Group Risk: Sponsor’s comment

Employees must be made aware of all the benefits of group income protection, says Declan White, head of group protection strategy and marketing at Friends Life

Today’s group income protection (GIP) policies provide more than a replacement income. They also help employers to prevent and manage absence, and maintain a fit and productive workforce. The importance of integrating GIP into an absence management policy and communicating its benefits is key in helping employers to reduce staff absence and demonstrate the true value of GIP.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (Sickness absence in the UK labour market, published May 2012) show an improving trend in absence levels in the UK, but about 131 million working days were still lost to sickness absence in 2011. The greatest loss of working days was due to musculoskeletal issues such as back pain, with 34.4 million days lost. Minor illnesses, such as colds and flu, accounted for 27.5 million days being lost, with mental health issues accounting for 13.1 million days.

GIP policies have developed over the years to help address both short and long-term absence. GIP is no longer seen as just a long-term absence insurance, but through all the services it provides, it can now be viewed as a key part of an employer’s shortand long-term absence management approach.

Today’s GIP offerings are designed to help prevent people going off sick by providing employee and employer assistance programmes that offer services such as health assessment tools and face-to-face counselling. Other benefits include confidential nurse helplines, which offer advice on health-related issues and can be accessed 24/7.

If an employee continues to be absent, early intervention rehabilitation services are provided by insurers to help them back to health and then back to work. For those who are off sick for the longer term, a replacement income is provided.

To maximise the benefits of GIP, it is important for it to be embedded in an employer’s absence management policy. Line managers are the first line of support in understanding why an employee is absent and it is imperative they are aware of the existence of GIP and the services it provides. This will help to minimise absence in the first place and maximise the likelihood of someone returning to work by ensuring appropriate support is provided.

Also, the government has recently introduced changes to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) under the Welfare Reform Act 2012 as part of its programme of getting people back into work and off benefits. The changes will see a fundamental shift in who gets some state benefits for sickness absence and for how long. Improved communication of GIP benefits to staff will not only help with the management of absence, but will raise the profile of the benefit for staff retention and future recruitment.

GIP continues to be a valuable benefit for helping to manage short and long-term absence. It is key to integrate it into an absence management policy and ensure line managers are aware of the services it offers. Communication of the benefits provided by GIP will help to ensure employees really see its value, particularly in light of the recent changes to state provision.

Read more from the Employee Benefits group risk supplement 2012