Group Risk Research 2011: Sponsor’s comment: Reducing sickness absence is a valuable achievement for all

Group income protection is proving its worth for both employers and employees in difficult times, says Declan White, group protection marketing manager at Friends Life

In February this year, the government called for a major review of the sickness absence system in the UK in order to help combat the 150 million days lost to sickness absence every year, as shown in the Department for Work and Pensions’ 2010 sickness absence review presentation.

The outcome of the review will be interesting to see, especially if the government looks to involve employers and the private sector more in the management of sickness absence. Group risk insurers continue to recognise the
issue of absence and have developed their propositions to provide an end-to-end service for employers that tackles not only long-term, but short-term absence as well.

Today, group income protection (GIP) insurers encourage early notification of sickness absence, which helps to get staff assessed and treated earlier to stop short-term absence becoming long-term. Many group risk insurers provide added-value services as part of their package to help reduce short-term sickness absence.

This could include employee assistance programmes, which provide preventative services ranging from health assessment tools to more proactive face-to-face counselling sessions. Other added-value services that may be offered include confidential nurse helplines, offering advice 24/7 on health-related issues.

If a member of staff continues to be absent from work, expert rehabilitation services are provided by insurers. Their expertise in rehabilitation has been developed over many years, with some insurers providing income protection benefits for more than 50 years.

Initially, insurers may provide assistance in how an employer can help meet their responsibilities under disability discrimination legislation. This may involve an employer making changes to the workplace, where it is reasonable to do so, to meet the needs of an incapacitated person.

In some cases, the insurer may pay for an employee’s treatment. This could be in the form of paying for operations, cognitive behavioural therapy, designing and funding rehabilitation programmes, and many more options.

This is all in addition to the insured benefit that is being paid for the period of absence. Insurers have further increased the flexibility of their contracts, introducing shorter payment periods and lump-sum payments to enable cover to be provided at an affordable price. This is especially relevant today with the uncertain economic times that all employers continue to face.

The outcome of the government’s review later this year may be to investigate further how the private sector and employers can help to reduce employee sickness absence. One suggestion proposed by group risk insurers is that employers that provide GIP could be given tax breaks.

Whatever the outcome of the review, employers that provide GIP have a valuable benefit for both their staff and themselves.

Read more Group Risk Research 2011