Beware of inflexible support when choosing how to look after the health and wellbeing of staff

Employers are being warned about selecting employee benefits that are too inflexible in the way they support the health and wellbeing of employees. RedArc, the nurse-led health wellbeing service, believes that although employers are doing the right thing in proactively providing health and wellbeing support for staff, they need to be cautious about overly prescriptive benefits that may not give staff enough of the right kind of support.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc says: “What support and equipment might a young mother with cancer need to support her through her diagnosis, treatment and recovery? Is it possible to predict how many counselling sessions a bereaved husband requires? Will an individual with PTSD after a car accident be sufficiently recovered within a few counselling sessions? We simply don’t know because every employee will require an individual approach to their recovery.

“When employers talk about mental and physical support for staff, there’s a tendency to think in round numbers: support for x months, x numbers of therapies offered, x touchpoints allowed. However, health and wellbeing issues that affect staff don’t always fit neatly into these boxes or into a certain timeframe.”

A prescriptive menu-led approach may be chosen as it is easy for both employers and employees to understand and may initially seem generous in terms of the number of counselling sessions or types of support available. The reality is it may mean that staff don’t actually receive the support they really need or for as long as they actually require it. This can mean that in practice they may take longer to recover, and if their condition requires time away from work, their absence may be prolonged.

Employers need to consider what is really available when choosing a provider and ideally ensure that the service is personalised for each employee, and not just look at what might initially appear to be a generous offering.

Christine Husbands says: “A flexible approach should not be dependent on a checklist: it needs to be entirely based on what would most help the employee in their time of need. We’ve had instances when we’ve sourced a number of more unusual ways to support employees such as a weighted blanket for a child with anxiety struggling to sleep and trichology services to help with alopecia. These aren’t the sorts of things that employers might initially have on their wish list from a health and wellbeing provider but they made an enormous difference to the individuals involved who felt incredibly supported by their employer via their benefits programme.”

Support for serious conditions
Added-value services within employee benefits come in all shapes and sizes, and as well as needing flexibility in the support offered, employers should also take time to understand what conditions are included. For example, support services for mental health may just cover mild to moderate conditions. Employers may find that if they do not fully research the conditions included in their support, their employees with the most severe of mental health conditions such as severe depression or PTSD may not be included. The same is true of other physical conditions and illnesses too.

In addition to access to treatment, it’s important that practical support to help people in their recovery is also offered.

Christine Husbands concluded: “Selecting a provider who offers tailored professional support as standard is the only way an employer can really know that their staff are fully supported through the entirety of an illness, bereavement or trauma.”