Workplace Therapy: Banks and law firms are among those who offer counseling as employee compensation

Managers at UK creative agency Uniform Group have a way of helping employees with mental health issues. Instead of advising the teams themselves, they can direct employees to a company benefit: free therapy sessions.

“You see people struggling, and it’s often for multiple reasons,” said Nick Howe, chief executive. “It can be busy outside of work combined with a fear of the cost of living and a stressful period at work. [But] we cannot be her therapist.”

Uniform is one of many organizations offering in-house therapy to employees and a tool for workforce managers in the wake of the pandemic at a time when public health systems are stretched.

The Bank of England has offered psychological support to its employees since the 1970s. Now companies such as leading law firms Hogan Lovells and Linklaters, as well as US banks, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs are among the employers with psychologists and consultants available online and on-site. The benefit can signal to employees that managers are supportive and helping bring out the best in their teams.

According to Howe, during a difficult time with his own work and health pressures, the pension fund was not only personally helpful, but also “an opportunity for managers to make a mark [employees] to the therapist”.

Wearing a dark denim jacket, Nick Howe stands with his hands in his pockets in an office with colorful walls and posters

Uniform Group chief executive Nick Howe says both he and staff have benefited from the in-house deployment © Jon Super/FT

According to the most recent survey by Business Group on Health in partnership with Fidelity Workplace Consulting, about 30 percent of U.S. employers were either offering or planning to offer on-site counseling or therapy in 2022, up from 25 percent when the pandemic began. The report found that 54 percent of the world’s major employers offer online or face-to-face counseling. Traditional employee support programs set up to offer counseling on personal issues, including well-being and finance, are increasingly dealing with complex issues, says Kris Ambler of the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy. “What is sometimes needed is a more nuanced response.”

tool for managers

JPMorgan has a team of mental health consultants based in larger locations, covering crisis care and short-term counseling. Judith Bess, executive director of employee assistance programs and a licensed psychiatrist at the bank, says that since the pandemic began, counselors have helped employees deal with grief and loss, anxiety and depression, often triggered by changes in their communities or workplace become . “The availability of therapists in our offices makes it easier for staff to access care, [and] creates proximity to common workplace issues and stressors that employees face.”

This in turn can relieve team leaders. “A manager can be overwhelmed himself, and knowing that there is a safe and confidential space that he can gently recommend to an employee eases his personal guilt at not being able to ‘fix’ an issue he can’t handle has the skills to do that,” says Francesca Rogers, co-founder of GetZeN, which provides therapists to the company.

Philippa Richardson, founder of The Circle Line, which offers corporate clients a small team of remote therapists, agrees. When made sensitive, it can be helpful to “say in a performance review that we want you to work on these things, and here’s a facility to help you do that.”

Lynsey Laverick, wearing a gray turtleneck top and skirt, is standing in her office by the window

Lyndsey Laverack of Sidley Law Firm says mental health issues among workers are harder to identify due to remote work © Anna Gordon/FT

Trained psychotherapists can help managers identify problems that arise in the workforce. According to Lyndsey Laverack, a city-based partner who specializes in M&A at law firm Sidley and has been offering on-site therapy since 2020, hybrid or remote work can make mental health issues harder to identify in workers. Getting deep insights from aggregated sessions—rather than specific details that violate confidentiality—can highlight any issues.

Understand the business

In-home care also gives therapists insight into organization that outsiders may lack. Linda Barnard is an integrative psychotherapist and Senior Staff Counselor at the Bank of England, part of a team providing a range of therapies including cognitive behavioral therapy. “We’re completely immersed in the culture and environment that our customers are talking about.” You can work with managers to help them understand the diverse needs and problems of their team.

“You know us in terms of the pressures we are under,” says Angela Ogilvie, Linklaters Chief Human Resources Officer. “It helps to develop an understanding of the company.”

Adam Carvalho, a former legal partner and now co-director of The Carvalho Consultancy, which provides therapeutic support to law firms, agrees, saying, “Managers talk to us about [the] the pressure to lead a team, generate work, see spouses and children, sustain other aspects of life.

“There are many sensitivities for managers when dealing with younger generations of lawyers. . . It is helpful for them to discuss [that] with someone who is remote from the situation but also understands how it works.

confidentiality issues

On-site counseling providers say it helps to destigmatize mental health at a time when top business leaders are opening up about their experiences. In 2021, Tom Blomfield resigned as chief executive of British digital bank Monzo, citing mental health issues brought on by the pressures of the pandemic. Jayne-Anne Gadhia, the former CEO of Virgin Bank, has spoken out about depression.

“Society is much more open and willing to talk about mental health,” says Ogilvie of Linklaters, which introduced on-site psychologists four years ago. “A younger generation [expect such benefits] like the norm.”

However, not everyone agrees that work is the right place for therapy. The advertising company Havas offers personal development sessions with a trained psychotherapist who is also a coach. Ewen MacPherson, Havas UK’s Group Chief People Officer, says: “The feedback we have received is that people feel uncomfortable having a therapist on site. There are confidentiality issues.” Some staff also found it difficult to investigate “issues that were deep at the time”. [put] put on a brave face and get back to work”.

There may also be a risk of a conflict of interest. Richardson of The Circle Line says, “You don’t want to work for someone and their line manager.” It’s best if “the therapist doesn’t see people who know each other,” she adds. BACP’s Ambler says providing a therapist could prove to be a “band-aid for systemic problems.”

GetZeN’s Rogers adds that the provision of mental health care needs to be coupled with the “employee who is actively seeking support themselves. . . otherwise it ends in forced talk and half-hearted participation”. In addition, there is concern that people who accept the offer will be seen as not up to the job.

financial challenges

Some employers don’t see it as their responsibility to take care of their employees’ mental health. And even those who do may find delivering the services more of a challenge in the current financial climate. Cate Murden, founder of Push, which provides wellness services to companies, says mental health spending is on the back burner for many employers at a time when “there’s so much fear of layoffs.”

According to Richardson, attracting new business is difficult despite existing customers increasing their spending.

Michael Boroff, psychologist and mental health program manager at Crossover Health, which has health centers on the Meta and Comcast campuses, argues that it is cost-effective for companies to intervene early rather than wait for crises: “In the US, health is System doesn’t work super well. We can reduce [companies’ health insurance] spend.”

The City Mental Health Alliance, a not-for-profit organization that works with major London companies, says members with local consultants have seen a notable drop in private health insurance claims for mental health support, as evidenced by the return on investment.

For Howe of the Uniform Group, therapy has been a wise investment. “I never thought of a cut. If we don’t invest in it, everything else suffers, people’s motivation and quality of work. We want people to do this work on behalf of their customers. If they’re not in the right headspace, then they can’t do it, then the business model is broken.” Workplace Therapy: Banks and law firms are among those who offer counseling as employee compensation

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