Employers are seriously underestimating the chances of their workforce being affected by serious illness or bereavement in the year ahead, according to new research.
The survey by Group Risk Development (GRiD), the industry body for the group risk protection sector, found a significant disparity in the number of these cases HR professionals have dealt with over the past year, and the number of cases they expect to see in the year ahead.
For example, figures show more than three out of four HR professionals at larger employers (76 per cent) have dealt with an employee being absent for six months or longer, but the perceived likelihood of doing this again in the next 12 months is just 60 per cent.
It is a similar picture with bereavement. Nearly four in five (78 per cent) HR professionals have supported a member of staff through bereavement, but only 65 per cent expect they will need to do this in the year ahead.
Further gaps in perception exist when HRs were asked about mental health issues, the likelihood of staff being diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer or stroke, and also in dealing with the death of an employee.
Grid spokesperson Katharine Moxham says: “Statistics clearly show the likelihood of employees being affected by serious issues.”
As she points out figures from the cancer charity Macmillan show that 125,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer every year; Mind’s figures show 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year, while ONS data shows that 16 per cent of people who died in 2017 were of working age.
She adds: “Employers need to realise that just because they’ve dealt with a serious incident with one employee, it unfortunately does not mean that they are in some way immune from it happening again.
“Indeed, larger organisations, and those with a specific demographic bias, may find themselves repeatedly dealing with a similar scenario for individuals within their workforce.”
Grid also warns that each serious scenario should not be viewed in isolation, as clearly some are interlinked: for instance, a serious illness, long-term illness, or death of a loved one or colleague can lead to a mental health issue.
Moxham adds that group risk products can help provide this support for employees and their families. As well as enabling employers to provide a financial lifeline to staff, many products also include added-value services, such as access to an employee assistance programme (EAP), bereavement support, help with probate, fast access to counselling, vocational rehabilitation and even support for improving health & wellbeing.