The life insurance and superannuation industries have a crucial role to play in reducing the financial and social impact of mental illness and supporting members’ wellbeing.

When employees are injured or become ill, it’s natural to think time off is what they need most; however, extended absences can be counterproductive. Employees dealing with health problems can experience the added emotional strain from lost income and superannuation savings, and social isolation, if they are unable to return to work or need to be absent for extended periods.

Poor mental health is something that we all experience at different times, even in the absence of a mental illness. It can lead to reduced productivity and engagement, increased staff turnover and attrition costs, and the loss of valued staff expertise and skill.

Research from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine indicates that injured workers recover faster and more fully if they maintain their usual working routines and stay in contact with their workplace wherever possible.

Early, positively

When an employer first becomes aware of an employee’s illness or injury, it is important to respond as quickly and as positively as possible, clearly indicating the level of support they will provide.

A 2017 Safe Work Australia study found that when the employer made contact early with staff affected by mental illness, 77 per cent of those employees remained in work, as opposed to 52 per cent among those who had no employer contact.

When employers positively responded to people experiencing mental illness, 79 per cent of employees stayed at work. This is a major jump from the mere 52 per cent of employees who remained at work after perceiving their employer’s response to be negative.

Plan together

A Stay at Work (SAW) or Return to Work (RTW) plan formally lays out the assistance that will be provided to the employee and outlines a clear pathway for them to return to work or stay at work safely and productively.

The plan should be worked out collaboratively with the employee, based on the individual’s strengths. It will provide all-important support during these early stages.

Ask for help

Life insurers can be a valuable resource for managers or human resources professionals who want to provide the best possible support to an employee who is injured or ill.

For life insurers, most employer engagement has traditionally occurred at the ‘on-claim’ stage. However, this is now shifting towards SAW and RTW support, with over 60 per cent of group life insurers working directly with employers to support RTW within a claim waiting period.

SuperFriend’s recently released resource Action Area 7: Engaging Employers in Stay at Work/Return to Work sets out strategies for life insurers in supporting employers during the often-challenging time when an employee is injured or ill.

Training staff

Mental health and wellbeing training for the super and insurance industry is essential for building empathy and skills to support people going through the claims process. Funds and insurers will need to provide training and support for their own staff to better support members who find themselves in the stressful situation of being ill or injured without cover.

Both the superannuation and life insurance industries are going through major changes. By working together, and better supporting their people with evidence-based training, they can make sure they look after the needs of those who matter most – members.

Margo Lydon is the CEO of SuperFriend.

If you are experiencing any personal difficulties, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636.

Join the discussion