While firms increasingly understand the importance of providing health and protection benefits to staff in these times, the severe economic downturn caused by the pandemic has meant many are choosing to put buying decisions off to a later date.
The latest CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Wellbeing at Work survey revealed earlier this week that while 64% of firms now offer some sort of insurance or protection initiatives to at least to some groups of staff – this was largely unchanged from previous years.
Health & Protection threw the question over to intermediary experts on why there appears to be a disconnect between a growing need among employees for health and protection benefits and firms’ appetite to purchase them.
Claire Ginnelly, managing director at Premier Choice Group, told Health & Protection that while there is a demand for the products her firm offers, this has to be balanced by a “horrendous year” in which many jobs and businesses lost.
“With this sort of backdrop, I would not expect to see significant levels of growth. However, what I do believe is that companies which have survived or thrived during the last 12 months will continue to offer the products they have and new start-ups may look to take out policies.”
But Ginnelly adds firms do understand the importance of employee health and wellbeing.
“If we do not have this, we do not have an economy. The two are linked. This means the desire to support and protect is greater than ever and this over time should translate to a growth in our market.
“The pandemic has shown how all the health and protection policies out there do so much more than just pay out at time of a claim. There are benefits included which can support employees and there has been a myriad of advice and information from insurers helping employers with employee wellbeing.
“Sadly, the state system – whether this be NHS provision or state provision for protection – is going to come under increasing stress in the years following the pandemic and this is where the private sector can really help.”
‘Not been top of the list’
Dave Middleton, who was elected the new executive chair of the Association of Medical Insurers and Intermediaries (AMII) last week, told Health & Protection that the report’s data in this area has been static for a number of years so its not surprising that it has remained so during the pandemic.
“Most organisations have been concentrating on keeping their business going, implementing and adapting to new ways of working and keeping their workforce safe both physically and mentally,” he said.
“Adding, enhancing or changing benefit packages also takes time and money and needs to engage all stakeholders including the workforce – quite simply its not been top of the list of things to review.
“Having said that, there has been a slight increase in providing counselling services, EAPs (employee assistance programmes) and mental health support which demonstrates my point about the desire for companies to try and look after the mental health of their workforce.”
Meanwhile Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, told Health & Protection that the economic uncertainty of the last 14 months has resulted in many employee benefit buying decisions being deferred until the dust settles and a full return to work takes place.
“Once employers are able to assess the financial situation, many will look to add or expand benefits no doubt to both protect the employers reputation and improve productivity also,” he said.
“As a result of the last 14 months, the three principal pillars of insured protection for employees are even more important than they were prior to the pandemic.
“The need to have at least a basic level of group life assurance is far more apparent to most employers than it was prior to the pandemic.”
Herbert noted that prior to the crisis it was not uncommon to find employers reluctant to provide life cover for some groupings of employees, with the employer often promising to ‘look after’ a deceased employee’s family if the worst happened.
“The almost total lockdown last year really highlighted how fragile such an uninsured promise might be, so employers would be well advised to extend at least a basic level of cover to all workers,” he added.
Mental health focus encouraging
Brian Walters, managing director at Regency Health, agreed that while health and protection benefits may be desired by employee and employer alike, the downturn has meant companies have been cautious with expenditure until they see an economic upturn.
“It’s encouraging to see an increase in the take-up of mental health benefits over the past few years,” he said.
“Brokers arguably have a duty to challenge employers who believe that mental health does not form part of their requirements to ensure that this is properly thought through.”
Ultimately, the pandemic has brought home to employers and employees alike that there’s a real chance of dying, being extremely ill or being left with a lasting health condition as a result of contracting Covid, Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for risk industry body GRiD, told Health & Protection.
“Group risk protection benefits and their embedded support have come into their own during the pandemic.
“What better way is there for employers to show duty of care than by giving their employees group risk cover so that they, and their household, have the security of knowing they will be taken care of if the worst happens through a financial payment or other practical help and support,” she said.
“No other benefit can deliver this, and last year saw employers prioritising group risk benefits in a way that they may not have before the pandemic, with many doing their utmost to maintain this provision despite the many challenges their business is facing.”