Sickness absence is as much a part of working life as meetings, marketing and management. More often than not, it’s a brief inconvenience. But when that absence is the result of a critical illness, the effects for both employee and employer can be far reaching.
Support and understanding will be key for someone diagnosed with a critical illness. Here’s how employers can help someone battling one of the top three claimed-for Critical Illness conditions recognised by Group Risk Development (GriD), the industry body for the group risk protection sector.
Even if we’ve been fortunate to escape a cancer diagnosis ourselves, it’s highly likely we know someone who has or had the condition. It’s therefore little surprise to find that the huge majority - 68% - of all Critical Illness claims in 2016 were for cancer1.
Based on the most recent stats from Cancer Research UK covering up to 2015, there were almost 360,000 new cases of cancer each year in the UK, around 1,000 each day2.
For cancer patients, Unum’s Critical Illness cover comes with built-in access to Harley Street Concierge, providing access to cancer experts and personalised cancer support, direction and information.
Read more on how to communicate with employees during long-term sickness absence.
For someone with a cancer diagnosis, work can bring a sense of normality at a traumatic time and employers need to be equipped with the necessary support skills.
The second most-commonly claimed for condition is a heart attack. Though far outstripped by cancer, it still accounts for 9% of claims3.
According to the British Heart Foundation, 545 people require hospital treatment each day in the UK following a heart attack. There are also an estimated seven million people living with cardiovascular disease4.
At 6%, strokes make up the third most common Critical Illness claim4.
Each year there are more than 100,000 strokes in the UK - one every five minutes5.
While those stats are high enough in themselves, there are also 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK. Almost two-thirds leave hospital with a disability6 – potentially impacting both their home and work life.
Unlike a cancer diagnosis which allows for dialogue and the opportunity to plan ahead, a heart attack or stroke can change lives in an instant.
While the odds of all three conditions can be tipped by encouraging a healthy lifestyle – workplace examples could include subsidised gym membership, walking meetings or healthy options to eat and drink – none of the conditions respect age, gender or fitness level.
Instead, employers should have a plan in place clearly stating how they would tackle such situations – including details on any Critical Illness insurance scheme – in advance, and make it widely available and easily accessible to all staff.
A Critical Illness policy can cover up to 38 conditions – from heart problems to respiratory failure – and pays out a one-off lump sum to an employee who is diagnosed with one of the conditions and survives for 14 days from that diagnosis.
The money can be a huge benefit for the employee and can be used however the recipient chooses, whether that’s funding necessary changes to their home or a holiday away from it all.
Communication is key to ensure employees are properly supported. Line managers need to open the dialogue with employees who have been diagnosed. Take the time to talk through the subject in a private, informal place and establish the plan of action as to how much contact there will be between employer and employee during treatment and recovery.
During a long absence, the employee may like to remain informed at a basic level – receiving key emails or newsletters, for example. But even if this is not the case, an arrangement for a semi-regular, informal check-in is good practice.
A returning employee may need adjustments – to their working hours, to their duties, to their workstation. They should also decide on how much information (if any) they want shared with their colleagues.
An open, constructive, supportive (and ongoing) dialogue is vital. Any cancer recovery is likely to have bumps in the road. Be willing to negotiate them together.
A critical illness is not necessarily something that will happen to someone else. Employers need to be prepared to deal with the aftermath of any number of serious conditions.
Disclaimer: This article has been written in collaboration with Unum, one of Elect’s insurance providers. It is for information only and is not specific advice. It is based on our current understanding of the attributed research which may change in the future.
1,3 GRiD. (2017).
2 Cancer Research. (2015). Cancer statistics for the UK
4 British Heart Foundation (2018). BHF CVD Statistics Factsheet UK
5,6 Stroke Association. (2017). State of the Nation: Stroke statistics