As employers across the United Kingdom continue with their return to the physical workplace, a survey of more than 200 HR professionals has found that nearly 1 in every 2 employers (49%) will need to improve their employee benefits provision to support workers and build a policy that is resilient to more health threats than just COVID-19 alone.

The survey, which took place at the Howden Employment Webinar in March, looked at the future risks of a resurgence of COVID-19 and/or an as yet unknown new infectious health threat to the world.

Steve Herbert, Head of Benefits Strategy, at Howden said;

“Despite the success of the COVID-19 vaccination programme in the UK, the truth is that the virus is now globally widespread and possibly endemic in the world’s population too.  The reality therefore is that there will be a continued threat of new waves of the mutated COVID-19 virus for many months or even years to come, so we would encourage employers to prepare a robust wellbeing strategy for the future.” 

Howden also highlight that there are many other new infectious diseases that have occurred since the start of the current century alone.  In the last 20 years the world has faced health threats such as SARS, MERS, Ebola, Avian Influenza and (of course) COVID-19.  And the occurrence of such new illnesses appears to be increasing too.

Herbert continued;

“It only took one infectious disease to bring the UK and the world to an almost complete standstill.  It follows that we should all now recognise just how fragile our lives, our businesses, and the wider economy can be in the face of such unforeseen threats.” 

Howden are encouraging employers to build on the government’s suggested minimum Covid-secure framework to provide a more robust policy that can be deployed quickly to protect employer and employees alike should a resurgence of COVID-19 or another health threat occur in the future.

In addition to the measures suggested by the government Howden encourage employers to provide a positive framework which encourages employees to do the right thing in areas such as sick-pay, testing, and vaccinations.  Howden also believe that many employee benefits and wellbeing tools can play a huge part in a robust infection-secure policy, with remote GP appointments, Employee Assistance Plans, Group Life Assurance, Group Income Protection, and access to private healthcare all increasingly important.

Howden’s survey also demonstrated an overwhelming acceptance from employers of this approach.  Almost all (98%) employers represented believed that there would be more pressure on employers to provide an “infection-secure” workplace in the future in all sectors of the economy (83%), or at least in some sectors (15%).

Matthew Gregson, Head of Corporate, at Howden added;

“It’s great to see the response from UK businesses in terms of ensuring continuity of business and support for their employees.  And this will clearly be the key to future planning, to ensure both businesses and their employee population have the resilience in the face of a continued or new health threat.”

Howden stress that there is a clear link between business risk (the ability to operate and deliver to clients) and people risk (the ability of individuals to perform at their best).  Gregson concluded:

“A robust benefits and wellbeing strategy has never been more important in supporting good outcomes in both business and people risks, especially with a focus on mental wellbeing and access to virtual and digital services wherever employees may be based.”

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.