The rise in the availability of employee benefits has brought about a degree of one-upmanship among providers, with the availability of the once-exclusive offerings now being commonplace among most insurers. 24-hour virtual GPs, Employee Assistance Programs and helplines are all readily available at the touch of a button for almost any working professional whose company has the most basic of benefit packages, with the former only being introduced in recent years. Running parallel with this, as health insurance premiums rise each year, providers and suppliers are looking for ways to provide reasonable benefits at a more attractive price.

I was lucky enough to be given early test access to a virtual GP service during my employment with an international private medical insurer several years ago. I was incredibly impressed by the service provided by the wonderful medical professionals on the other end of a skype type video call. After haplessly falling victim to an almost career ending challenge in my local 5-a-side league, I was able to ascertain from the doctor at hand as to whether a trip to A&E was really necessary, or if a bag of frozen peas would cure all. It wouldn’t.

After 6 months of rigorous physio and rehabilitation of my ankle ligaments I was able to hit the pitch again, confident that the treatment I’d received had brought me back to full fitness. However, I couldn’t help but compare my experience to that of my friend, Dan, a fellow football enthusiast and glass-ankled barman at my local. Dan had experienced an injury similar to mine a few years before, but unlike me, is no longer able to play.

Dan worked in a pub, owned and operated by a large national brewery. They prided themselves on low prices and high satisfaction for their patrons, but only paid minimum wage for their bar staff and provided no discernible employee benefits other than discounts on food – not unusual in that industry. After his injury, there was no discussion of physiotherapy and only 3 weeks since being signed off, he was rushed back to an understaffed job which required him to be on his feet for up to 10 hours a day. This decision which would be the final nail in the coffin for his football playing days, additionally causing long-lasting physical and mental trauma.

My time in the employee benefits sector has made we wonder why companies that pay staff minimum wage also provide them with the least benefits, when this is the workforce that may potentially benefit from them the most.

Starting with the hard facts – the age group most likely to be affected by mental health concerns are young adults aged 16-25 years[1], with suicide being the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 in the UK[2]. According to the Statistics on older workers by sector: March 2015 report by the  Department of Work and Pensions, the sector with the highest percentage of workers aged 18-24 is Hospitality at 31%, followed by Retail at 20%, both of which are noted within the Low Pay Commission’s report detailing sectors with the highest number of minimum wage and under paid employees.

Poor mental health can also lead to physical health issues, with both combined causing increased employee absenteeism, putting further pressure on the remaining staff to take on the burden of their colleagues’ workload. Antisocial working hours, 0-hour contracts and high stress working environments can all have adverse effects on mental health on top of low hourly pay. If only there were a way to alleviate some of the financial and mental pressures for those in the minimum wage bracket…

FREE COFFEE, DISCOUNTED GYM MEMBERSHIP, 10% YOUR SUPERMARKET SHOP! All benefits which are part and parcel of most insurer’s USP literature or benefit list, most of which won’t be utilised by many of those eligible for them. If anyone deserves a free hot beverage or a physically active outlet after dealing with overly refreshed football fans all day, it would be them. Furthermore, poor dental and optical health can lead to more serious complications and extended time off work – something your average minimum wage worker can’t afford to have. A Health Cash Plan could help employees cover the cost of check-ups, new glasses or contact lenses by claiming the money back, as well as providing telephone helpline and counselling. Even health insurance cover is now available for as little as £7 per employee per month and can include physiotherapy sessions, online health checks, virtual GP access and prescription delivery services.

Many insurers offer reduced rates depending on the total lives insured, so, the inclusion of more staff members can incur reduced premiums for the whole scheme. Some Health Screening plans will price at a lower rate depending on certain demographics being covered which can again provide significant savings per employee covered.

Not only the health and wellbeing, but the quality of life of your employees could be vastly improved by providing any one of the plethora of benefits available, many of which would cost less than an increase in pay to the recommended living wage.

Brunel Employee Benefits are an independent provider of employee benefits and healthcare packages. To find out more, please contact my colleague, and associate director, Anders Lewis on 0117 325 2224 or at andersl@bruneleb.co.uk, while I sip my free latte on the way to use my discounted gym membership.

Written by Dominic Hillier, Senior Client Coordinator at Brunel Employee Benefits.

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[1] – https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/adult-psychiatric-morbidity-survey-mental-health-and-wellbeing-england-2014

[2] – https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/fundamental-facts-about-mental-health-2016.pdf

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