Recent research* shows that most businesses provide employee support for serious health and wellbeing issues on a one-off basis – rather than having a formal, pre-arranged system of support in place. This might seem the right thing to do as everyone’s different, but employers that do so may find that it’s expensive, inefficient and inconsistent.
Employees with a serious health concern, such as cancer for example, may have needs which require a range of support. This might include access to counselling, rehabilitation, financial support, practical advice about adjustments to their home, and how to arrange and manage time off work. This can be complicated for employers to navigate.
The research highlights the most common ways employers support specific health and wellbeing issues:
> Bereavement: 52% have supported an employee dealing with bereavement on a case-by- case basis, and 12% have funded one-off emotional support themselves.
> Serious illness: 43% of employers have supported an employee diagnosed or dealing with a serious illness on a case-by-case basis, and 11% have funded one-off emotional support themselves.
Similarly, the most common way employers have supported an employee absent long term (6 months+) because of ill health, disability and/or accident; or in mental ill-health has also been on a case-by-case basis (both 39%).
Making a decision at the time of the event, or even afterwards, on how to support employees going through such serious issues is not only expensive but is also very difficult to budget for, especially as any number of employees may have to deal with serious issues, and that can become prohibitively expensive on a one-off basis.
Inequality and discrimination can also unintentionally creep in to HR decision-making if an employer deals with serious issues on a one-off basis each time.
Many employers may believe looking after staff individually is more personal. However, in practice it can actually mean that everyone is treated differently. This might be by age, gender or seniority, or just because the HR manager has a better understanding of a situation, or a better relationship with a particular member of staff.
If an employee believes their support wasn’t fair in comparison to another’s, the employer can find themselves having to defend their actions, which can cause a whole lot of other problems.
Dealing with issues as they arise is also less efficient. Decision making can be time-consuming for the business, and it can also cause delays in arranging support and treatment for the employee. And HRDs don’t always know what support exists, how to access it or how to choose it.
Many employers are now looking at ways to support their staff consistently, efficiently and cost-effectively. For instance, this might include looking at how to support them through serious health issues such as mental ill-health, cancer and heart disease. Indeed, industry research shows that these are the most common serious illnesses that companies support their staff with via some of their employee benefits.
Employers are also increasingly looking to support staff through issues that can affect them through different life stages, such as dealing with the stress of dependants, arranging elder care, or going through bereavement. Or even dealing with day-to-day issues such as neighbour disputes and parking fines.
The approach for looking after staff is increasing becoming more holistic – providing support financially, emotionally and practically. This can include offering ways to help staff manage their finances, protect their income in the event of ill health, or providing access to talk to a professional about any mental health concerns or to arrange practical support.
Offering access to professionals that can help staff means HRDs can feel confident that their staff will be treated consistently and fairly, and support is offered by experts in field. It may well be that two people with similar issues are helped in a different way, but this will be based on a third-party professional opinion rather than employer inconsistencies or inefficiencies.
Some employee benefits come with embedded help and support for employees, line managers and HR alike that can add extra tools to the kitbag a business uses to support their people, so it’s worth reviewing these periodically to ensure the business gets best value from its package. Staff are slowly but surely becoming more open, talking more freely about mental health, finances, debt and issues that affect daily lives. Those employers that listen, react, and not only provide such support for these areas, but promote it too, find they have a real differentiator when it comes to being an employer of choice
*Research undertaken by Opinium on behalf of GRiD amongst 500 HR Decision makers between 4-18 March 2019.
Katharine Moxham – Group Risk Development (GRiD)