Value in needs-based consultancy

Needs-based consultancy can show employers the true value of healthcare benefits says Adam Beckett, sales and marketing director, Aviva UK Health


The coalition government is embarking on one of the most radical and far-reaching restructures of the welfare system the country has seen for many years. The review should not only help many of the people currently on Employment and Support Alllowance back to work, but may also open up new opportunities for the private health and protection industry.

While it’s too early to predict the outcome of the government’s Sickness Absence Review, it is likely that employers will find themselves at the heart of the solution. Since Dame Carol Black’s 2008 report Working for a Healthy Tomorrow, we’ve seen more focus on employers taking responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of their staff. Initiatives such as the introduction of the Fit Note, and the Public Health Responsibility Deal continue this trend.

With initial recommendations due to be published later on this year, recent research from Aviva goes some way to uncover whether employers have the appetite to take on increased responsibility in relation to their employees’ health and financial protection. In addition, the findings highlight a number of opportunities for advisers.

The fifth Aviva Health of the Workplace study, due in mid-September, reveals a distinct lack of awareness of the government’s plans, with 85 per cent of employers taking part in the research saying that they aren’t aware of the government’s Absence Review. Moreover, nearly half of employers don’t know what Fit Notes are.

Despite this situation, 43 per cent of employers recognise that they have a responsibility for the health of their employees and many have already introduced initiatives which go some way to support the government’s objective of improving the health of the working age population.

Employers are also taking a more pro-active approach to managing sickness absence. More than a quarter of employers say they have an absence management system that enables them to intervene early and help employers back into the workplace.

Very few of the 86 per cent of employers who say they capture sickness absence data use the insight to inform their employee benefit strategy

Although this is a step in the right direction, our research reveals that very few of the 86 per cent of employers who say they capture sickness absence data use the insight to inform their employee benefit strategy. One in eight use the output purely to manage HR issues.

The same number capture the data but don’t do anything with it and fewer than one in ten say they use absence data to inform changes to their benefits and wellbeing policies. Moreover, when asked about their benefit choices, nearly a third of employers admit that they offer the same benefits every year because they’ve “always offered” them.

With budgets tight, clients are increasingly looking for evidence that the benefits they’ve chosen are delivering real value to both their employees and their bottom line. In fact, 54 per cent of employers taking part in this year’s Health of the Workplace study say that they’d invest more money in health benefits if they could see a tangible return on investment.

Interestingly, the government’s approach to the current welfare review may hold some of the answers. The review represents a step-change in thinking. It is no longer focusing on tackling the financial cost of long term sickness in isolation; instead, it is taking a more cohesive approach which looks at what is driving the issues to consider solutions to tackle them. As an industry we need to encourage our corporate customers to adopt a similar approach when choosing which employee benefits to purchase.

Rather than looking at standalone product-led solutions, we believe that advisers and providers need to work with their customers to tailor needs-based benefit packages. The final solution will be bespoke to each company’s needs. However, it should ideally include a range of products and services that support prevention through to treatment, rehabilitation and financial support.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, the good news is that sickness absence data is clearly available to help advisers confidently recommend the right package of complementary benefits to pro-actively tackle the company’s individual issues.

If a needs-based consultancy approach is more widely adopted, we believe that the health and protection industry will be better placed to demonstrate the products and services that can deliver tangible people outcomes and financial returns that over time far outweigh the initial cost of the benefits.