A sense of responsibility
The conversations my team have had with employee benefits consultants and financial advisers in recent months reflect the very human vulnerability that living through a pandemic has made us all feel. Human resources teams, managers and companies feel an increased, and genuine, responsibility to look after their people, and they want to know where people can get help when, not if, they need it.
The tools and services that come with group income protection have become even more important as a result. We’re getting regular questions about what early intervention does when an employee is ill, how it works, what vocational rehabilitation and return to work planning help is available, what employee assistance programmes offer and how employees can access them. As well as, ultimately, what happens if an employer needs to make a group income protection claim.
Mental health matters
No real surprise but one of the biggest conversations has been about managing mental health. Public campaigns have switched employers on to the wellbeing and mental health of their employees, likely compounded in a work-from-home scenario. We all took for granted our face-to-face social interaction with colleagues and the benefits this delivered for both people and business. Whether this was in a kitchen or corridor catch-up, you could quickly tell how someone was doing. But all of that’s changed, and changed the support we need.
Recent research by Bupa UK saw 82% of adults admit they had experienced at least one symptom of poor mental health during lockdown. If we’re honest, I’m sure every one of us has struggled at times. Finding ways to manage symptoms is a new experience for us all, especially when working in isolation. It requires a conscious effort to speak up and ask for help. So it’s not surprising that employers want to know how GIP providers can help with wellbeing, and make access as easy as possible.
Every group IP provider has tools that can help your clients, so please do ask providers for the documents or online materials that will explain to an employer the services their employees can use. Employee assistance schemes offer discrete practical and emotional support for employees Apps, like Lifeworks for example, allow an employer to push personalised content encouraging employee engagement and makes people feel supported. They can offer counselling sessions, podcasts, wellbeing articles through a smartphone or the web. They can also help with legal, financial, education and childcare issues. And with everyone’s eye on costs, they can provide product discounts and cashback services.
Our experience is there has been, and still is, huge demand for services that help with both employee and family wellbeing. There have now been over 6,000 uses of the Smart Health by AIG 24/7 phone and video UK GP service since its launch. Usage has doubled since lockdown and 60 per cent of appointments are for group scheme members or their family (as it can used for their kids too). They’re asking for appointments at all times of the day and week – one in six calls (16 per cent) took place at the weekend. And people are proactively asking for 1-on-1 conversations with a psychologist to discuss their mental health. Think how many more people we might help if all the employees we cover were aware of the services that we, and other insurers, provided?
Cost of loyalty
Where these services could really make a real impact, especially now, is among smaller businesses who are still missing out on both the insurance cover and access to support services. Statistics suggest well over 95 per cent of businesses with employees don’t have group IP cover. Yet small businesses in particular can ill-afford to have a member of their small team off sick for an extended period. A combination of early intervention support, a wide range of services and the financial security of the insurance should represent a powerful proposition for a small business, especially when added to the goodwill and loyalty that might come from offering employees help with their wellbeing when they really need it.
Cost is always an issue and part of conversations. The focus on this will only increase during a recession. Employers want to understand how the current crisis might impact future premiums as they worry there will be higher costs. Some might consider reducing the value and cost of the cover by moving to a limited term group IP plan. But that presents a challenge. Having done the right thing to show they care about employees during the pandemic, how might employees subsequently view their employer morally if they reduce their benefits?
With more restrictions likely over the winter while the pandemic continues, I would encourage every EBC and adviser to keep talking to providers about the ways we can help clients. I predict employers are going to need more help as employees struggle with mental and physical health issues during the winter, and will want more help to proactively improve employee engagement and wellbeing. Don’t hesitate to ask us for help. The conversation you have with clients about maximising the value they get from their group income protection could make a real difference to how they look after their employees during these next few tough months.