How group risk benefits can support good mental health

Need to know:

  • Group income protection plans may include employee assistance programmes (EAPs), digital GP services and other mental health supportĀ at no extra cost to premiums.
  • Employers should familiarise themselves with, and communicate effectively, the add-on benefits a group risk plan may offer.
  • Employers need to re-communicate any mental health support services on offer during the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.

There is more to group risk policies than the standard trio of income protection, life assurance and critical illness insurance of yesteryear. Group risk insurers now offer added-value products under each insurance policy including those that benefit mental health under the group income protection (GIP) umbrella.

Katherine Moxham, spokesperson at industry body Group Risk Development (Grid), explains: Over the years, providers have realised claims on these products are not made every day and some employees will never make a claim. Over the last 10 years, services have changed and provide extra services that compliment what [insurers] are offering, but also give employers, line managers and employees something they can use everyday.”

With mental health issues on the increase, it is no surprise that group risks providers are putting in preventative measures. According to the Mental health 2019 report by theĀ Prince’s Responsible Network in sponsorship with Mercer Marsh Benefits, published in November 2019, almost a third (30%) of the UK workforce have been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime.

Glenn Thompson, customer solutions director at Unum, says:Mental health is just as vital as physical health and a clear part of our income protection offering; 40% of those who use our rehab services do so for mental health issues. We strongly believe that mental health can have a significant impact on employees and also employers which have not been able to control and support employees through physical periods of mental health issues.”

The value of preventative measures

Intervention is better than cure when it comes to any health issues, and fast access to key services, in this case mental health support, will keep the need for claims to a minimum.

David Williams, head of group risk at Towergate Health and Protection, says: “We see [an income protection plan] as a rehabilitation policy. Early interventions are one of the most crucial elements of any income protection policy. There are a whole spectrum of services available to an employer and employee. We are seeing increased awareness of what employers are looking for and clear navigation through what is becoming a crowded space.”

Added-value products already on offer

Employers may have an increased awareness as to what benefits they want to include within a mental health strategy but may not be fully aware of the additional benefits that can be utilised through their group risk portfolio. GIP insurers offer a number of add-on benefits that are designed to assist with mental health issues.

“A lot more resources have been put intoĀ group risk plans now and insurers have websites that can direct employees to professional guides that come from professional bodies such as [mental health charity] Mind,” explains Williams. “Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) pretty much have the majority of information needed when it comes to mental health support services, which includes helplines, counselling sessions.”

Other services, such as app-based GP consultations, include products that are not considered in a traditional EAP, such as nutrition and and fitness advice, both of which support mental health. “All of those softer benefits are very helpful at keeping people on track and keeping them healthy in mind [during the Covid-19 lockdown],” says Williams.

Group risk benefits may also include resources for HR teams such as guidance, legal advice and a draft handbook educating line managers on how to deal with any mental health issues. “Employees might need extra help dealing with mediation for all sorts of situations, second medical opinions, access to a nurse or to online GP services, which are being used a lot at the moment, and increasingly access to apps and tips to help benefit mental health and behaviours,” says Moxham.

Effectively communicating group risk mental health benefits

With employees being inundated with benefit information, particularly as a new starter, staff may have lost sight as to what is on offer by their organisation and disregard anything except the main policy that they signed up for.

In light of the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, employers need to find new ways of communicating mental health benefits, says Eugene Farrell, chair of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association and mental halth lead at AXA PPP Healthcare,. “Increasingly remote working is becoming popular, which is always a challenge, but when the entire population is working remotely, employers have to get creative around the messages they send, sometimes it might need to be quirky or personal,” he explains.

Keeping track of employees while they are working virtually is a challenge but not impossible, Farrell adds. “We were on a trajectory to a digital world but this has accelerated it. There will still be a place for telephone conversations as well as face-to-face video calls, and other platforms such as live chat and online.”Ā 

Looking after the Covid-19 generationĀ 

Mental health strategies have blossomed within the last decade and they are now more important than ever. It is almost certain that some employees’ mental health has been impacted by the current pandemic, with more cases expected to suffer from returning-to-work anxiety.

“We are currently supporting employees through bereavement, loss and isolation [due to the pandemic],” says Farrell. “Working from home and the complications that arise due to homeschooling or working with a partner around the kitchen table, can also cause stress. Weā€™re not used to it. When youā€™re forced into these situations and canā€™t interact with people, EAPs are somewhere to run to.”

The knock-on effect of the pandemic will continue long after employees return to work, adds Farrell. “Employees may have had near death experiences in hospital,” he says. “Employees may also be suffering from unresolved grief. People canā€™t grieve properly if they can’t give [their loved ones] the proper send off they deserve. There will be a surge in the usage of mental health support services for a long time to come.”

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