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 .

As we’ve frequently referenced in previous insights, an employee’s mental health can have a significant influence on their performance and behaviour at work and one of the biggest issues affecting an individual’s emotional wellbeing is their financial situation.

There is often a link between someone struggling with money and poor mental wellbeing and if an employee is feeling low, it can make it tougher for them to manage their money. I regularly meet employees to discuss their pension planning and there seems to be a common theme of financial anxiety.  This clearly has an impact on the individual but is also likely to affect your business.  An employee who is worrying about money may find it difficult to concentrate on decisions, or they may be losing sleep or feeling worried which will impact their performance and productivity at work.

Financial worries take many guises, from struggling with debt, saving for a first home through to people in their late career striving to plan for the retirement they desire.

In recent years, there has been a shift in responsibility for financial matters from the state and employer to the individual and it is becoming increasingly clear that many employees are not equipped with the knowledge to make confident, informed decisions about their finances.

So what can a company do to help its staff?

Helping support an employee’s financial wellbeing through the provision of education services is an important part of any employee benefit strategy.  In my experience, many companies think of financial education as an expensive ‘nice to have’ and prioritise other benefits such as pension contributions, life and health insurance.  However, financial education and improving an employee’s financial wellness can have a much more positive impact on performance and wellbeing than other company-funded benefits.

Financial education is more effective if it is delivered when it’s most relevant.  The financial concerns and worries for someone in their early career are very different from those who are in the middle of their working lives or for those who are planning to face the transition in to retirement.   The ways in which the education is delivered should also be varied to reflect your employee’s requirements.

By offering employees help in managing their finances, employers are making a long-term investment in their workforce.  The benefits of financial education are clear; helping to support employees and improve their mental health will have a positive impact on their lives as well as business.

 

We have all been there. You have a stinking cold and really should be tucked up in bed with a cup of hot lemon but instead you have dragged yourself into the office as your emails are out of control and you have an important conference call with a potential new client. Whilst this is admiral and may be perceived as the correct thing to do, is this the most productive use of your time and how much damage are you doing to both yourself and the company’s productivity in the long run?

 

Presenteeism- the practice of being present at one’s place of work for more hours than is required– is described by Professor Sir Cary Cooper at Manchester University as the biggest threat to UK workplace productivity, costing the UK economy almost twice as much as absenteeism. Whilst the term is relatively new, the concept of employees either turning up for work ill or attending the office when they should not, has been around for generations but with increasing concern about job security, is more prevalent than ever.

 

As expected the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s findings show that presenteeism is more prevalent in companies where long working hours are seen as the norm, and where targets and figures tend to take precedence over employee wellbeing.  Studies by Fellowes show more than half of UK workers currently continue to work at below par levels rather than taking days off to recover which can further prolong the effect of illness.

 

Legal & General research carried out in 2012 suggested absenteeism can lead to a 4% reduction in productivity but presenteeism can be as high as 12%. Proving furthermore, that the inhibition to stay in work has a detrimental impact on the quality of an employee’s output.

 

So what can companies do to tackle this ever-growing issue without breaking the bank?

 

Firstly, companies should renew and revamp their sickness policy to incorporate details of both absence and illness at work. Something as simple as confirming it is ok to have a day off when ill can reinforce the notion people will not be penalised for being sick. Additionally, senior members of staff being seen to have days off when ill can reinforce this notion.

 

Operate an open door policy and remove the mental health stigma. Giving employees the chance to speak about their feelings or the pressure of work/family life helps with the overall awareness of the situation. Preferable this should not be HR or management as employees will often be reluctant to speak to them. A popular alternative is to employ a “buddy system” or Mental Health Champions who have received appropriate mental health training.

 

Whilst it has been suggested flexible working has led to employees working longer hours, the overall concept of choosing when and how you work can be empowering and vital for employees. This will allow them to work when they are most productive and reap the rewards.

 

Make use of or implement health and wellbeing benefits. Research shows employees who have a strong health and wellbeing package are likely to be more loyal to their employer. Most Group Benefit products offer a free of charge Employee Assistance Programme, which have a 24/7 free of charge helpline assisting in anything from financial worries to stress counselling. Promote and make sure employees are aware of this.

 

Ultimately, happy and healthy employees do better work and companies that promote employee wellbeing will in the end outperform any that emphasise solely on productivity.

 

 

Dan is one of our Employee Benefit Consultants and can be contacted on 01883 332260 or daniel.pullin@wingatebs.com

 

References

CIPD Policy Report 2016

Fellows Research: World Day for Safety and Health at Work

Legal & General- 2012 research- unsure of name

    Usage of mental health support under Group Risk products should be higher, says GRiD

Claims for mental illness are nearly as prevalent as for cancer under employer-sponsored group income protection policies, but Group Risk Development (GRiD) suggests employers could make much better use of the mental health support that comes along with group risk products (employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness).

The organisation points to three main ways employers may be missing out.

  1. Employees can be affected by their dependants’ mental ill-health  
  • As one in four are reported to be affected by mental ill-health, it might be that it isn’t the employee themselves that is suffering, but one of their dependants. This is likely to affect the employee too, and they can access support. Furthermore, in such instances, their dependants can too.
  • Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD said: ‘Although welfare counselling must adhere to certain guidelines to avoid potential tax implications, we really want to get the message home that, as employees can be affected when dependants suffer with mental ill-health, some help can also be provided to an employee’s dependants via an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). Many group risk policies include access to these services at no extra cost.

2. Support can often be accessed by all employees, not just those who are insured 

  • Mental ill-health can affect anyone at any time in their lives – not just employees at a certain level that might be offered core employee benefits. Group risk help comes into its own here.
  • The support under a group-risk-facilitated EAP for example is frequently extended to everyone in a company, not just those directly insured (for instance, senior management). Again, often at no extra cost.

3. All group risk products can offer mental health support  

  • Mental health support is not just the domain of gilt-edged group income protection. Support is frequently also found attached to group life assurance and group critical illness products. Employers don’t need them all in place to access support, but they do need the right ones for them.
  • Employers increasingly recognise the value to their business in having a healthy workforce so group risk protection support is moving forward to include help here too, for example giving access to GP services, health tracking apps as well as mental health support.

Wingate are proud members of Group Risk Development (GRiD) which is the industry body for the group risk protection sector, promoting the value to UK businesses of providing financial protection for their staff, enhancing their wellbeing and improving employee engagement.

For more information about Group Life, Income Protection and/or Critical Illness schemes in general or the ancillary benefits attached to these please contact the team on 01883 332260 or info@wingatebs.com

Half of UK employees lose sleep over work, with workplace stress leading to more drinking and smoking
  • 51% of employees lose sleep worrying about their job or work related concerns
  • Lack of healthy work/life balance a factor: 41% stay up late or get up early to check work emails
  • A third (34%) of employees who are smokers smoke more after stressful work days
  • Two fifths (42%) admit that stress and pressure in the workplace causes them to overeat or make unhealthy food choices
  • Employer attitudes don’t help – 21% employees don’t believe health and wellbeing is important to their boss

Stress at work can lead to sleepless nights and poor drinking and smoking habits among UK employees, according to new research from Canada Life Group Insurance.

A good sleep routine and healthy work/life balance are vital for physical and mental health – not to mention productivity – but half of employees (51%) lose sleep worrying about their job or work-related concerns, and one in ten (11%) go to work feeling tired every day.

A recent study shows sleep deprived workers cost the UK £40 billion a year in lost productivity.1

Two-fifths (41%) also say they sometimes stay up late or get up early to check emails, with men (46%) more likely to do so than women (36%).

Smoking and drinking encouraged in work environments

Sleep is not the only aspect of an employee’s health that can be negatively affected by work.

  • Over a quarter of employers who smoke do so more at work than they do at home (27%), with men (34%) more likely to do so than women (18%); a third (34%) say they smoke more after a busy or stressful day at work
  • A quarter (25%) of employees who smoke describe it as a good way to break up the day, while 28% have tried to give up smoking before but found it too hard to do so during the working week
  • Worryingly, 29% of employees do not think smoking has an impact on your likelihood of getting cancer. Yet in reality, smoking accounts for one in four UK cancer deaths.2
  • Younger employees are most likely to be susceptible to pressures around smoking at work. Twice as many 25-34s who smoke say colleagues have influenced them to smoke more often, in contrast to all employees (30% v 14%).
  • Nearly two fifths (37%) of these smokers also say they have tried to give up but found it too hard during the working week, higher than the 28% of all employees who said the same.

Employer attitudes take their toll on health and wellbeing

Employer attitudes are failing to encourage positive health and exercise habits.

  • Over a quarter (27%) of employees believe their boss and/or colleagues wouldn’t approve if they used their full lunch hour to exercise.
  • Two fifths (42%) of employees agree that stress or pressure in the workplace causes them to overeat or make unhealthy food choices, while the majority of employees (62%) skip meals when busy at work.
  • Unhealthy eating at work has led to many gaining weight as a result: two in five (39%) have put on weight since they started their current role.
  • A fifth (21%) of workers believe employee health is not important to their organisation, while just over a quarter (27%) believe employee health is important to their organisation – but only to maintain a productive workforce.

Paul Avis, Marketing Director at Canada Life Group Insurance, commented: “Employees who turn up to work feeling tired are less likely to be productive. Our research shows that workplace stress is often the cause of workers’ sleepless nights, with worrying about work related issues and checking emails keeping staff up at night. Stress can be just as damaging for staff as physical conditions, with 15.8 million working days lost last year to such mental health issues.3

“Providing staff with access to Employee Assistance Programmes – such as those provided alongside group income protection products – is one way employers can demonstrate their commitment to health and wellbeing and help reduce workplace stress. This is particularly important given many employees do not believe their employers value their health, and are unlikely to feel engaged with their workplace as a result. Tackling stress at its root will help reduce sickness absence rates and improve productivity – not to mention give staff a better night’s sleep.”

 

We actively encourage clients to regularly survey staff not only in relation to their benefits to understand the value placed on these but also on their working environment and how this can be improved. The answers could be enlightening and often little changes can be made that make a huge difference to morale and as such productivity.

Benefit promotion

We help you to understand the benefits available, ensuring you achieve the greatest value from the package implemented by your employer. This is an ongoing commitment from us.

Benefit enrolment

Whether you have access to our online portal for voluntary benefits or your benefits are provided automatically, our members’ helpdesk will support you in accessing your benefit entitlement.

Benefit engagement

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.

The Government has announced with effect from 6th April 2017 that they are reducing the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

ESA is paid to individuals by the state if they are unable to work due to illness or injury after they have been absent for 28 weeks. There are currently three levels of benefit, paid weekly:

  1. Basic Benefit paid from week 29 to 41:  £73.10
  2. Basic Benefit + Work Related Activity Component paid from week 42 for up to 39 weeks:  £73.10 + £29.05 = £102.15
  3. Basic Benefit + Support Allowance paid from week 42 up to State Pension Age:  £73.10 + £36.20 = £109.30

With effect from 6th April 2017 the Work Related Activity Component will be removed. Any employee on sick leave from late September 2016 (becoming ESA claimants 28 weeks later) will only receive the Basic Allowance or Basic Allowance plus Support Component.

There is no change to the benefit paid to people eligible for the Support Component.

This means any employee eligible for the Work Related Activity Component will receive £1,511 per annum less from the State from April 2017.

Many Group Income Protection policies insure the benefit less the State Benefits on the insured benefit. This reduces the premium cost to the employer as it is assumed all claimants will receive the full Basic Benefit and the Work Related Activity Component. If this offset position continues it means the Group Income Protection provider will be insuring an additional £1,511 per annum of benefit the State was previously providing. This additional insured benefit will need to be paid for meaning there is likely to be an increase in the premium charged for the policy.

There are options available to keep the premium cost neutral which your Wingate adviser will discuss with you at the time of your scheme’s annual review but if you would like to discuss this beforehand please contact your usual adviser on 01883 332260.

 

This article is not meant to be exhaustive and is based on our current understanding of legislation which can change without notice.  It is not a recommendation for changing any existing arrangements and professional advice should always be sought prior to making any changes to your arrangements.