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The value of a proactive approach to employee wellbeing

At a glance

  • Protecting the wellbeing of employees is key to ensuring a happy, productive workforce, and reducing the risk of employers’ liability claims
  • Zurich recently hosted a customer roundtable about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, where some of the key challenges were explored
  • In this article, we discuss strategies for managing employee wellbeing and reducing the risk of claims

While successful employers’ liability (EL) claims relating to mental ill health are rare, their size can be significant, with some running into six or even seven figures.

The absence of a carefully constructed employee wellbeing strategy can increase the risk of EL claims occurring, as well as preventing employees from getting the support they need.

Zurich recently hosted a roundtable event about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, attended by representatives of customers including Lloyds Banking Group, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Next. Expertise was provided by Dr Zeyana Ramadhan and Somaya Devlin from MindCoach, an organisation dedicated to promoting workplace wellbeing.

Here, Zurich’s Hayley Golden, UK Head of Wellbeing, and Domini Bucknell, Claims Relationship Executive, discuss some of the key lessons businesses can learn about how to approach the issue of wellbeing and reduce the risk of EL claims.

Health and wellbeing – the claims landscape

While the overall volume of EL claims has not risen significantly in recent years, there has been an increase in psychological damage claims, where somebody alleges they have suffered emotional distress as a consequence of an injury, illness or other traumatic loss event, for which they allege their employer was in some way responsible.

Claims can sometimes be made by the colleagues of those employees, or their family members.

Domini gives the example of a claim made by the family of a senior banking executive who died in a motorbike accident.

She says: “This man’s family alleged the crash occurred because he was overworked and exhausted, and that his employer had failed in its duty of care to him. On this occasion, the employer was able to demonstrate they had offered the executive use of a flat to sleep in if he was tired, and we were able to defend the claim.”

Another claim followed an incident in which an engineer suffered serious facial injuries, because a safety mechanism on a piece of machinery he was repairing failed to operate properly.

“As well as being deeply traumatic for this engineer, the incident was also traumatic for several of his colleagues who witnessed the accident,” says Domini.

Protecting mental health

In this latter claim, all of the employees affected were offered counselling, which is something Domini advises companies to have in place for their staff following traumatic events.

“Unfortunately, most companies don’t plan for mental health and wellbeing in the way they do for physical injuries, but having a proper plan in place to support employees’ emotional wellbeing is an important aspect of claims defensibility,” she says.

“For example, if an employee has a serious accident and is off work for a prolonged period, do you automatically offer them counselling? What if somebody close to them commits suicide?

“What if an employee has a mental health condition? Do you have plans in place to support them? Do you provide training for your managers to help them spot the signs of mental ill health?

“These are the kinds of question that every organisation should be asking themselves.”

Stress indicators

Organisations should also think about how they can support their employees to manage their own wellbeing and build their emotional resilience, says Hayley.

“One way of doing this would be stress tests, or stress container exercises,” she says. “These can give employees a good insight into their trigger points, which can help them to understand the stresses they can remove and those they can’t, and hopefully help to prevent situations where stress builds up to intolerable levels.

“Another way employers can help is by taking account of people’s individual circumstances,” adds Hayley. “For example, if somebody has got a lot going on in their private life, such as complex childcare commitments, or if they are caring for a family member, one way to support them would be allowing them a degree of flexibility, for example the option of working from home.”

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can also be used to direct employees to resources that can help them if they are concerned about their mental health or wellbeing.

Hayley says: “There’s a common misconception that EAPs are just about providing crisis support, but they can also enable early intervention, which is so important in relation to mental wellbeing.”

Domini and Hayley agree that employee wellbeing strategies serve a dual role – in helping organisations to reduce the risk of claims, but also providing support to employees when they need it most.

“There are any number of reasons why companies should want to support their employees’ wellbeing, but the biggest one is simply that it’s the right thing to do,” adds Hayley.

For more information, please speak with your local Zurich contact.

Image © Getty

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