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Recognizing the Importance of Mental Health in The Workplace

Businesswoman having problems in the office

Depression is now the leading cause of disability in the world. Companies need to start by acknowledging that, and then open to the door to help employees, said Noreen McMullan, chief people officer, AXIS.

What are companies doing to support mental health and wellness in the workplace? What are insurers doing?

It starts with acknowledgement — to make any lasting impact, employers must first acknowledge that depression and other mental health issues exist, both in the workplace and beyond. Acknowledgement opens the gates to conversation, education, and allyship. It acts as a catalyst that can guide support programs, benefits, and other initiatives that contribute to a more inclusive culture.

At AXIS, we offer educational resources to help managers and their teams recognize signs of depression and other mental health issues in themselves and others. We also share best practices on how to help or ask for help. We have established Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) which offer a safe space for employees to share their experiences. Our five ERGs are parents and caregivers; women; veterans; LGBTQ+; and ethnically diverse employees. Members of these groups drive awareness and action on relevant topics across the entire organization.

According to a survey by Corporate Wellness Magazine, employees’ mental health is at an all-time low. Nearly a third (31%) of workers surveyed said their mental health has declined over the past year—up from 24% at the end of 2020. How is this impacting the workforce for employers? For insurers?

I believe that employees bring their whole selves to work — the good, the bad, and everything in between. When someone is going through a tough time, it is human nature to lose focus and be distracted.
Noreen McMullan, Chief People Officer, AXIS
NM AXIS.jpg

I believe that employees bring their whole selves to work — the good, the bad, and everything in between. When someone is going through a tough time, it is human nature to lose focus and be distracted. It’s clear that mental health has an impact on productivity, which in turn affects the overall work experience. For employers, it’s important to recognize that everyone is going through their own unique journey and a cookie cutter approach may not work.

At AXIS, our approach to health and wellbeing is designed to meet colleagues wherever they may be in their personal journeys. One way we do this is through our hybrid work model we call “Flex for Your Day.” By viewing our workspaces as a tool for collaboration, business leaders and their teams are empowered to determine how and when they use the office. This flexibility allows our people to craft a schedule that best fits their lifestyles and needs, mental health or otherwise, driving productivity and fostering a more inclusive culture.

What is causing the increased stress on workers?

Where to begin — as a society, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. After two and a half years, there remains uncertainty as to when we can go back to “normal” and even what the “new normal” is. Add to that geopolitical tensions and warfare, economic uncertainty, and more.

On the other hand, there is also the building pressure from social media overload. Influencer culture which is prevalent on social media creates unrealistic standards that can impact mental health.

As they say, “everything in moderation”. Finding a good balance is critical to a healthy mindset.

Please describe what mental health benefits are available to workers. Is there anything new? Any trends in use?

We’ve seen a positive shift that more people and organizations today recognize the importance of mental health. There is definitely more progress to be made, but compared to where it was years ago, there is more awareness and education around this.

At AXIS, we design our benefits to cater to a wide range of lifestyles and needs. We offer programs and benefits in a number of formats, from in-person events and training to digital apps and resources.

To encourage mental health and wellbeing, our initiatives and programs include:

  • Global Employee Assistance Programs for counselling and other mental health services

  • Free access to a mental health app to measure, understand, and improve mental health where approximately 18% of our employees are active monthly users

  • Regular webinars hosted by benefits partners around mental wellbeing topics

  • Annual internal resilience training program providing tools to facilitate mental resiliency that are attended by 35% of employees 

  • Educational resources such as manager training to recognize signs of poor mental health

  • Access to fitness services which provides online classes, resources and discounts

  • An Employee Wellbeing Center to provide employees with the opportunity to share information and ask questions


Recognizing that employees need support not just for themselves but for their families and loved ones, we offer programs that include:

  • Company-funded interactive online classes for children ages 3-18

  • High-quality back-up child and elderly care

  • Free access to hundreds of live webinars and resources to support professionals in their work and home lives.


Mental health has been a difficult topic to be discussed in the workplace. How can employers take away the stigma?

Despite the progress that’s been made in educating the public about mental health, stigmas remain. The only way to get around this is to continue the conversation. Conversation sparks awareness, which drives education. Employers need to continue finding opportunities and avenues to encourage discussion on mental health.

AXIS features mental health as a key topic in our Annual Global Forum. Recognizing the toll the pandemic has taken on mental health, we invited experts in the field to share advice and best practices, and also colleagues with varying seniority and across various functions and geographies to talk about their experiences in dealing with mental health. I joined in this conversation by sharing my experience of caring for a family member with a severe mental illness. This year, we will be covering Allyship — what it means and how to be an ally.

Recognizing there is more to do, I am proud of the progress we’ve made at AXIS, and privileged to be part of a community that continues to prioritize health and wellbeing and foster a culture of inclusion.

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