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GRiD

Employers need to be disability confident, as reporting likely to become mandatory

Employers currently voluntarily report information on disability, mental health and wellbeing in the workplace – however the Government has consulted on making this mandatory, with the outcome due imminently.

Employers need to be ready for this change, and play their part in closing the disability employment gap within their own business, says GRiD, the industry body for group risk.  

Employers have been increasingly prioritising the health and wellbeing of their people, but this needs to go further, with more focus on supporting those with long-term health conditions and disabilities to enter and stay in the business.

The number of disabled people in employment
The Government’s manifesto commitment to increase the number of disabled people in employment by one million by 2027 has been achieved five years early: latest ONS figures show that between Q1, 2017 and Q1, 2022 the number of disabled people in employment increased by 1.3 million(1).

Overall, 4.8 million disabled people were employed in Q1 2022(1). However, in practice this means that only 54% of people with disabilities are employed, compared with 82% of people without disabilities(2). 

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson, Group Risk Development (GRiD) said: “The fact that the target to employ more people with a disability was achieved five years early could indicate it wasn’t ambitious enough. More is likely to be expected of employers, and they’ll need to deliver.”

What employers need to do
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers must make reasonable adjustments(3) to support disabled job applicants and employees. This includes ensuring they can overcome substantial disadvantages in applying for, or doing, a job and progressing in work. 

Many adjustments are easy to implement, and may cost little or nothing. This might include making changes to working patterns, providing parking, ensuring information is accessible, modifying recruitment processes or by allowing extra time for tests and assessments.

Employees themselves can get financial support through Access to Work(4) for extra costs they have at work because of their disability or long-term health condition. This might include adapting equipment to make it easier to use or money for travel costs if they can’t use public transport, etc.

Benefits to employers
Ensuring employees are aware of available support not only helps businesses hire disabled people with the skills they need, but it also helps them retain employees who develop a long-term health condition or disability while in employment. This keeps skills and knowledge in the business, saving time and expense in recruitment. 

Vitally, this also sends a clear message to other staff, that the business takes the health and wellbeing of their workforce seriously – and this has great benefits to wider business objectives.

Moxham continued: “This will be a new area for many companies, but it comes with a huge benefit: it opens up a previously unconsidered pool of highly motivated candidates offering the talent, skills and potential that all businesses need, particularly right now in this time of high employment.”

Utilise employee benefits effectively
Employers will find a great deal of help within their employee benefits package that supports employees already in work who develop a long-term health condition or disability, and GRiD is encouraging all to investigate what’s available.

Moxham concluded: “For example, group income protection policies provide long-term sick pay, and they also include access to help from vocational rehabilitation specialists, along with advice and support on making reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act. And it’s not unusual for insurers to help with extra costs to keep someone in work on an ex gratia basis, such as providing equipment.”

Employers need to be aware of what they need to do to meet the likely changes in reporting. The government’s Disability Confident scheme(5) is a good place to start, which is designed to help employers consider how to improve how they attract, recruit and retain workers with a disability or long-term health condition.

How the disability employment gap is calculated

The disability employment gap is calculated by comparing the percentage of people with and without disabilities who are in employment. In Q1 2022, the disability employment gap was 28.2 percentage points – a decrease of 0.2 percentage points on the year, and an overall decrease of 5.6 percentage points since the same quarter in 2014.1 

1. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-hits-goal-to-see-a-million-more-disabled-people-in-work#:~:text=The%20disability%20employment%20gap%20was,the%20same%20quarter%20in%202014.
2.https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/datasets/labourmarketstatusofdisabledpeoplea08
3. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/part/2/chapter/2/crossheading/adjustments-for-disabled-persons
4. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/access-to-work-guide-for-employers/access-to-work-factsheet-for-employers
5. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/disability-confident-campaign

Only a third of employers offer financial support to all staff in the event of ill health, injury or death

As the cost of living continues to bite, new research from GRiD, the industry body for the group risk sector shows that only a third of employers say they offer their entire workforce financial support if they are long term absent2 (i.e. for six months or more), diagnosed with a serious illness, or die while being in employment. 

The figures rise by a third if the number of employers who say they offer support to some, rather than all, employees is considered but those employers who only offer financial support to those at a certain level of experience, seniority, or pay, are leaving those least able to cope financially the most vulnerable.

One third of employees and their families are currently left entirety without any financial support during times of a health difficulty or crisis.

 If an employee…
 is long-term absent (for six months or more) due to ill health, disability or injuryis diagnosed with a serious illnessdies while being in employment
Employers who offer support for ‘all’ staff35%33%34%
Employers who offer support for ‘some’ staff33%33%33%
Employers who offer ‘opt in’ insurance benefits8%8%6%
Employers who do not offer any support33%34%34%

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, said: “Wider industry statistics indicate that the number of employers who offer support is actually much lower in practice, and given the current squeeze on household finances, this highlights a woeful lack of financial support and security for many employees. 

“As individuals, we like to think that ‘it won’t happen to us’ and perhaps, as optimistic employers, the tendency is also to think that ‘it won’t happen to our employees’ but it can and does. Support for serious issues like absence, illness and death is affordable and accessible for employers to offer their staff. We would encourage those who don’t offer any support to do some investigation and those who only offer support to some staff to consider making it available to everyone.”

The UK Group Risk industry paid out £2.22bn in claims in 2021 to 30,932 employees – equivalent to £6.1m a day, demonstrating the extent to which these employee benefits help employees and their families to cope financially when their lives take a turn for the worse.

Debunking the myths on group risk protection insurance (employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness benefits)

·       Many employers wrongly believe that providing this financial support is expensive but the cover is found in some of the most affordable benefits and can start from as little as 0.1% of payroll.

·       Some employers believe that it is not their responsibility to provide financial support but increasingly staff are looking to their employer for help in all aspects of their lives. Not only is it the right thing to do, but employers who do not take suitable action risk their reputation which could lead to recruitment and retention issues.

·       Employers sometimes assume that staff prefer more tangible or immediate gratification. While this may have been the case, the pandemic has meant many employees have revaluated their position and are now more likely to value financial support of this kind.

Reflecting on the disparity of only offering protection benefits to some staff, Moxham added: “I cannot imagine being on the HR team that has to tell one member of staff that they are eligible for financial support and then having to tell another that, for whatever reasons, they are not on the same scheme. When two individuals face a health crisis, they both deserve access to financial support.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the past two years, it’s that we should expect the unexpected. With the right support in place, however, when life does take an unexpected twist or turn, it does not need to have a detrimental financial impact on the employee or their loved ones.

42% of employees don’t know about or understand all their employee benefits

Research from GRiD, the industry body for the group risk sector has shown that 42% of employees don’t know about or understand all their employee benefits. According to HRs:

  • 25% are aware of them but don’t understand them all
  • 11% are aware of some of them, and
  • 6% don’t know about or understand any of them

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, said: “Employers put in a lot of time, effort and resources to get the right benefits for their staff. For them to be valued, utilised and understood, it’s absolutely vital that companies communicate them.”

Methods used to communicate benefits included apps, written and promotional campaigns, with the most popular being:

  • Email, utilised by 37% of employers
  • Staff welcome pack, utilised by 34% of employers
  • Staff handbook, utilised by 29% of employers
  • Noticeboard, utilised by 27% of employers
  • Company intranet, utilised by 24% of employers
  • Before day one of employment/offer letter, utilised by 22% of employers

Eight percent of employers admit to not communicating any employee benefits at all.

Employees themselves were asked how they like to have their benefits communicated, and the order of popularity largely mirrors what companies are doing.

  • Email, preferred by 38% of employees
  • Staff welcome pack, preferred by 25% of employees
  • Company intranet, preferred by 22% of employees
  • Staff handbook, preferred by 17% of employees
  • Before day one of employment/offer letter, preferred by 16% of employees
  • Noticeboard, preferred by 15% of employees

Moxham continued: “It’s great to see a wide range of communication methods being utilised. Different methods will resonate with different staff, so the best way to get the message across is to use a mix, including digital, written and in-person.”

Pandemic

Forty-three percent of employers say they changed how they communicate their benefits in light of the pandemic. Sixty percent increased their activity, 53% placed more emphasis on their support for wellbeing and 45% increased their investment.

Moxham concluded: “During the pandemic, people looked to their employers for support for health and wellbeing. This was an opportunity for employers to tell their staff about all the benefits they offered, from healthcare and group risk to all the embedded services such as access to virtual GPs and counselling – all the support that people needed and were struggling to get, but could access via their employee benefits.

“This increase in activity to communicate employee benefits will pay dividends and we’d encourage employers to continue with this.”

Remote working has affected the way three in five employers support the health and wellbeing of staff

Fifty-nine per cent of employers say that the change in working patterns to a more remote or hybrid approach has affected the way they support the health and wellbeing of staff, according to research from GRiD, the industry body for the group risk protection sector.

Of those employers who stated that working patterns had affected the way they support the health and wellbeing of staff:

  • 49% said they have made it easier for staff to access support and benefits remotely e.g. via apps and online
  • 43% said they have introduced benefits to support employees in this new way of working e.g. for their mental and physical health
  • 38% said that they have increased support that can be accessed remotely e.g. virtual GPs and virtual physio

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD said: “Employee benefits providers and, in particular, those that offer health and wellbeingsupport, were really swift to respond to the challenges presented by the pandemic. The pace of change has been breath-taking. 

“We are now in a situation where many employee benefits, including embedded support within employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness, have improved in two distinct ways. The method of delivery has been expanded to include additional digital channels to meet the support requirements of employees, no matter where or when they need it. Secondly, the type of support has also broadened: for instance through the likes of online physiotherapy, nutrition and fitness advice; meditation and mindfulness apps; computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT); and access to virtual GPs and nurse practitioners. Some had been available previously, but have now become much more mainstream.”

Given that so much has changed, GRiD believes that employers would be prudent to benchmark their wellbeing provision against current support available and make sure they keep pace with developments, especially in supporting a hybrid workforce.

Moxham continued: “Employers may be under the illusion that they offer really innovative wellbeing support but they may be surprised just how much things have moved on if it hasn’t been reviewed for a number of years. The repercussions of the pandemic are very much still in evidence and employers have a duty to ensure they are providing the very best wellbeing support available.”

Two-thirds of employers feel a greater responsibility for the mental wellbeing of staff as a result of Covid-19

Employers feel a greater responsibility for supporting staff across the four key areas of mental, physical, social, and financial wellbeing as a result of Covid-19.

That’s according to research from GRiD, the industry body for the group risk protection sector – in a study conducted from 14 – 26 January 2022 amongst 501 HR decision-makers, it found that:

·       59% of employers felt an increased responsibility for supporting the mental wellbeing of staff

·       57% felt the same increased responsibility for physical wellbeing

·       56% of employers felt an increased responsibility for supporting the social wellbeing of staff

·       and 50% also felt the same increased responsibility for their employees’ financial wellbeing

In light of the pandemic, and this sentiment to take greater responsibility for employee wellbeing, two fifths (40%) of employers increased their communication about the support available to staff. Thirty-four per cent encouraged engagement and utilisation of support, and just over a quarter (27%) said that they had made it easier for employees to access support and benefits remotely, such as via apps and online. A quarter extended support beyond the individual employee to include family members, and 22% invested in new employee benefits to provide extra support.

Employees report deterioration in wellness

Further GRiD research, conducted amongst 1,212 UK workers between 14-18 January 2022, highlights the fact that employers were correct to take steps to provide and communicate support and benefits to staff. Thirty-eight percent of employees stated that their mental health had deteriorated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, 27% saw their physical health deteriorate and a further 27% had concerns about their financial health.

Forty-two percent of employees expect more support from their employers to help them cope. This employee presumption means employers need to assess whether their current employee benefits are up to the task of getting the wellbeing of staff back on track. Many staff are anticipating that their employers will provide on this front, and employers would do well to deliver, particularly in light of how employees feel their health has deteriorated .

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD said: “As is evident in the research, employees feel most vulnerable in terms of their mental wellbeing, and employers have rightly assessed this as being an area in which they can step up and take more responsibility. However, employers should be wary of solely prioritising one area of wellbeing over another.

Mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing are inextricably linked and so employers must address all four areas when providing post-pandemic support for staff. Employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness have proven really popular because they provide financial support when people have been directly affected by the pandemic, as well as extra embedded services designed to support health and wellbeing. 

“As the UK adjusts to the new norms of working life, adopting this holistic approach to staff wellbeing will ensure that all employees are as well-looked after as possible, and this will have long-term benefits for the business too.”

Fifth of employers not providing ill-health prevention support to staff

One in five employers are missing a trick by not supporting the prevention of ill-health in their staff, according to research undertaken on behalf of GRiD, the industry body for the group risk protection sector.

Employers who do provide health and wellbeing support to help prevent employees becoming ill, stated that they find flexible working initiatives (28%), emotional support such as counselling (17%), and initiatives to help manage stress and mental health (16%) the most helpful. Following these, mental health first aiders, Private Medical Insurance, and Employee Assistance Programmes were also considered useful.

However, there is so much more support available which employers are potentially missing out on. Prevention and early intervention support has become increasingly varied and comprehensive – particularly as COVID-19 has hastened developments in this area – and employers need to be aware of all that is available to them. Diagnostics, health screening, access to GPs, rehabilitation, apps to improve health behaviours, lifestyle advice on nutrition, sleep, health and fitness are all readily available within employee benefits and can be excellent ways to prevent serious conditions developing.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, said: ‘When employers offer employee benefits that have preventative support built in, they’re demonstrating that they care about their staff’s long-term health and wellbeing. It also means that their employees will have the best chance of being able to access whatever new supportive developments arise in the future.’

Ten years ago it was only some of the very large corporates who were able to offer their staff access to a GP, either in person or over the phone. Today, arranging a virtual GP appointment is not out of the ordinary – it’s included within many benefits, and is an important element of early intervention and prevention.

Many employers offer some support for health and wellbeing. Some may think this just means offering access to treatment, but it also needs to include access to prevention too. Offering fast-track treatment is just one aspect of looking after staff, but the best support needs to start before treatment is needed, which can possibly mean no treatment – or indeed absence from work – needs to take place. If employers really want to offer the best support to their workforce, it’s vital that health and wellbeing benefits include support for prevention and early intervention too.

Moxham concluded: ‘Employers who do not offer a comprehensive range of preventative support, should really be asking themselves why not, as they are now very much in the minority and may struggle to compete on the recruitment front with others that take a much more comprehensive approach to ill-health prevention in their companies.’

Female employees more concerned about health and wellbeing than male counterparts

GRiD, the industry body for the group risk sector, asked 1,165 UK employees about their health and wellbeing concerns, and found that female employees have more concerns than their male colleagues.

The survey asked employees to consider six key areas of health and wellbeing and identify whether they were of personal concern to them. The results show that women have more concerns in three areas, one specific area concerned more men than women and they were equal in two areas..

  • Stress and anxiety relating to work (such as pressures of overwork, uncertainty of future) concerned 21% of women vs 18% of men.
  • Stress and anxiety relating to finances and debt concerned 18% of women vs 14% of men.
  • Stress and anxiety relating to living with long-term chronic illness or health conditions (such as diabetes) concerned 14% of women but only 8% of men.
  • Men were marginally more concerned than women about stress and anxiety relating to home life (such as caring responsibilities, managing difficult relationships) at 14% vs 12% for women.
  • Men and women were equally concerned (12%) about their general lack of fitness caused by a non-active lifestyle.
  • But neither were particularly concerned about ill-health related to lifestyle such as obesity, smoking and alcohol dependence (5%).

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for Group Risk Development (GRiD) said: “I’m sure that these results will surprise some employers and challenge the stereotypes that can be associated with gender in the workplace, for instance with women being more concerned about finances than men, and men more concerned than women about issues relating to home life. With that in mind, it’s hugely important that employers do not make assumptions about the health and wellbeing needs of their workforce on gender, or of course, any other basis.

“Changes in the law and workplace practices, such as shared parental leave, mean that work and home life are becoming much more balanced across both genders, and that needs to be reflected in the employee benefits that are offered to all staff.”

The concerns give a good indication of what support both men and women will value, and employers that offer such support will be ahead of the game. Providing help to alleviate stress from responsibilities at home; financial support; assistance with long-term health conditions – or to improve any area of health and wellbeing – will all be appreciated particularly as businesses adapt to working models which may be very different from pre-Covid 19.

A holistic and balanced employee benefits package that incorporates support for these areas will clearly be valued by a workforce.

Moxham added: “Most members of staff will be healthy and well throughout their entire time at work but no-one can predict what is just around the corner in terms of family or work life. An additional project at home, an ill child, sudden responsibilities as a carer, or health problems can all be difficult for an employee to manage at the same time as trying to work. And that’s without adding in any extra work pressures such as vying for a promotion or pay rise, navigating a relocation, or new responsibilities, or of course, new challenges that we’ve seen with Covid-19.

“No employer should expect their staff to leave their personal problems at the door any more but employers who have support mechanisms in place for their employees are able to intervene before the situation escalates, which is not only a great support for the individual but also mitigates the likelihood, frequency and length of any absence related to such issues.”