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15 Oct 2020
by Steve Herbert

2020’s silver lining: seismic change for employee benefits and wellbeing

2020 has been a thoroughly miserable year. These are indeed dark times, but sometimes it takes something genuinely seismic and awful to change things for the better. And there are now some early signs that this might indeed be one of those rather rare moments.

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Changing employer attitudes

A recent survey undertaken by Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing found that almost three in every four employers (72%) are now expecting to undertake a review of their employee benefits as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In part this rush to review will be driven by the reality that this is very much a crisis that currently centres on increased mortality rates, especially given the UK’s death toll includes many from the nation’s working-age population.

Indeed figures recently collated by Group Risk Development (GRiD) suggest that in the six month period to June 2020, the Group Life Assurance industry paid out £57m in COVID-19-related death claims to more than 480 bereaved families. And these payments were made at a time when so many employers might have genuinely struggled to find any money to offer fiscal compensation to the loved-ones of a deceased employee.

And with the recent virus resurgence the need for life cover is again likely to become only too apparent.

Ill-health is also an issue

As the crisis developed, so too has the awareness of other workforce health conditions.

Firstly, and importantly, it’s worth highlighting that during the months of lockdown huge numbers of people were prevented from accessing the national healthcare system. NHS waiting lists are therefore growing rapidly, and until diagnosis and treatment can be obtained, many employees will be working below maximum productivity, or possibly unable to work at all. This is bad news for the employee, and of course the employer too.

And what makes this worse is that COVID-19 might also present a new, longer-term, health threat to the nation’s working population.

Long Covid

It is becoming increasingly apparent that mortality numbers are just one element of the wider coronavirus story. Indeed, it’s already clear that many thousands of people in the UK will suffer a range of lengthy post-infection symptoms, some of which might well prevent them from working for months or years to come. Such conditions have become collectively known as “Long Covid”. 

It is estimated that at least a quarter of a million people in the UK have experienced Long Covid conditions that have lasted for more than 28 days, and such ailments are many and varied, including lung scarring, post-traumatic stress disorder and post-viral fatigue. 

Importantly Long Covid conditions can arise regardless of age or underlying health conditions, and are not limited to those who were hospitalised by the original infection either. It follows that no employee or workforce is necessarily immune to this new and potentially widespread concern.

HR attitudes are changing too

All of which goes a long way to explaining why employers are reviewing their employee benefits offerings with COVID-19 very much in their thinking.

And it is also useful to note that the crisis has sparked a change in personal as well as corporate views of employee benefits provision. Indeed more than half (60%) of those questioned in our survey felt benefits provision was now more important as a result of the pandemic. This can only be a good thing for workplace wellness in the future.

What about ROI?

My final point is this. In the past far too many employee benefit offerings have been dictated by the perceived need to demonstrate a Return on Investment (ROI) on the cost of benefit provision. ROI is notoriously difficult to measure accurately, and even more so when insurance(s) are a central element of a proposition. As a result, many employers have failed to establish employee benefits offerings that would have helped their workers through these difficult times.    

I hope that employers learn the lessons of 2020, and accept that supporting employees with their health and wellbeing is so much more important than any notional level of ROI might otherwise suggest. 

A really good employee benefits offering protects employees, their dependents, and the employer too. And right now such a proposition has never been more important.

The author is Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing.

This article is provided by Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing.

In partnership with Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing

Howden provides insurance broking, risk management and claims consulting services, globally. We work with clients of all sizes to provide dedicated employee benefits & wellbeing consultancy.

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