A quarter (23%) of UK businesses do not offer any form of emotional or practical support to employees if they are diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease, according to research revealed by GRiD, the industry body for the group risk sector.

Of those who do offer support, the most prevalent types of provision are a phased return to work plan (43%) and emotional support, such as counselling (42%). Other common forms of support offered include:

  • practical support, such as access to rehabilitation (35%)
  • line manager training (28%)
  • access to medical specialists such as oncologists (27%)
  • access to a second medical opinion (23%)
  • employer pays for treatment (21%)
  • physiotherapy (17%)

 However, when asked about what support they believe their employer might offer them should they be absent through ill health, of those employees who thought they would have support over and above Statutory Sick Pay, only 7% thought they’d be given access to counselling and just 3% thought their employer would offer physio. The reality of what employers make available in practice is much higher than the expectation of employees – a clear opportunity for employers to improve their communications.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD said, “Serious and critical illnesses are often unforeseen, and that can make them difficult to prepare for. But, unfortunately, they’re not uncommon, so it’s important that employers consider this aspect when putting together their health and wellbeing programmes.”

Using British Heart Foundation statistics as an example, around 7.4 million people are living with heart and circulatory disease in the UK, 1.4 million alive today have survived a heart attack and over 900,000 people in the UK are living with heart failure. Life doesn’t suddenly return to normal for these individuals – they may well require support on many fronts for a significant period of time, be that help in getting a second medical opinion, accessing treatment, specialists and consultants, rehabilitation, physiotherapy or counselling.

The needs of those with serious illnesses are complex and multi-layered, with one medical issue often leading on to other secondary problems, mental health concerns and financial worries. Employers can’t second guess what their staff need when their health takes a turn for the worse – some may need medical support, others emotional or financial support. Indeed, employees themselves won’t know in advance how a situation may affect them.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD continued: “When employers are looking at how to support their staff best, it’s important to offer a wide range of help. Trying to offer support on a standalone basis for the changing needs of an individual is not only expensive but it’s also nigh on impossible to cover every eventuality.

“The good news is that such support is often readily available, embedded within the products for employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness benefits, so employers need to investigate these when looking to support their workforce.”

Some of these benefits may well be included within existing health and wellbeing benefits that employers already have in place, so employers should review what they have. It’s equally important that the detail of current benefits is communicated to staff, so they have a good understanding of the support available and know how to utilise it.

Moxham concludes: “Our research shows a disconnect between what benefits and support employers offer, and what employees believe they’re offered. It’s vital that employers let staff know what support is available, particularly for serious illnesses, so it’s front of mind when it’s needed.”