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Providing employee benefits through lockdown

Richard Davey Richard Davey

Under the current circumstances, companies need to consider how their employee benefits packages can provide mutual support through this difficult period. Richard Davey discusses how you can help your employees.

An employee benefit can be anything you can imagine, but there are certain benefits that are very useful in certain circumstances and it's always worth considering the needs of your employees. Given the current global climate, there are particular benefits you should be offering your staff to help them through.

Private medical insurance

Private medical insurance as an employee benefit gives access to immediate treatment for most acute conditions in the many private facilities throughout the UK. Private schemes help many members through the treatment of cancer, musculo-skeletal conditions, mental health issue and much more.

Most private medical plans come with a suite of employee benefits outside the basic provision of insurance and a deep dive into what these benefits look like will surprise many employers. Access to virtual GP services, lifestyle-management tools and discounts are just the start.

With the government’s announcement that it has agreed to use private facilities to manage the burden on the NHS as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, private medical schemes will be affected. Access to immediate treatment will be delayed and members will be left frustrated. Making sure your employees have their expectations managed and regular contact with your insurer will help negate such frustrations and allow members to receive treatment, albeit delayed. Ongoing claimants should remain unaffected.

Employee assistance programmes

An employee assistance programme (EAP) will provide telephone or face-to-face counselling that could help with the many of the life challenges we all face. If you have one, make sure your team are aware that these employee benefits are there for them. The NHS 111 service is at the point of breaking and, therefore, any additional support is invaluable to your people. An EAP will be readily armed to answer questions on the virus and so much more.

Virtual GP service

If you are not provided with access to a virtual GP service through one of your other employee benefits (typically at zero or low cost), you can engage with one of the growing number of established standalone virtual GP providers.

Employees can book an appointment, typically within four hours, to receive medical advice, guidance and private prescriptions that can be delivered to employees' home or work addresses, all from their desk or phone. This saves significant time for both the employer and employee.

Waiting times to see your local GP are now likely to increase to possibly months, so to provide employees access to immediate appointments, remotely and quickly has never been more critical than now.

Family care

Family care services are a fantastic employee benefit at all ages. Such services provide access to emergency child- or elder-care, so are relevant to most of the workforce. An employee could book an emergency nanny, nursery or child-minder with a 30-minute notice period. There may be times where elderly parents or grandparents need urgent care, but it is impossible for an employee to find the time to be there.

Adult care can help with adult dependants when work and family life conflict, and COVID-19 will create increase the likelihood of this situation, given the high risk to the elderly. This service is exceptional value and employers will only pay for the actual usage. The management information that forms part of this service truly demonstrates return-on-investment and introducing such a service as an employee benefit shows clear commitment to any diversity and inclusion initiative.

Income protection

There is much we don’t know about COVID-19, and the long-term effects could be far reaching and increase prolonged employee absence. Income protection as an employee benefit keeps your staff safe from financial loss in the event they are unable to work for an extended period of time, typically over six months. It also protects the employer from funding an employee’s salary in the event of long-term absence.

Income protection also comes with many benefits from early intervention and rehabilitation services for employees, including EAP, virtual GP services, second-opinion services, and line-manager and employee resilience training to name but a few.

Business protection

Succession planning and business continuity will be at the forefront of many smaller employers' minds right now, where reliance on key individuals is critical to the future success of the business. Surprisingly, many of these organisations make no provision for the loss of their key people or have not considered the impact this will have in running the business day to day.

Should a key employee become unable to work or even pass away, a well thought-out business protection plan would help the company with ongoing cashflow concerns, pay off debtors or deal with the transfer of shareholdings in the most cost-effective way. If your business is reliant on key personnel to continue business operations, you really need to think about protecting that risk immediately.

Group life

Most companies will provide a level of life assurance cover as an employee benefit. This will pay an employee’s beneficiaries in the event of death, when arranged appropriately, tax free. Bereavement and counselling will be available to the immediate family members concerned.

If you are one of the many who provides life assurance, now could be a good time to prompt employees to review beneficiary forms to ensure any claims that arise are paid out as smoothly as possible to the intended beneficiaries of the deceased.

Critical illness

This will pay a lump-sum employee benefit when a specified critical illness is suffered. If the employee survives a 14-day period, they will receive the lump sum that they are covered for. COVID-19 isn’t specifically covered, however, related illnesses might be and help can be offered towards costs like private medical treatment or a total-life transformation. Benefit will be paid out tax-free and benefits of up to £500,000 per person can be arranged.

Pension salary sacrifice

As benefit provision, cost controls come under greater focus. The introduction of pension salary sacrifice can generate significant savings that can be redirected into many of the other available employee benefits. The process is straightforward and savings through salary sacrifice can be significant, with more and more employers taking advantage of this incentive.

Sick pay insurance

These types of policy will provide sick-pay employee benefits for those who are unable to work because of illness or injury. The benefit can start from as soon as a week of continuous absence and go on for up to 52 weeks. At the end of this period, the cover would cease.

You can have both sick-pay insurance and an income protection policy running alongside each other, so that once the sick-pay insurance expires, the income protection can proceed with paying a further continuous benefit up to the agreed payment period already in place.

Step-challenge events

Now that we are in the era of remote working, a great way to retain a cohesive company culture is through virtual team-building events, offered as employee benefits. There are many different programmes, but a great idea is to consider “step” events, where an employer can challenge teams of employees to accumulate as many steps as it would take to virtually walk to a specific landmark or destination, such as Empire State Building. An incentivised programme could lead to an award for the winner, such as an additional day of holiday, a team lunch (once lockdown has ended) or a donation to a designated charity.

Not only does this encourage the workforce to interact with each other, as you can track how other teams are progressing and set up message and leader boards, but it promotes a culture of fitness amongst the workforce as 'steps mean prizes'.

Beyond the step programmes, you will find many interactive modules to promote wellness, and as an organisation, you will receive management information that will help drive your wellness proposition in the long term. Ultimately, you are keeping the workforce connected and engaged, which is critical during these times of isolation and can be great fun too!

Summary

There is much to consider right now. Many of us are unimaginably busy, but spending some time thinking about what you provide your employees and how you can capitalise on this to the full is key to employee engagement and positivity. Make the most of existing spend to spur on a workforce, which is undoubtedly nervous and disconnected. Communicate effectively; re-assure whole-heartedly; manage remotely.

If you would like to discuss this any further, get in touch with Richard Davey.

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