26 August 2021 - John Kerr

Covid-19 Group risk emerges as a must-have benefit

So much has changed over the past 18 months that it’s difficult to know where to begin when looking at the changes to the world of work that have evolved out of the Covid-19 pandemic, or, indeed, where it will all end up. One thing’s for sure though – the workplace is in a state of flux.

 But, within all the uncertainty, group risk benefits (employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness benefits) have absolutely come into their own. Both employers and their people have realised 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-19. This, in turn, has brought home the value of group risk protection benefits in supporting employees and their families through the worst of times, and they’ve become some of the most valued employee benefits available.

 Supporting employees throughout the pandemic

 The group risk industry has had to be nimble and responsive to employers’ changing needs in supporting their workforce, for example, by allowing flexibility around those working on reduced hours or on furloughed pay.

 The group risk industry paid out circa £100 million in Covid-related death claims in 2020, according to figures from GRiD’s 2021 Claims Survey. Similarly, the industry has been supporting employees through Long Covid both in practical and financial terms, via group income protection targeted support and claims payments. There’s also an expectation that the industry will see more claims across group critical illness insurance and will be dealing with the fall-out from the virus for some time to come, even if it is brought under control (for example, from the impact of delays in NHS diagnoses, and treatment of serious conditions such as cancer).

 The support services embedded within group risk products at no extra cost have been heavily utilised throughout the pandemic, giving superb value and crucial help on a daily basis, with interactions increasing exponentially to a record number of 138,222 (compared with 74,707 interactions during 2019), found GRiD’s 2021 Claims Survey. Where the type of support service interaction was recorded, insurers saw significant online and telephone usage (45% online, 42% telephone, 11% face to face) as people had to access support this way because of social distancing and became more comfortable with that.

 The increased usage serves to demonstrate that, although it’s not every day that a group risk claim is made, there’s something of daily value embedded within these products that’s useful and relevant to employees when they need it. Fast access to extra support for physical and mental health such as physio, vocational rehabilitation, employee assistance programmes, counselling, online GP services, health apps and second medical opinion services provided via group risk policies has been particularly helpful for people as they’ve modified their lives and have faced new challenges throughout the pandemic.

 A shift in employee wellbeing benefits

 We’ve also seen accelerated provision of new support (especially digital healthcare services), additional resources (eg webinars on managing people remotely, nutrition and sleep management), and providers extending these services to a greater proportion of the workforce – not just those who are covered under the insurance – in order to help employers fully support their people.

 GRiD’s 2021 employer research, which surveyed more than 500 HR decision makers, found that health and wellbeing has come to the fore, with more than six in ten (63%) employers having increased health and wellbeing support or employee benefits during the pandemic to better support staff. In fact, many in HR (73%) think the pandemic will mean a long-term change in the way their business supports the health and wellbeing of staff, with 57% seeing this change as positive.

 Life has changed almost beyond recognition for many, and we’re not done with that yet, so employers are looking for benefits that fit with the new ‘normal’ post-Covid-19 working environment.

 Embedded group risk support services fit perfectly into this changing landscape and take out much of the heavy lifting for employers. Through their group risk policies businesses can not only support employees and their families financially, but they can also give them much appreciated help with day-to-day distractions as well as more serious issues.

 Group risk benefits remain some of the most comprehensive and valued tools in an employer’s kitbag, but have often been the unsung heroes and have very rarely been front of mind for employers or employees. Covid-19 has well and truly put an end to that, bringing their value to the fore.

The author is Katharine Moxham, spokesperson at GRiD.

This article is provided by GRiD.