Slack water: Employers beware the shifting tide of responsibility for employee health and welfare

There is a cross-departmental sea-change within public policy that means government has increasing expectations of employers regarding the welfare of their staff, according to GRiD, the industry body for the group risk protection sector.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for Group Risk Development (GRiD) said:

“The period between a tidal current rushing in and then rushing out in the opposite direction, is called ‘slack water’, and that’s exactly where I think the debate on employee health and welfare is currently. We’re not in a legislative environment just yet but the tide is turning and employers would be wise to take heed.”

GRiD points to a number of policy papers that have either implied or overtly mentioned this issue in recent times:

• Prevention is better than cure: Our vision to help you live well for longer from the Department of Health & Social Care
• Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability roadmap from the Department for Work & Pensions
• Good Work: the Taylor review of modern working practices from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
• Thriving at work: the Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health and Social Care

All recognise that employers are well placed to make positive changes that will help improve the lives, health and happiness of their people.

Debate in Westminster

The financial effect of absence from work due to mental health problems has also been debated in Westminster*, the debate focused on the role of employers as pivotal, especially smaller organisations. Group Income Protection, in particular, was recognised as being a fundamental tool for employers to use to help them both in terms of financial support during employee sickness absence and also in achieving better outcomes in returning people to work.

Katharine Moxham continued:

“Group risk products (employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness) give financial protection to staff and their families when they need it most, in the event of ill-health, disability or death. They also often come with a raft of extra support, such as giving employees fast access to physiotherapy, treatment, counselling and mediation, employee assistance programmes; and can help encourage better health behaviours through wearables and apps. However, benefits are not limited to staff alone, as employers can also access rehabilitation advice to help meet legal obligations, mental health first aid training, employment law advice, and early intervention and mediation for absence issues.

“Employers who already offer group income protection will be well prepared for the turning tide as they will already be compliant with much of what will be required of them over the coming years. And of course, their organisation will also benefit with a better protected workforce, which is likely to mean a happier and healthier workforce, which also brings about increased engagement and productivity.”

Learning from the military and overseas

In his speech launching the “Prevention is better than cure” policy paper the Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, referred to ‘employers playing a bigger role in helping their staff stay healthy and to return to health after illness.’

When holding up the military’s extraordinary rehabilitation achievement of an 85% return-to-work rate after serious injury he stated, “Civilian employers must do the same. Employers have a responsibility to help improve the health of their staff and the nation. Each of us has a stake in our health and care system so each of us has a responsibility to work together to build a sustainable system.”

Hancock also encouraged an openness to learning from other nations such as the Netherlands, where he said ‘companies must demonstrate due diligence in their approach to the rehabilitation of sick staff and helping employees return to work’.

Katharine Moxham concluded:

“It’s clear that in seeking to solve the problems of the nation’s health and welfare systems, the government is looking to employers of all sizes to really step up to the mark and provide more support to their staff. Having only just shouldered the burden of compulsory pension payments, it’s understandable that employers might be reluctant to take on any further financial commitments but offering group income protection is a great way to move towards the tripartite effort between employers, individuals and the state that Government has in mind for the shifting tide.”