The Chartered Insurance of Personal Development (CIPD) has reported a 37 per cent increase in work-related stress in UK business over the past year. It is well documented that this can lead to mental health issues. As the responsibility for ensuring the wellbeing of employees is increasingly falling on the shoulders of employers, group risk policies are products we should all be talking to our SME clients about more, and highlighting how they can help with mental health.
Currently, there are only around 8 per cent of small businesses who have a group income protection policy, despite the fact they are most vulnerable when it comes to staff absence. Work-related stress will be found in companies of all sizes but maybe the larger companies are more likely to have employee benefits to help with this.
We are all aware that more training is required for managers and leaders who are dealing with these issues from their staff on a regular basis. Many have no qualifications or have had no training to do this. The CIPD is calling on employers to invest in more training and development. But if an employee is signed off work with mental health issues, could a group risk policy help, and do we advisers do enough to highlight the benefit of these policies to our clients?
Group income protection insurers, along with private medical insurers, are well-resourced and many offer mental health support – together with lots of other support – through programmes designed to help employee wellbeing. Employers may not realise the added benefits these policies offer and how they could really help employees and employers alike. In reality, the insurers could be the first place the employer turns to access strategies for workplace mental health.
The Group Risk Development 2018 claims survey reported that 24.5 per cent of claims in 2017 were for mental illness – one of the main causes for claims – so we already know there is a need.
Insurers will work with the employer and the employee to get people back to work at the right time, but the additional benefits of the
policy will often prove to be invaluable. These can include rehabilitation services, managers’ training programmes and employee assistance plans. And don’t forget that a claim does not necessarily need to be made to access these services.
But it is not just the strategies and support services group risk policies offer that can help with mental health of employees. If an employee is absent from work due to mental health, and is only receiving the minimum statutory sick pay, the stress of the reduced income could easily have a negative impact on the employee. They may become more stressed with the worry or return to work too early, which will lead to further complications down the road. Returning to work before an employee is ready can have a devastating effect on their mental health. It can be a vicious circle.
Mental health is a subject very close to my heart. I have a close family member who has suffered from mental health issues previously and they have returned recently due to workplace stress. The employer has help lines in place to assist with the problems, but my frustration comes from knowing so much more can be accessed through these type of policies – if only the employer had them in place. His manager is trying to help, but it is evident his lack of training and knowledge means he is sometimes inadvertently doing the wrong thing. Also, the worry of the loss of income is driving him back to work much quicker than he should. This will simply turn his absenteeism into presenteeism and will benefit no one.
Employers have a duty to ensure the wellbeing of their employees, but advisers and insurers surely also have a duty to make sure we are educating companies on the benefit of all the policies available in the market place. Cost is often the issue for companies but if they understand the many benefits they can bring, and all the services which can be accessed, they will start to realise the cost is far lower than they initially thought.
So, can group risk help with work place stress? Absolutely, but it is up to us as advisers to be out there talking to our clients about it. We need to really start banging the drum.