5 ways to reduce stress releated claims

There’s a growing school of thought that HR and Risk professionals should get to know each other a bit better, perhaps even share data and insights, in order to identify and prevent mental health issues in the workplace. The ultimate goal? Improved employee engagement and productivity, plus a reduction in stress-related group income protection (IP) and employers’ liability (EL) claims.

The rationale is that if the two areas of expertise got involved in a more ‘formal’ relationship, potential hot spots and issues amongst the workforce could be more readily identified. This in turn would allow for the more strategic use of early intervention and rehabilitation benefits available as part of group IP policies, meeting both HR and Risk objectives.

Frances Stapleford, Deputy Claims Officer at Generali UK, comments: “An EL claim has a far higher chance of succeeding if an employer fails to act on signs and advice from employees that indicate they might be suffering from stress.

“So it stands to reason that an employer who provides manager training on how to spot the signs of stress or has regular EAP awareness campaigns has more chance of reducing the likelihood of EL stress claims arising.”

The EL issue

Apparently, around one in four EL claims is for stress-related illness these days, according to a report by the Chartered Insurance Institute’s (CII’s) New Generation Underwriting Group entitled Is stress the elephant in the boardroom?

Where there is data available on EL claims – and there isn’t much, aside from that available in the CII’s aforementioned report – it shows that overall costs have increased dramatically over the years from £10,000 in 2010 to £60,000 in 2012, the most recent figures available. Subsequent anecdotal evidence suggests that this rate of increase has continued. Although the average cost of claims has remained fairly stable, it’s the actual volume of claims that is ever-rising.

Experts suggest this might have something to do with the rise over recent years in solicitors specialising in this area. A quick Google search reveals an abundance of no-win, no-fee style offers.

At the same time, achieving a successful stress claim in an Employment Tribunal has become more difficult thanks to the tightening of case law. Employees now have to take more responsibility for their own actions. 

Impact on industry

All of this has an overall knock-on effect on British businesses in terms of costs, not to mention the reputational impact and loss of productivity that comes with failing to get to grips with mental health issues.

Putting in place the processes required to ensure integrated working practices and data sharing across HR and Risk will require some new thinking across the industry. But implementing preventative measures to help ensure the understanding and management of mental health issues is possible now.

Top tips

Wellbeing investment matching – Some group IP providers are now supporting employers in funding bespoke and targeted wellbeing initiatives. Where an employer identifies a specific need – such as mental health understanding and management for line managers (refer to points 2 and 3 below for further information) – and wants to finance it, the insurer will consider contributing to the initiative based on the likely short and medium term outcomes for the group IP population.

Train line-managers to identify and signpost – Line managers obviously aren’t counsellors but they should understand what good mental health looks like, how to identify potential problems and how to manage issues. Training from a reputable specialist in this area such as Mental Health at Work – supported by wellbeing investment matching - will give line managers the confidence to discuss issues with employees and signpost to appropriate services, such as the EAP or potential referral for face-to-face counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy or psychiatric consultation.

Remove stigmas around mental health – Training for line managers can also help address the stigma of mental health, as highlighted by Business in the Community’s recent Mental Health at Work Report 2016. This found that 77% of employees had experienced symptoms of poor mental health at some point in their lives. Despite this, only 25% said they had approached someone at work for support. The findings back-up industry-wide sentiment that employees don’t feel they can approach their managers with issues concerning their mental health, and that managers feel they need training to manage this conversation.

Encourage employees to focus on their physical health – It’s well documented[1] that people with serious physical health conditions are more likely to suffer from depression, not to mention relationship difficulties, loss of confidence and self-esteem. Employers that make full use of added value services such as expert pathway support for musculoskeletal conditions, chronic fatigue and pain, and cardiovascular health are likely to reap the rewards. Arguably just as important is the need to promote healthy living via the workplace using a combination of communications media such as newsletters, online tutorials, fitness challenges, nutrition advice etc.

Improve employee usage of wellbeing services – Simply communicate the added-value benefits and services on offer via the group IP contract – everything from telephonic advice from experts in personal finance and debt management to childcare, eldercare, mental health and wellbeing. This has to be one of the quickest and easiest routes to improve usage and engagement, yet the one most under-utilised. It’s worth finding out how your group IP provider can help in this regard. Generali, for example, recently launched a self-serve communications hub, allowing HR to produce various types of employer branded material.

[1] Twice as likely: putting long-term conditions and depression on the agenda, by a coalition of charities (Arthritis Research UK, British Heart Foundation, Depression Alliance, Diabetes UK, Macmillan Cancer Support & the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society) April 2012.