How can employers raise awareness of the value of group risk benefits?

Need to know:

  • Group risk benefits provide critical financial support when employees need it most.
  • Many group risk policies offer valuable add-on benefits such as virtual GP services and employee assistance programmes, but employees need to be aware that these are available through their employer.
  • In difficult circumstances, such as the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, these benefits can provide vital support but employers must ensure they are regularly promoted.

Sadly it is not surprising to read that in the first half of 2021 alone more group life benefits relating to Covid-19 (Coronavirus) were paid out than in the whole of 2020.

These benefits supported 1,218 families of employees who died from Coronavirus in the first half of this year, according to research published by Group Risk Development (Grid) in August.

The huge impact that the virus continues to have on people’s lives highlights the importance of offering valuable financial support when it is most needed. But how many employees are aware of the exact support available to them, and in which circumstances they can access it?

Pillars of protection

Group risk is designed to provide critical support when employees need it most, and each product plays a specific role. Group life insurance will offer valuable monetary support to an employee’s family in event of their death; group income protection will cover an employee’s salary if they are unable to work due to illness or injury, and critical illness will provide a lump sum on diagnosis of certain serious illnesses or disabilities.

David Williams, head of group risk at Towergate Health and Protection, breaks it down further: “The general premise for group risk [benefits] is that they are designed to cover the three main pillars of protection that employees look for: physical protection, mental health protection and financial protection.

“Income protection provides the most useful day-to-day services. Life insurance and critical illness are both fairly reactionary policies. There are services around those policies that support staff, but not as comprehensive as in the income protection policies, which is where we see all three of those protection pillars – physical, mental and financial – supported, in one sense or another.”

These services on top of the main policies are schemes which provide additional help to employees, such as 24/7 virtual GP services or employee assistance programmes (EAPs), and in many cases support a preventative approach.

Vanessa Sallows, claims and governance director at Legal and General, explains the importance of looking at preventative measures to help employees remain healthy and well in the workplace. “Our provision is centered on the key themes of ‘be well, get better, be supported’. Our wellbeing framework has mental health as the foundation, because ultimately, our mental health impacts everything,” she says. “What we want is for employees to take control and manage their own wellbeing, but with the support that is provided.”

Staff engagement

It’s all well and good an employer providing these valuable benefits and add-on services that offer both preventative measures and financial support, but if employees aren’t aware of them, of course they won’t get utilised. The pandemic has highlighted many issues that weren’t as prevalent prior to early 2020, such as the accessibility of GPs and availability of mental health support; but it has also opened up the opportunity for employers to demonstrate all the support available through the workplace. “There are plenty of instances where benefits can be used to help people; the EAP is something that would have been useful certainly over the period of the pandemic. Things like virtual GP appointments would have been useful. These are add ons that employees might not necessarily know they get along with their insurance,” says Robin Dargie, senior consultant at Quantum. “Getting regular awareness to employees is something that is definitely beneficial.”

That awareness of, and engagement with, a benefit can take different forms; employees like to be communicated with in different ways and a multi-channel approach is best for most employers. “Typically, with a hybrid-working model in place, having posters on the wall in the office isn’t going to work if [the employer] has staff working at home,” says Clare Lusted, head of propositions at MetLife. “It’s really important to have regular reminders, not just when the insurance review comes up at the end of the year, keep reminding employees that they’ve got access to these kinds of services and also reminding them that the support that they can access is confidential.”

Sometimes the wording and jargon associated benefits can be disengaging; insurance isn’t always the most appealing word. But employers can easily break down the value provided by group risk benefits into more interesting soundbites in order to engage employees and encourage take up.

“One thing that I’ve noticed is how easy it is to baffle employees with too much information about benefits because they switch off after a while,” says Williams. “So if [an employer] is trying to promote every single service that [they have] in a 117-page benefits booklet, [they are] going to lose everybody. The ones that do it correctly might have 17-pages worth of benefits information in bite-sized chunks, along with new features on their intranet sites. That bite sized drip-feeding of information is a good way of keeping the benefits front and centre in the employee’s mind.”

Sallows points to the use of video case studies and colleagues talking about their lived experiences to help employees better understand group risk benefits. “It is about making sure that we all take ownership for our own wellbeing and our own health, but also for our insurance, providing that financial support for our loved ones,” she says. “Lived experiences, case studies and stories really highlighting what happens to an individual’s family, should they sadly pass away and what happens to an individual who can’t work, and all of the support that is then provided to that member but also to the family, that really brings it home.”