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Supporting employees through a serious illness

When employees are diagnosed with a serious illness it can lead to issues ranging from physical and mental health problems to financial worries. To support staff -- and help ensure they perform at their best when at work -- there are various forms of support that employers can offer.

Almost a quarter (23%) of UK businesses do not offer any form of emotional or practical support to employees if they are diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease, according to research by GRiD, the industry body for the group risk sector.

Of those that do offer support, the most common forms are a phased return to work plan (43%) and emotional support, such as counselling (42%). Other support offered includes:

  • practical support, such as access to rehabilitation (35%);
  • line manager training (28%);
  • access to medical specialists such as oncologists (27%);
  • access to a second medical opinion (23%);
  • employer pays for treatment (21%); and
  • physiotherapy (17%)

However, the survey uncovered a disconnect between employees' relatively low expectations and what employers make available in practice -- demonstrating a clear opportunity for employers to improve their communications.

When asked about what support they believe their employer might offer them should they be absent through ill health, of those employees who thought they would have support over and above Statutory Sick Pay, only 7% thought they'd be given access to counselling and just 3% thought their employer would offer physio.

As GRiD explained, employers can't second guess what their staff may need when their health takes a turn for the worse -- some may need medical support, others emotional or financial support. Indeed, employees themselves won't know in advance how a situation may affect them.

"When employers are looking at how to support their staff best, it's important to offer a wide range of help," said Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD. "Trying to offer support on a standalone basis for the changing needs of an individual is not only expensive but it's also nigh on impossible to cover every eventuality.

"The good news is that such support is often readily available, embedded within the products for employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness benefits, so employers need to investigate these when looking to support their workforce."

A separate study by GRiD looked specifically at the financial support available for employees who are absent for longer than six months due to ill health, disability or injury.

It found that 32% of employers don't have any such financial support in place, of which half claim they can't afford to offer financial support and a third do not believe it is their responsibility.

Commenting on the findings, Moxham said: "It may seem counter-intuitive but employees who are offered financial support at difficult times in their lives feel more valued and are therefore likely to return to work more quickly when they are able. Removing an employee's source of income is by no means a motivator to get them back at their desk, and nor should any employer be advocating presenteeism where employees return to work before they are truly ready."

She concluded: "Although some employers may believe that offering financial support, such as group income protection, is prohibitively expensive, in fact, it isn't at all. The average cost is £313 per employee per year. Not only does it provide the employee with an income, and prevent unforeseen expenditure for the employer, it also supports the individual in returning to work, as group income protection policies typically come with a wealth of support for rehabilitation."

At Fidelius we create employee benefits solutions that are tailored to the needs of your business and your workforce. We also understand the importance of communications to make sure your employees know what support is available to them when they need it. To find out more, contact us today.

Posted on December 7th 2020

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