Don’t get stressed

Stress amongst employees is costing UK businesses increasing amounts. Edmund Tarbutt finds intermediaries can profit from de-stressing their clients\' workforces

One man’s poison can be another man’s meat, which is why proactive IFAs should be looking to capitalise on the growing problem of workplace stress, a problem that the Health and Safety Executive says currently affects a staggering one in five UK workers.

The exact cost of stress to the nation’s economy is hard to assess because it is difficult to distinguish between stress caused at work and stress caused at home. Boundaries between stress and other related issues such as anxiety and depression are extremely blurred. But recent research by The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health estimates the total cost to employers of mental health problems generally amongst their staff is nearly 26 billion a year. This equates to 1,035 for every employee in the UK workforce.

Colin Micklewright, head of business development for income protection at Canada Life, says “This is probably the best time in my 25 years in group risk for genuine new business opportunities for IFAs on the back of stress related issues. The Government welfare reforms due to come into effect this October are likely to be a major driver as they will make State benefits more difficult to obtain and a significant number of benefit claims are for stress-related conditions. Businesses of all sizes are increasingly realising that stress can be a major source of absenteeism and that they need help, and well informed IFAs are well placed to assist them in some areas.”

There are some parts of the stress jigsaw towards which IFAs can make little direct contribution. For example, amongst the most important factors in determining whether stress problems develop are a company’s culture and the quality of its management. Good managers and a positive working environment give you stimulus, not stress.

Professor Mike O’Donnell, chief medical officer at Unum, says “The fundamental point is that the better you treat people the more you get out of them. A lot of experts would say that the discussion has moved away from work being the source of ill-health to it being a positive experience. There is a realisation that the most hazardous form of work is far less hazardous than being out of work.”

But IFAs can certainly help their clients by referring them to useful sources of information on the issue, and in doing so could pave the way for recommending products and services on which they can earn commission. Many experts feel that the starting point should be to make sure that clients are familiar with the HSE’s stress guidelines (which can be downloaded from “www.hse.gov.uk/stress/”). These revolve around management standards which look at six key areas of work that, if properly managed, can help reduce work-related stress: demands, control, support, relationships, role and change. Ann Dougan, marketing director at Cigna HealthCare, says “The HSE guidelines show you what you need to think about as an employer and IFAs should familiarise themselves with them. They should also check with clients to see if they have a written stress management policy in place, and these steps could open up discussions about wellness programmes and other products that IFAs can sell to help reduce stress problems.”

Many providers of specialist services that assess the extent of workplace stress and provide management training on how to deal with it do not pay for introductions from intermediaries. National provider Health & Case Management (HCML), is, however, prepared to negotiate commission deals on its range of services.

HCML can conduct and collate the results of stress audits, which involve asking all staff to complete a questionnaire. Based on these results, it can then identify hot spots and recommend other procedures. It can also provide consultancy advice on areas such as flexible working and written stress policies and can provide line managers with training in identifying stress in team members and in stress management techniques to assist them.

Karen Hunt, employment services manager at HCML, says “Solutions don’t have to be hugely expensive and the cost depends on the issues involved. For an SME it could be anything from a couple of hundred pounds if we just liaised with HR to a couple of thousand pounds if we did training, We can review workplaces and workforces and assist with keeping people in work and in getting them back to work when they are already suffering from stress, which includes advising managers on how to conduct return to work meetings.”

Another option is provided by national specialist intermediary IHC, which is prepared to wholesale its stress related services to other intermediaries and pay them 10 per cent commission for their introductions. It can provide stress audits, one to one stress coaching sessions, health screenings – conducted either in-house or via a mobile clinic – and occupational health services.

Legal & General is also worthy of note for offering access to discounted stress audits and relevant management training as add-ons to its group income protection scheme. Intermediaries who recommend this option can earn additional commission.

Standard group health insurance products also contain a range of tools that can be used to help combat stress. Income protection schemes, for example, automatically include a free rehabilitation service to help claimants of all sorts return to work and can provide access to various stress counselling methods – including, in some cases, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Group private medical insurance (PMI) schemes often provide psychiatric cover, although this tends to be subject to strict limits.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are highly valued for their ability to take a holistic approach to underlying stress issues, and most providers pay commission – as do some group income protection providers who offer EAPs as add-ons. Typically an EAP will provide unlimited confidential telephone counselling backed up by the ability to receive limited face-to-face counselling. According to trade body the EAP Association (EAPA), it is not uncommon for employers who use EAPs to combat stress to secure a return on investment of over four times their outlay.

But any IFA that recommends an EAP should be aware that the tax implications surrounding them are still a little unclear. Most employees who have access to EAPs do not incur a P11D liability as a result but local tax offices are capable of interpreting the rules differently. The EAPA expects the tax situation to be clearly defined by the second quarter of 2008.

Some group health insurance providers also pay commission to IFAs who recommend absence management services that they offer as add-ons and, even when such commission is not available, recommending them may secure premiums discounts on group risk products because there is evidence that employers who have such schemes tend to enjoy better claims experiences. This can therefore generate goodwill from clients.

Similar goodwill can result from directing clients to the range of free help-lines and web portals available on group health insurance schemes that can offer advice and information on stress related issues. It is all too easy to overlook the importance of client retention in the mad scramble to balance the books by bringing in commission. But there can be few things more stressful than losing all your clients. . n

Adviser view – Don’t forget what’s already there

“Every commercial client nowadays, even if they only have a handful of employees, will need some kind of stress solution”

Paul Roberts, healthcare consultant at national specialist intermediary IHC, has been involved in stress management for 14 years but emphasises that there has been a marked increase in stress related claims during the past five years in particular.

He says “We used to deal with a lot of false claims but now we are dealing with a lot of very genuine and serious ones. Many of the problems are resulting from people being in the wrong jobs because, with all the corporate restructuring we have been experiencing, jobs can change dramatically and quickly and this often leaves people unable to cope.

“Every commercial client nowadays, even if they have only a handful of employees, will need some kind of stress solution during the course of any one year. This is a big problem for most IFAs because they don’t have an ongoing knowledge of the subject, so outsourcing is often the best solution.”

But Roberts also stresses that IFAs are frequently guilty of overlooking opportunities to add value by highlighting to clients the many stress related services that are already available on their group risk schemes, either automatically or as add-ons. These include GP and stress help-lines as well as EAPs and absence management services.

He continues “These are all excellent if you remember to use them but IFAs commonly forget they are there. Our research shows that under 10 per cent are actively recommending them. It shouldn’t take too long to remind clients of their availability through a brief email.”

Key points on stress

  • Workplace stress currently affects one in five UK workers
  • IFAs should ensure that clients are aware of the HSE’s stress guidelines
  • A minority of providers of stress audits and other specialist services will pay commission
  • EAPs, absence management services, and GP and stress help-lines should not be overlooked