mental wellbeing, and we are proud to support their efforts.

Like many companies, we give colleagues immediate access to free and confidential support, with professional, independent and impartial information and counselling. Staff can talk to our external provider about any issue, including stress, work issues, finances, family or personal crisis – it is basically a space for them to discuss whatever is on their mind. We also have information and training available on our intranet.

We also provide mental health awareness training for people managers and have recently introduced mental health first aiders, who provide a first point of contact for employees experiencing mental health issues, to talk things through and be directed to additional help and guidance. We now have 135 mental health first aiders throughout the business – and have ensured that we have at least one on every floor of every building. And in addition to our mental health first aider programme, our people are seizing the initiative raising awareness through lunchtime sessions, exercise classes, holistic treatments and mindfulness sessions.

Everything we’re doing has helped to ensure that we are now better equipped to have open conversations around the business about mental wellbeing. The feedback has been very positive and there is now wider recognition that honest discussions about the challenges some colleagues face daily can be hugely beneficial to all of us.

There is still much more we want to do, so we are not stopping here. Now that the vital building blocks are in place, we want to embed what we’ve been doing and extend the conversation further, and our next step is to develop resources and guidance focusing on financial wellbeing. We are serious about getting better at this, and it is wonderful to see everyone’s enthusiasm and keenness to get involved.

We understand that work can have an impact on mental health and wellbeing and is an issue that is important to all of Direct Line Group’s leadership team, and we are proud of our efforts to create a workplace where everyone can be themselves and feel supported.