Lisa Lund from Adroit Legal Services discusses the culture change COVID-19 has brought to employee benefits and how building bereavement packages into benefits strategies can help protect a business and its people
The British are renowned the world over for making conversation about the weather. We are a nation with plenty of weather – often all in the same day – so it provides a rich topic, but it also provides a distraction for the topics we don’t or can’t talk about. One of which is death.
During the pandemic, the sobering death toll each day has brought us into contact with the idea that death – our own or that of a loved one – could be much closer than we’d like to think. It’s a frightening thought, and one that has led to a huge surge in sales of life insurance policies to people of all ages. The potential for a partner or a parent to be lost to the virus has meant many people who never previously worried about the possibility of losing someone close to them now find themselves considering what it would mean for them and their family if the worst were to happen.
The pandemic has prompted conversations across the workplace – from boardrooms and meeting rooms, to locker rooms and virtual offices. Companies have begun to consider what bereavement means for their business, their people strategy and the individuals who are personally affected by loss and grief. Employees have begun to articulate their concerns: how would loss affect their work? Their home life? Their mental health?
In a year, we have moved from a workplace culture where death and bereavement are seldom discussed, to an environment where the potential for a staff member to lose a loved one must now be both acknowledged and planned for. Companies not only need to protect their business from the impact of stress and poor mental health due to staff bereavement, they also need to demonstrate to their team that they are a supportive employer that cares.
Just as companies have adapted their working practices during the pandemic with new policies on working from home, self-isolation and social distancing, many are now also adapting their approach to employee benefits. A large proportion of the traditional perks that employees enjoyed are not only unavailable to them at the current time, but also seem less relevant during this challenging period. While everyone is looking forward to getting back to enjoying the things they love, employees are much more conscious of the importance of home, loved ones and planning for the future. Employers who understand this shift and respond to it with changes in employee benefits strategies can prove themselves in tune with their team and provide benefits that have value and also indicate the value the organisation places on people.
How Can Employee Benefits Help?
The scope for an employee benefit that encompasses bereavement and family wellbeing is broad, and benefits can be tailored to the specific requirements of the company and its team.
From a commercial perspective, there are two main reasons why an employee may be absent, less competent or less productive following a bereavement. Firstly, they may be distracted by carrying out the practical tasks associated with losing a loved one, which can be complex, confusing and time-consuming. Secondly, they may struggle with stress and low mood due to grief and an inability to cope with the impact of their loss, which can affect performance in the short term and develop into longer term mental health issues if not addressed.
By providing an employee benefit package that gives team members access to a helpline for practical guidance, employers can support employees with tasks such as registering the death and arranging a funeral. The addition of an emotional support helpline can offer them a listening ear and provide an emotional triage, signposting individuals to counselling should they need more help. This can take pressure off HR and occupational health functions and ensure specialist expertise is in place without the need for in-house resources.
Additional benefits, such as legal and estate planning services, are also useful indicators that the employer cares, while protecting the organisation from the impact of stress and anxiety. Legal services may include access to probate professionals to help make settling the loved one’s estate less stressful. Meanwhile, estate planning and will writing help to reassure employees that their families’ futures are secure; a comforting thought in uncertain times.
Commercially, strategically and pastorally, the pandemic has been challenging for HR professionals. Considering an alternative approach to employee benefits can help to address elements of all those responsibilities.