Wellbeing rewards can be an important weapon in the engagement armoury. Sam Barrett looks at how employers can help their staff to get the most from their group risk plans


AN employer that offers health insurance benefits can expect to improve engagement, push up productivity and reduce sickness absence. But, as employee awareness of these benefits is far from guaranteed, companies must make sure their investment in these products is worthwhile. There are several reasons why people are vague about what their company is offering. Some may simply not know what the benefits are, while others believe they will never need these products.

Employer attitudes also play a part. Research by Group Risk Development (GRiD) found that only 16% of employers make a point of issuing regular communications on their benefits package, and that only one in five regarded these benefits as a major selling point at interviews.

GRiD also found that when it came to the added-value health and wellbeing benefits that come with many group risk products, only around 50% of employers bothered to use them.

There can also be fears that once employees get a whiff of a benefit that pays an income if they’re off work long-term sick, they’ll fake an illness to take advantage of it. Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, says this is misguided. ‘It’s very difficult to abuse these products. Insurers will only pay valid claims and anyone attempting to submit a fraudulent claim will be flushed out quickly,’ she says. ‘Workplace health products offer significant benefits. Employers are missing a trick if they don’t promote them properly.’

Health benefits

There are certainly plenty of benefits for employees and employers. For employees, being able to access healthcare through the private medical insurance or health cash plan helps them maintain their health.

As an example, as well as helping them look after their teeth and gums, a regular check-up with a dentist will pick up the early signs of a range of serious conditions including diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

With the more long-term products such as life insurance and group income protection, although claims are, hopefully, few and far between, these products include a range of added-value benefits such as health and wellbeing information and employee assistance programmes (EAPs) that can be used much more frequently. ‘Using these products can enhance employees’ feelings of well-being, improve health behaviours and increase happiness,’ adds Moxham. ‘It’s good to know their employer cares about their welfare.’

Healthier, happier employees are good news for employers too. As well as increased productivity, offering health benefits can make it easier to attract, engage and retain a workforce. 

Tackling absence

Health benefits can also improve sickness absence. While short-term sickness absence can be reduced where employees are more engaged, prompt access to appropriate treatment can ensure health issues are resolved before they become long-term.

This can be through the medical insurance or cash plan, but also the early intervention services on group income protection. ‘We encourage employers to notify us of any claims within the first four weeks of absence,’ says Nick Homer, head of market management - corporate risk at Zurich Life. ‘At this stage, rehabilitation can be much more effective at helping them get back to work quickly.’

This effectiveness is demonstrated by figures from Canada Life that show that 93% of employees who use its early intervention services do not become group income protection claimants. ‘The average return to work time is between five and seven weeks with our early intervention services,’ explains Paul Avis, marketing director at Canada Life Group Insurance . ‘If they become a claimant the duration of the claim is significantly reduced too.’ 

These benefits can also help an employer meet their legal obligations. Group income protection insurers can advise on any reasonable adjustments to ensure compliance with the Equality Act. Further, as the early intervention services can help to identify and resolve any non-clinical situations such as bullying, over-promotion or workplace conflict, this can reduce the risk of employment tribunals.

There are also financial benefits for both parties. Even if they pay the premiums themselves, group products are significantly cheaper than if the employee sourced their own cover.

Promotion of health benefits can also make premiums more sustainable. Mark Witte, principal of Aon Employee Benefits, explains: ‘If you can engage employees with their health and ensure they use the early intervention services where necessary, you’ll have healthier employees and fewer claims.’

Healthy promotion

Getting the promotion right is key to maximising these benefits. As many employees won’t appreciate what these benefits are, an education campaign is a sensible first step.

There’s plenty of support with this from organisations such as GRiD and the Association of Medical Insurers and Intermediaries but also from the insurers themselves. As an example, Zurich produces an employee guide to income protection rehabilitation and claims. This explains the support that is available in the event of a prolonged absence from work. ‘It’s designed to help an employer position income protection within absence management,’ explains Homer. ‘This makes it easier for us to support employees early in their absence, which helps to prevent claims, but it also shows the employer in a very positive light.’

Focusing on the support benefits is a strategy favoured by Moxham too. ‘Promote group income protection as back to work services rather than insurance,’ she explains. ‘This helps employees get into the mindset of returning to work rather than staying at home sick.’

The way in which the benefits are provided to employees can also influence perception. Homer explains: ‘Where products are on offered on a flexible benefits platform, there’s much greater visibility. As employees are picking the benefits they want, there’s much more opportunity to educate and engage with them.’

Total rewards

While helping employees to understand these benefits is essential, it’s also worth outlining their value in a total reward statement. These list all the benefits the employee receives as part of their remuneration package, including details of their cost. ‘Unless they’ve already bought these products on an individual basis, it’s unlikely that an employee would know how much they’re worth,’ says Jonathan Wood, corporate pensions director at Jelf Employee Benefits.

These are usually annual statements, but Wood recommends looking for additional opportunities to promote health benefits. ‘Make it a continual process,’ he says. ‘Tell employees about their health benefits before they join, when they join, at any pay reviews and whenever they have any lifestyle changes such as marriage or the birth of a child. These are all key times when an employee might want to review his or her cover.’

With some health benefits, the value can be expressed in a slightly different way. For instance, Wood says outlining the capital value of a cash plan is a good trick, especially as an employee could potentially claim back several times the annual premium without even being unwell.

As an example, take Health Shield’s Essentials plan. From September 2017, an employer would pay £53.04 a year to provide level one cover to an employee. Assuming they were able to claim the maximum on each benefit, they could receive up to £800 back, with this increasing to up to £1,300 if they had children.  

Personal touch

It’s also important to think about how you position these benefits, with the experts recommending taking a much more personal approach. As an example Wood points to life insurance. ‘Rather than focusing on the fact that it provides a tax-free lump sum, talk about how it could help family members support themselves if the employee were to die prematurely,’ he explains. ‘Bringing in the emotional side helps to make these products much more relevant and valued by employees.’  

Understanding your employee demographic can also help you fine-tune this positioning. For example, if you have a relatively young workforce, extolling the virtues of a life insurance policy is going to fall on deaf ears. But, if a large number of your employees have families, the value of life insurance will increase significantly.   

The make-up of your workforce can also dictate how you promote your health benefits. ‘Think about which communications channels are most impactful,’ says Witte. ‘If you’ve got a younger workforce, they might prefer to receive communications online or through apps whereas older employees, and those without access to computers, may still like to be given a glossy brochure.’

Avis agrees but, although he’s a fan of using different channels to communicate benefits, he says there’s still plenty of value in sending a letter to the employee. ‘A personal letter and flyer arriving at their home on a Saturday morning is one of the most effective ways to promote your benefits package. They’ve got time to read it and discuss it with their family,’ he explains. 

Line manager role

As well as promoting these benefits directly to employees, line managers also have an important role to play in ensuring they’re used as much as possible.

Witte says that effective absence management starts and finishes with line managers. ‘They’re usually the first to know of any employee health issues so make sure they know what benefits and services are available. They don’t need to solve the problem but if they can signpost the employee to support this is very valuable,’ he explains.

For example, one of the tools that can prove particularly useful for line managers is an EAP. These can offer support on everything from childcare and financial worries to marriage breakdown and bereavement.

Some of the products can even be used to hone a line manager’s skills. For instance, mental health first aid training is included on some group risk products. This teaches employees how to spot the early signs of mental health problems, enabling them to step in and direct the employee to support before an issue becomes entrenched and much more difficult to tackle.

A full programme

Looking beyond the financial benefits provided by health insurance products presents a further opportunity to increase the value you receive from them. Cheryl Brennan, principal at Punter Southall Health & Protection, explains: ‘Many employers are turning to wellbeing programmes now they’ve sorted the pension. Some start with a blank sheet of paper but, if they’ve got health benefits, they can put together a compelling health and wellbeing programme with the elements they already have,’ she explains. 

The key to this is the range of added value health and wellbeing benefits included on many products. For example PSHP’s own group income protection proposition, Havensrock, includes an EAP,  discounted gym membership, health MOTs through an interactive workplace health kiosk, and a free wearable device to track movement and sleep patterns. ‘It’s very focused on wellness,’ adds Brennan. ‘An employer could launch these added value services on their own with the income protection sitting behind it.’

Although they’re promoted as free extras, it’s also worth noting that these services do have a value. For instance, talking about the services included on Canada Life’s group risk products, Avis says the second medical opinion service equates to £95 per employee a year; the EAP to £20 a year, the treatment sourcing service to £35 a year and its personal nurse service to £75 a year. ‘Include these on employees’ total reward statements,’ he explains. ‘As well as demonstrating your investment in their health and wellbeing this helps to raise awareness of these services.’

By aligning your health benefits more strategically and promoting them effectively, the benefits of health insurance products will extend far beyond increased utilisation, with healthier, happier employees supporting the success of your business.