Supporting member wellbeing – best practice for funds and insurers

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, and the human, financial and social costs can be enormous.

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.

From the employers’ position, there is a strong rationale for mental health and wellbeing staying front and center of all discussions at the workplace. 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.

International research[i] 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.

Because our jobs contribute to our sense of self-worth and social connection, staying at work can help us to recover from illness or injury, prevent loss of confidence or depression and decrease the risks of long-term unemployment.

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. This resource is furthering SuperFriend’s best practice framework for managing psychological claims, TAKING ACTION, that provides the insurance industry with practical and evidence-based guidance in how to improve the experience and outcome for the person on claim.

Respond early and 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[ii] found that when the employer made contact early with staff impacted by mental illness, 77 per cent of those employees remained in work, as opposed to 52 per cent, 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.

Make a plan, together

Developing 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 around the individual’s strengths and preferences and will provide all-important support to the employee during these early stages.

Ask insurers 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.

They are a good source of evidence-based information and advice and can help employers develop skills and knowledge in dealing with illness or injury and assist in the development of a workplace plan.

Training super fund and insurance 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 while protecting their mental health – and particularly important at this time.

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.

For more information about supporting mental health and wellbeing within super, insurance and in the workplace, visit

Margo Lydon is Chief Executive Officer of SuperFriend.

SuperFriend focuses on creating positive, healthy and safe working environments where every employee can be well and thrive. Our goal is to reduce the incidence of suicide and the impact of mental illness on individuals and their workplaces. 

For more information about supporting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, visit

Action Area 7: Engaging Employers in Stay at Work / Return to Work can be downloaded at:

[i] American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Preventing needless work disability by helping people stay employed [Internet]. Illinois: ACOEM; 2006 [cited 28 September 2017]. Available from: PreventingNeedlessWorkDisability.aspx

[ii] Wyatt, D., Cotton, D. and Lane, D. (2017). Return to work in psychological injury claims. Analysis of the Return to Work Survey results. [online] Canberra: Safe Work Australia. Available at: return-to-work-in-psychological-injury-claims.pdf  [Accessed 1 Dec. 2017]


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