The role of rehabilitation benefits in a group risk strategy

Rehabilitation benefits can help both an organisation’s productivity and employee engagement levels and aid an employee’s recovery, but they should be clearly built into a group risk strategy.


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  • Employees need to be made aware of the rehabilitation benefits that can assist their recovery and return to work.
  • Employers should treat each case on an individual basis.
  • Occupational health services, counselling and cancer support can help an employee return to work.

A survey, published by Bupa in January 2015, of adults who returned to work after completing cancer treatment found that 22% felt pressured to return to work straight after finishing treatment. There needs to be a balance between encouraging employees to return to work at a reasonable pace and not pressuring them to do so. They also need to be made aware of the benefits their employer offers and how they can access them.

According to Britain’s healthiest company report published by Pruhealth (now VitalityHealth) in February 2014, unhealthy employees at work are 53% more likely to suffer presenteeism, and 55% more likely to have poorer productivity compared with their healthier counterparts.

This highlights the importance of how rehabilitation benefits that are clearly integrated in a group risk strategy can help employers and staff better manage incidences of illness or injury that require the individual to take time off work.

Sharon Tebb, compensation and benefits manager at law firm Withers, says: “Fit and healthy employees are more productive, engaged and loyal. Most people who have been away from work due to an illness or accident are keen to bring some normality and routine back to their lives as soon as possible. Getting back to work is one of the steps that helps accomplish this.”

Rehabilitation benefits

Each incident and employee is different, and may require different services or programmes. Rehabilitation benefits can include services such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs), 24-hour GP helplines, occupational health services, online assessments, dedicated cancer support teams and physiotherapy services.

Further support can come from training managers, for example with stress or depression management training, first-aid training and resilience training. These can help a manager recognise symptoms of mental health issues, for example, and can then signpost the employee to the most appropriate source of treatment.    

Tom Gaynor, employee benefits director at group risk provider MetLife, believes some aspects need to be included in all rehabilitation programmes. “Vocational rehabilitation consultants, briefings with co-workers or home visits can help employers work out how to best treat the employee returning,” he says. ”It’s that kind of compassionate approach that needs to be put into place.”

Working with employees face to face can also have a powerful effect on their rehabilitation. Katharine Moxham, spokesperson at industry body Group Risk Development (Grid), says: “It is important for policies to include face-to-face elements, such as counselling, for a more sustainable return-to-work programme that identifies and assists employees’ individual requirements.

“Personalised aspects work well with rehabilitating staff; people need to be treated as individuals. There is no generalised one-size-fits-all approach. What is vital to one employee may be of absolutely no interest to another.”

Withers’ Tebb agrees that to successfully rehabilitate staff back to work, they need to be treated as individuals. “Each case needs to be assessed individually,” she says. “Any good HR professional will be mindful that we are not medical professionals, and will be fully aware of the importance of working closely with, and taking guidance from, such professionals to ensure the best outcome.”

A structured return-to-work programme will help an employee get back into working life, with the aim of reducing any pressure they might feel after being away for a period of time. According to Stuart Lewis, head of claims at MetLife, this is one of the most effective ways of rehabilitating employees. “If employers break down the role of the employee returning into tasks, it will ease them back into a routine,” he says. “This way, their return is less likely to affect them or their colleagues.”

Early intervention is key

Around 960,000 workers take sick leave lasting a month or more annually, according to the Long-term sickness absence analysis, published in February 2014 by the Department for Work and Pensions. This further emphasises the need for an employer to ensure staff are aware of the rehabilitation benefits that are provided in a group risk strategy.

Early intervention, or diagnosis of a condition, can be invaluable in aiding an employee’s recovery and subsequent return to work. Moxham says: “Identifying and dealing with illness early helps employees and the workplace no end, but it’s important for employers to recognise who in their organisation needs to carry out which rehabilitation duties.”

Employers must determine the benefits and services most suited to their workforce to help with rehabilitation. “Employers need to work with their provider, employees and line managers, but the employee undergoing the treatment will understand their requirements better than anyone,” says Moxham.

Taking a preventative approach to healthcare can also help when an individual might need rehabilitation services. Peter Blencowe, managing director of healthcare provider Bluecrest Wellness, says: “Something like health screening can be used as the basis for a better understanding of staff needs, and to reduce workplace health risks and the costs associated with long-term absenteeism. 

“It’s not enough just to identify workers’ health problems; there needs to tailored advice and signposting to what comes next.”

Employers should also consider the effects that an employee on long-term sick leave, or one going through a return to work, can have on colleagues. Gaynor says: “Rehabilitation demonstrates to employees not involved in the absence that their workplace has a positive culture. Good rehabilitation also results in employees being off work for a shorter time than expected, which saves on employers’ costs.

“Rehabilitation needs to be there if employees need it, and to make them feel valued if they don’t.”

Case study: Hertfordshire County Council offers rehabilitation benefits to help control absence rates


Hertfordshire County Council aims to improve employee absence rates by offering rehabilitation benefits to all 10,000 employees.

The council offers benefits such as an onsite occupational health unit and rapid referrals from line managers, which also help the organisation to understand underlying issues or changes in an employee’s illness. The employee is then referred to their GP and contacted by their line manager bi-weekly.

Each case is treated on an individual basis, so the rapidity of the process will differ according to each employee’s needs, says Celeste Igolen-Robinson, HR manager at Hertfordshire County Council. “Employees requiring rehabilitation are always given health review meetings and referrals, but it is always dependent on their situation,” she explains. ”However, issues such as stress and musculoskeletal injuries always have immediate referrals.”

The council’s rehabilitation benefits also include reduced working hours, phased returns to work or working from home or a different site. An internal study, conducted in 2014, found that musculoskeletal-related absences decreased by 1,000 between February 2014 and January 2015.

In part, this is due to a targeted intervention programme with physiotherapy sessions offered to workers in physical roles such as catering.

The council has a clear strategy for helping employees return to work. Igolen-Robinson says: “We hold return-to-work meetings on the employee’s first day back, along with a risk assessment to help manage the process of their return through reasonable adjustments.”

It also has a policy that staff are not paid for the first two days they require off work due to illness. This was introduced in 2012 to help reduce absenteeism.

Of the 52 cases of long-term sickness absence that Hertfordshire County Council experienced in 2014, 31 employees returned to work and 21 retired because of ill health, resignation or dismissal.

The council also revamped its rehabilitation and group risk strategy in 2010 to make this clearer to staff.

Igolen-Robinson says: “Rehabilitation benefits boost morale, show employers support their staff and reduce recruitment costs.”


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