What role do group risk benefits play in reducing employee absence?

Need to know:

  • Employers should check their group risk policy to see if they are able to access pre-existing support services as part of their insurance policy.
  • Group risk insurance premiums will go down if an employer has a present, healthy workforce, encouraging organisations to look at ways of keeping staff well. 
  • Support products should be incorporated into a wider wellbeing strategy and approach to organisational culture.

While group risk remains an integral part of a benefits package, wellbeing and preventative benefits are becoming an increasingly popular focus for employers. Rather than moving away from group risk as part of this trend, it is important to remember that there is a synergy between the two. 

Most employers and providers understand the added value of proactively encouraging good health among employees, not least because this can lead to a decrease in group insurance claims and a reduction in long-term sickness absence. Most group risk benefits will, in fact, incorporate preventative support for just this reason. 

Paul Avis, marketing director at Canada Life, says: “There is a big industry discussion about whether the value of group risk benefits is the financial element, or whether it’s the support services that can be used daily without being a claim and provide significant support should the worst happen, too.”

The right health track 

Group risk benefits are most cost-effective, from the perspective of both the employer and provider, if sickness levels are down and they are rarely used, but how can these products be used, themselves, to conquer sickness absence in the first place?

Mark Witte, principal at Aon, says: “Health and wellbeing is broken down into four phases. At the very outset, understanding what impact our day-to-day lives have on our health is key. Emotional and physical things can both impact our overall health.

“The second and third phases are all about detection, and fast-tracking employees into getting treatment to avoid long-term absences, and then at the head of the spectrum is treating an employee that is really unwell and unable to work in the long term. Then we need to find them support, whether that is medical or financial.”

The aim is to put staff on the right pathway to good health, says Jack Curzon, consulting director at Thomsons Online Benefits. “If an employee is off on long-term sickness, it’s about getting them on track to short-term absence, then moving them to not being at risk of being sick at all. And if employees are at risk of being off sick, it’s about keeping them well. It’s also about understanding that different things work for different people.”

Getting the most value

With group risk providers increasingly offering a number of added-value services, this is a good time for employers to find a deal that not only covers the basics, but also incorporates benefits that can help staff avoid long-term sick leave. 

Charles Cotton, senior reward and pay adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), says: “Organisations should be prepared to shop around to get the best deal. They should also be able to demonstrate how they support their people to lead healthy lives, which should bring down their premium.

“Group risk used to mainly focus on income protection and life insurance, but now providers are offering more and more added-value support services, including employee assistance programmes [EAPs], fast-track access to counselling and physiotherapy sessions, mediation and bereavement support. This is to give value for money and can help to avoid ill health or prevent conditions from worsening,”

In addition to EAPs, virtual GPs and second medical opinion services can all help employees access the right treatment or advice as quickly as possible. “EAPs, which have morphed over the years from being a counseling crisis service into work-life and productivity services, can get employees help with things that distract [them] from their day-to-day work,” says Avis. “GP services, which can be Skyped or face-to-face, are really useful. Sometimes, it takes a month to get an appointment with an NHS GP.”

Incorporating wellbeing strategy

The support services provided by group risk products are not the only benefits to hand that can work effectively in preventing sickness absence, and employers should consider these as part of a larger whole. 

As Cotton says: “There are a wide range of benefits employers can offer which help them take a preventative approach when it comes to the health and wellbeing of their staff.

“They also need to look at the design of their organisation, its work and jobs, to ensure that roles and tasks can be carried out in the easiest way possible, minimising any detrimental impact on health and wellbeing.”

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