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We will help you get the greatest value from the benefits provided; this could be helping you understand what is on offer, making claims and guidance on any other queries you may have.

Unquestionably, COVID-19 has been a game changer in many aspects, including the way we work. Offices, shops, factories, restaurants, hairdressers (the list goes on) have been forced to close and those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home have had to adapt very quickly to a new way of working.

Businesses have adopted new remote and virtual ways of working and you have to wonder whether we will ever return to the “normal” we knew before the pandemic struck.

Whilst it may have taken some getting used to, I think on the whole people have shown that they can be just as effective (if not more so) than if they were in the office. This is my personal observation from speaking to colleagues, clients and friends though I know I don’t speak for everyone. Working from home certainly has brought its own challenges. There are pros and cons of working remotely, some of the key points are as follows though this is by no means an exhaustive list:

Pros

  • Greater flexibility
  • Improved work-life balance
  • Lack of commuting, travel to meetings (saving time and money)

Cons

  • Can be difficult to ‘switch off’ from work
  • Tendency to work longer hours, due to lack of travel etc
  • Distractions (children, pets, partners!) – I feel for those who are currently juggling a full time job, and home schooling their children, this must be a real challenge

There is no doubt that businesses will need to try and be flexible where possible, when it comes to planning for the new world of working. This is an opportunity to re-evaluate previous working practises and develop a new innovative approach which works for both the company and its employees. Wellbeing has to play a key part in such plans and that’s why, for me, it is so important that businesses ask employees for their feedback and opinions on what they would like the new working environment to look like in future.

Lots of things to consider, and no doubt many firms are already hard at work with their plans. It will be very interesting to see how things develop over the coming months.

On a personal level, I would like a mix of remote working and time in the office. I like working  from home but I do miss the face to face interaction and that team ethos you get when you are in the office. Teams and Zoom are great, but there is no substitute for actual human interaction!

One in four people with a mental health problem are also in debt. This is backed up by research undertaken by the charity ‘Money and Mental Health Policy Institute’, which showed that people with mental health issues are 3.5 times more likely to be in problem debt, than those without mental health problems. This research also revealed that nearly half (46%) of all people in problem debt also experience a mental health problem.

Finances can be such a taboo subject and whilst some of us are often happy to show people that we look wealthy on the outside, we are not necessarily as happy discussing our finances and the fact that we may not actually be able to afford our lifestyles.

I listened to an interesting Podcast recently on this subject, which was hosted by group risk provider Unum. The Podcast can be found at https://www.podbean.com/ew/pb-xizxt-f52cb8 and is well worth a listen. They pointed out how easy it is to make poor financial choices with contactless payments, buy now pay later options and the Klarna banking company all being examples of how we can be encouraged to spend irresponsibly. Many of us are not taught about money from a young age and as there are so many credit facilities available to us (which are very often easy to access), many of us have debts.

Debt can cause, and be caused by, mental health problems. It is easy to ‘bury your head in the sand’ and ignore debts. However, clearly this will just make the situation worse and potentially have an even bigger impact on your state of mind. Debt can make you feel depressed or guilty, maybe even hopeless, but it isn’t something people should be ashamed of. There are lots of options available when it comes to tackling debt but the first step should be to talk to someone you trust, which could be  hugely beneficial and help elevate some stress and take some of the weight from your shoulders.

It’s safe to say that the pandemic has had a significant impact on both people’s finances and mental health, and the need for financial education and mental health support is greater than ever. These are areas that myself and the team at Wingate are passionate about and I have certainly seen, from discussions with my clients, that both of these areas are also high on the agenda for employers.

There are lots of good options available, for employer’s to help support their staff when it comes to financial and mental wellbeing. If you would like to discuss this in more detail please do get in touch.

 

Freddie Flintoff recently publicised his struggle with bulimia. Jesy Nelson from Little Mix has been open about dealing with poor mental health. ‘The Rock’ Dwayne Johnson has talked about his feelings of isolation when dealing with depression.

When such public figures talk about how poor mental health has affected them, it demonstrates that no-one is immune. Research from mental health charity Mind shows that one in four people will experience a mental health problem each year.

Of course, it’s not just the individual that’s affected, it can also affect those around them: their family, loved ones, colleagues and employers.

Effect on the business

It’s no surprise then that mental health has been rising up the corporate agenda. The Health and Safety Executive reported that work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 54% of working days lost in 2018/19.

The recent pandemic will exacerbate matters for many, with uncertainty, restrictions on socialising, and being isolated from colleagues all causing anxiety; and the effects will be very much felt by employers.

Employer responsibility

Forward-thinking employers have embraced this challenge, and the majority now see it as their responsibility to support the mental health of their workforce: 75% of employers, according to research from GRiD, the industry body for the group risk industry.

It’s not entirely altruistic, the same research showed that 81% of employers saw it as good for their business to support the mental wellbeing of staff. Not only did it help them reduce the length and number of absences and mean quicker returns to work, it also increased productivity.

Employers also said the very act of having a policy in place to support mental wellbeing demonstrated the company cares for staff which increases loyalty, engagement, recruitment and retention.

This is backed up by what employees say too. Research by Legal & General showed that only 29% of employees would stay with their present employer if they were offered the same job with a competitor who offered comprehensive mental health support.

So the business case for supporting mental wellbeing is clear.

Support exists

It’s all very well employers taking responsibility, but it can be a challenge to know what that looks like in practice. A challenge increased by the fact that it isn’t always evident who might need help. As the cases of high-profile celebrities demonstrate, people can be adept at seemingly being fine.

The good news is, there are a lot of solutions available for employers to offer help. Providers continually enhance their propositions, and support is wide and comprehensive, covering a myriad of issues.

Specialists can be on hand to provide help for serious concerns from gambling and addictions to post traumatic stress disorder.

Access to 24/7 helplines can be provided, offering employees support on matters from work-related stress to dealing with neighbour disputes.

Professional counselling can be provided, and even in-patient care when needed. Help can also be extended to dependants.

Support can be standalone, or as part of company healthcare or protection policies. It’s also quite possible that many companies have access to such benefits within existing schemes they already have in place without realising.

So many schemes include access to mental health support, and employers are unaware. So it’s vital that businesses review what they have, so they – and their employees – can utilise it.

It’s also important to remember not all support is the same. Some schemes offer a light touch, limited service, others are more comprehensive. So it’s important to know what’s really included, how it compares, and – most importantly – what’s going to be of most benefit to your particular company and workforce.

Lockdown is challenging in so many ways but it really has made me realise how important it is to keep active. We sit when we work, we sit when we drive a car, we sit when we get on public transport, we sit when we watch tv, the list goes on. I listened to a webinar recently where the speakers likened lack of movement to be the new smoking, which was really thought provoking and highlighted the importance of this topic. Whilst everyone is aware of how bad smoking is for our health, inactivity is also a big issue and not getting enough exercise can lead to a host of health problems both physically and mentally.

I know plenty of people are very active and I see social media posts about 10 mile runs at 5am (I wish I was that disciplined!!) There are however many of us who don’t move nearly enough, which has a huge impact on both our physical and mental health and wellbeing. The diagram below (taken from Gov.uk) was uploaded in October 2019, so prior to the pandemic. However, it illustrates the benefits physical activity has on our health and the figures are powerful to say the least:

Source: Public Health England

Let’s face it, the modern world doesn’t encourage us to be mobile and it’s all about convenience (drive throughs, online food delivery etc). During lockdown, we need to be more creative about activity. Below are some suggestions on how to get yourself moving more:

Stand up

Since you are stuck in the four walls of home even for work, make sure you try and do it standing up. You burn on average of 50 calories more per hour by standing. If you stand for 3 hours per day, five days per week, it adds up to 750 calories burned. In a year that adds up to 30,000 calories, which is almost 9 pounds. This is the equivalent of around 10 marathons per year!!

Place your laptop on a high table and stand for a while as you do your work. Take a work conference call whilst walking around the house, and make sure you take regular breaks away from your screen. The more you stand the more activity your body gets.

Work out

Gyms may be closed but we have so there are so many other ways we can keep fit. Whether it’s walking, running, or trying out one of the many workout videos which are being posted online. Try and find a routine that suits you best and dedicate at least 20 to 30 minutes daily to exercise.

Set realistic goals

Don’t throw yourself straight into a 10 mile run if you haven’t been running in a couple of years, start smaller and then work your way up.

Stretch

We can all do simple stretch and rotation movements in our homes or outside, to make sure we keep mobile. This, alongside being active, will help reduce the risk of back problems, shoulder pain, neck issues, headaches, not to mention our mental wellbeing.

Being more active during my working week is certainly one of my new year’s resolutions. This has never been more important, given the difficult times were are all currently going through.

If you would like to discuss this topic further, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

The pandemic has had a huge impact on the way we live and work and many employees are still working from home. We are in lockdown again and this time we don’t have the sunshine as a consolation. Some of us may be dealing with possible job losses within the family, having to shield loved ones, or having to provide home schooling. Winter is nearly upon us and for these reasons and more, employees may well feel isolated.

Since March, many employers have responded by putting more focus on promoting mental wellbeing and supporting employee engagement to make sure nobody feels alone.

There are lots of initiatives an employer can introduce, such as providing training for appointed employees to become mental health first aiders. They can then be the first point of contact to support staff who may be experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress.

Mental health webinars would be another great addition, these are readily available and generally free of charge. Such webinars can provide employees with valuable information and tips on how to maintain their wellbeing, especially as we go into winter where isolation naturally occurs.

I think the majority of us have become accustomed to virtual meetings through platforms like Zoom and Teams. These have proven to be such valuable tools for business but it’s important to utilise these for social purposes too. We all miss going out for a team lunch, or a trip to the pub. Let’s hope we can get back to these in the not too distant future, but in the meantime we can make use of these online platforms to help create an inclusive environment for all for things like a virtual breakfast, a Friday quiz, an after work drink or maybe just a general catch up. The social element cannot be forgotten in these difficult times, we need this to bring our colleagues together.

Physical wellbeing is also so important, especially for those with busy sedentary jobs. It can be challenging to take yourself away from your PC/laptop to get that all important dose of daily exercise. Employers can promote healthy activities, perhaps a running ‘club’ or a challenge to achieve a certain number of daily steps. Communications to encourage hydration and health eating habits would also be a great way to promote physical wellbeing.

The challenges we have all faced over the last few months mean that employers need to make sure their employees feel supported and connected to the organisation and more importantly, each other. This is essential to make sure no one feels isolated, especially with those cold, dark days ahead.

If you would like to discuss your wellbeing strategy please do get in touch.

 

Undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic has caused real disruption to the Private Healthcare industry. Back in March/April there was concern that the NHS could be overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 related hospital admissions. In order to prepare for the huge strain on health services, the government needed to maximise the number of beds that can offer ventilation and intensive support, and the available healthcare professionals who can help. The NHS therefore enlisted the help of the private sector to help the national effort to fight the virus.

We feel at this time of national crisis this approach was right, and the responsible response to an unprecedented situation to help the nation fight the virus.  This however has had an impact on those with private medical insurance.

What impact has this had on private medical insurance?

The pandemic has led to a drop in privately funded care as non-urgent elective procedures have been subject to postponement. This means there have been a proportion of customer claims which have been temporarily deferred. Insurance providers have continued to authorise treatment to ensure treatment can be accessed as quickly as possible when services return to some sort of normality.

What benefits have remained in place throughout the pandemic?

Urgent and time-critical care, such as cancer treatment, has still been treated as a matter of priority. Virtual and 24 hour telephone services have also been available through many insurers, enabling members access to care through GP’s, musculoskeletal (bone, joint, and muscle) clinicians and mental health practitioners, all from the comfort and safety of their homes.

What have insurers done to help support customers?

The market has responded to the challenges the pandemic has brought about. This has varied between insurers but below are some examples of how they have supported their customers and members:

  • Premium payment deferrals and discounts for those who in financial hardship
  • Excess waivers for those who have had treatment delayed, which has resulted in the start of a new policy year whereby a new excess would usually apply
  • Enhancement of virtual/digital services to support health and wellbeing
  • Specific COVID-19 cashback benefit for members who require a hospital stay due to coronavirus

The market has stated that they are not looking to profit from the pandemic. Some providers have spoken about premium rebates/cash back, though this is not likely to materialise until next year when the impact of COVID-19 becomes clearer.

What is the current position?

Thankfully, the NHS have not been overwhelmed to date and this has resulted in some facilities being returned to the private sector. Whilst things are certainly not back to ‘normal’, some non-urgent elective procedures are now taking place. Therefore, private medical insurance policies are starting to see more claims being put through though it is interesting to note that the UK is seeing people defer treatment due to a lack of confidence, as a result of COVID-19.

As it is so important for some people to get treatment, especially for serious conditions such as cancer, If anyone holding private medical insurance needs to make a claim, they should call the insurer’s claims team and they will be able to confirm treatment availability and discuss options.

The situation has developed constantly over the last few months and no doubt will continue to do so over the coming months. I will certainly be keeping a close eye on developments and if you would like to discuss this topic in more detail, please do get in touch.

Employers can help with the emotional wellbeing of their staff whilst working at home

The instant Working at Home revolution has shown how adaptable the UK work force can be when required. We are all embracing new ways of working with technology, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom to stay in touch with clients and colleagues.

But how is the nation coping with Working at Home (WAH) and how can you as an employer help with the emotional wellbeing of your staff?

A new survey has started to be conducted by the Institute of Employment Studies to look at the effect of the COVID-19 crisis and how thousands of employees who are now WAH are dealing with impact of this change on their physical & emotional wellbeing, their morale and their motivation.

The main message so far from employees:

• Significant increase in muscular aches and pains in 2 weeks
• Poor sleep & increased fatigue
• Alcohol increase and diet & exercise declining for many
• Emotional concerns over finance, isolation, energy, work-life balance & family health
• Work motivation holding up for most, especially if in regular contact with the boss

The main message so far for employers:

• Make sure home ‘office’ set-up is safe and ergonomic & that employees are mobile & taking exercise
• Provide mental health support via informal messaging groups, virtual coffee mornings, access to Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and regular contact with bosses & colleagues
• Focus on ‘high risk’ groups – identifying employees with financial concerns, those with elderly relatives to care for, those struggling to adjust, those prone to feelings of isolation, those at risk of domestic abuse
• Rethink performance targets & monitoring, involve employees in decisions about reorganising work and reallocating tasks & priorities

One good statistic is that 83% of homeworkers are reporting contact with their boss up to five times a week. 64% said there was an EAP available to them to provide advice and support. However, the question is around the quality of the contact from line managers and the support being offered.

Employers can start by using simple surveys such as The World Health Organisation- Five Well-Being Index (WHO-5), to help maintain contact with employees and assess how they are coping with the new working environment to help employers identify any employees who are showing signs of depression. The only drawback with this approach is that not all employees will admit to employers that they are struggling.

Where an EAP can help

EAPs can help employees by providing a place to talk over issues, fears, emotions and concerns. Fast access to specialist counsellors is available 24/7 and depending on the quality of your EAP, further support can be arranged in the form of counselling sessions.

In the current climate of coronavirus, social distancing means that there is no face to face counselling, but digital and telephone counselling can work just as well in helping to tackle emotional issues.

EAPs can also provide legal and financial information from specialists and partners. They can help with debt, legislation changes and new benefit rules, providing information that may alleviate some of the fear and stress that this pandemic is bringing to employee.

At Wingate, we can help you establish if you have a good quality EAP already in place and if you do, we can look at effective communication strategies for you to ensure your employees are aware of the EAP, what it covers and how to access help through it.

You may feel that in these challenging times it may be beneficial to provide increased levels of counselling through your existing EAP but are unsure whether this is possible? There are different levels of EAPs which can be dependent on whether you pay for your EAP or is yours ‘free’ with your group life insurance policy or Group Income Protection plan?

At Wingate, we can help employers understand all the above and more and provide recommendations for new arrangements or just small tweaks to existing arrangements. If this is something you may be interested in, please feel free to contact Wingate on 01883 332260 or at info@wingatebs.com

Mental Health Misconceptions

There has clearly been a focus on improving general awareness of mental health over the last few years. This has of course been a very positive step and whilst we have not completely eradicated the ‘stigma’, more and more people are talking about mental health these days.

Paying specific attention to awareness of mental health in the workplace, millions of working days are lost each year due to mental health issues in the UK. Early diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions can make a huge impact in terms of recovery rates however; many UK workers are delaying seeking help for mental health conditions due to widely held misconceptions.

I believe the majority of people could identify the key symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, Bipolar, Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are known to be mental health conditions which are most commonly misunderstood by employees. Greater understanding of the specific signs and symptoms is needed to recognise mental ill health in a colleague.

So, what can Companies do to help improve understanding within the workplace?

Utilise the support and services you have in place

Many organisations will have some form of insurance in place to protect your employee’s wellbeing. However, are you aware of the additional added value benefits which may be included within your cover? Support services are becoming common place in employee benefit insurances and are included at no additional cost.

Consider implementing a Health & Wellbeing Strategy

An effective Health & Wellbeing Strategy will help to improve the wellness of your employees and implementing a strategy through planned wellbeing initiatives will promote and encourage wellbeing in the workplace. Wellbeing produces positive attitudes, engagement, motivation and innovative thinking which are all key to an organisation’s long-term effectiveness.

Consider the use of Mental Health Champions

Most places of work will have First Aid ‘Champions’ so why not have Mental Health Champions? People from within the business who are specifically trained to spot the signs of colleagues who may be struggling. They can help with educating their colleagues to be mental health aware as this is the first step to encourage early intervention.

Remember, diagnosing and treating mental health conditions early will have a dramatic impact when it comes to recovery. To aid this, we must do all we can to combat the issues of mental health misconceptions.

 

There are many steps which can be taken to ensure your business is providing the relevant support for your employees which Wingate Benefit Solutions can help you with. From implementing/developing an effective Health & Wellbeing Strategy to reviewing your existing employee benefit products to see if they include supplementary benefits, we can help you provide support for your employees. If you would like to find out more, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us on 01883 332260 or at info@wingatebs.com .