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How lockdown changed employee support for the better

07 June 2022

Lockdown meant that people’s health and wellbeing were forefront of their minds. This, in turn, meant a change in employees’ needs and what support they looked for from their employer. Although the pandemic had so many very negative impacts, as Debra Clark explains there have perhaps been some positive results to be seen in the workplace. 

A NUMBER of areas were particularly impacted by the lockdown and top of the list has to be mental health.  Isolation, bereavement, changes at work, and financial worries all had a direct impact on mental wellbeing to varying degrees and in different ways.  

There are concerns that this is only the initial impact and that as things start to return to a ‘new normal’ we will continue to see an after wave of mental health issues: children unable to sit their exams, people still dealing with unjust bereavement, the NHS staff who have worked so hard, those people still out of work or having to cover for people still being impacted by the covid virus. There has also been an increase in the ‘sandwich generation’ - people having to care for their children but also for their parents or elderly family members.  

The need to support people with their mental health has increased hugely. This was compounded by the rising demand coming at the same time as access to services was decreasing, as the NHS’ priority was coping with Covid. Having access to private support was therefore a consideration. One option within the workplace is to implement employee assistance programmes (EAPs), which provide support for stress and anxiety as well as legal and financial issues. This support can be over the telephone and, depending on the cover, also face-to-face through video conferencing. This type of benefit is available through some existing insurance offerings (private medical and group income protection for example) or standalone. It is not a high-cost purchase and provides instant access to support for those who need it – which proved critical during and post lockdown.

Physical effects 

The pandemic also had indirect impacts on people’s physical wellbeing. Anxiety and financial concerns could result in trouble sleeping, which causes physical symptoms. There was also an increase in musculoskeletal issues as people were working from home for the first time, or more often than before. People were not able to attend check-ups, monitoring, or screening appointments during lockdown, so this means there has potentially been a delay in diagnosing conditions that are more serious if left untreated. An example of this is cancer: if diagnosed at stage one it might be relatively easy to treat but if only spotted when at stage four, the prognosis could be much worse.  

Benefits changing in response

In response to some of these challenges people were facing, newer employee benefits became available – discounted physiotherapy access, at-home screening packages, carer support and helplines – just three of the services that we have seen increase in popularity as a direct result of this greater need. A specialist intermediary will be able to give guidance and access to some of these newer forms of benefit within whatever budget a company may have available to them.

Remote options

Not only were needs changing, the way people accessed their care had to change as well. This caused a massive fast-tracking in the introduction of virtual and digital health solutions. Virtual health solutions were already being developed but the need to access care this way meant a huge improvement in a very short period of time. Now proven to work, it is doubtful people will go back completely to needing face-to-face treatment or consultations for everything.  GP appointments, mental health support and counselling, physiotherapy, skin photo analysis and health monitors can all be carried out virtually. Even some screening can be done remotely at a time that is convenient for the patient with at-home kits. 

Rise of digital

Linked to this has been the development of app-based solutions. Insurers developed apps for their members to make it easier to access the services and support they were offering. With more generation Zs in the workplace than ever before, who were practically born with a phone in their hands, this will only become more prevalent, despite lockdown being the catalyst for their development.

Employee benefits platforms 

Companies can also look at employee benefit platforms to support the engagement and communication of benefits as well as potentially choosing benefits. With each insurance policy or service now offering much broader elements as part of their proposition, it is very easy for staff to not be aware of everything they have access to. A company may be paying for a benefit that staff either do not know exists or do not know how to access it. An online platform could help with this challenge, especially if businesses have moved to a remote or hybrid working model, and the workforce are no longer always in a central workspace as they might have been before lockdown.

Halting the great resignation

The needs people have and the way they access them means that an employer will need to keep up with this changing dynamic or run the risk of not meeting their employees’ requirements. It is widely reported that people are looking much more broadly at potential employers, and it is no longer purely about the role and the salary. Employees want to see that their wellbeing will be considered and looked after, that their values are the same as their employer and their role delivers purpose. The great resignation is commonly referred to as people take stock and want to improve their life for the better.  Companies will need to ask themselves if they allow all their staff to be the best versions of themselves, as ’well’ employees are more likely to be loyal, productive and take less time off sick. 

Psychological safety

It is important to both existing and prospective staff that a company has the right culture with the right emphasis on wellbeing. If the company does not, then it may have a higher turnover of staff and struggle to recruit the talent required. A new iteration of ISO45003 places more focus on psychological safety of staff at work as well as physical. The number of accidents in the workplace is dropping but mental health issues and time off due to poor mental health is increasing. It makes sense for mental health to be a key part of health and safety considerations, not just people’s physical health, and this shift in focus happening with many of Towergate Health & Protection’s clients.

Creating a culture

Despite this new guidance and increased focus, it cannot be a tick box exercise. Looking after people’s health and wellbeing should run through the core of a business. It should be supported by robust and clear HR policies and be central to the culture and values the business and its staff represent. For all the damage brought about by the pandemic, maybe some positives can result for the mental health and support of employees.  

Debra Clark is head of specialist consulting at Towergate Health & Protection

For more information visit https://www.towergatehealthandprotection.co.uk/​