"I’d like to see greater gender diversity in financial services and within the FTSE 350 companies in general."
We spoke to Vanessa Sallows, claims and governance director at Legal & General, about reducing the stigma of mental health in the workplace, what value group income protection can bring to firms, and what advice she would give to women starting their career in the financial services.
FR: What does your role at Legal & General involve?
As claims and governance director at Legal & General, I am responsible for our claims and rehabilitation teams, and also have oversight of the medical underwriting philosophy within our group protection business.
It’s the perfect role for me, as I am passionate about the psychology of work, including what prevents employees from working during periods of ill-health. I’m also very interested in how group income protection (GIP) can play a part in helping people return to work as quickly as possible, but in a sustainable manner.
FR: What has been your biggest achievement during your career so far?
I have two achievements that I’m really proud of. First, I helped to develop and implement the proactive, early intervention and rehabilitation models within both Sun Life Financial of Canada and Legal & General. This helps to provide appropriate treatment and support for employees when they need us most, which in turn helps them return to work at the earliest opportunity. This approach not only benefits the employee and the business, but also contributes to the overall success of UK Plc by reducing absenteeism.
Developing Legal & General’s Not a Red Card campaign (NARC) was another big achievement for me. We launched the NARC campaign in 2017, with the objective of using sport to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental health in the workplace. Since then, we’ve reached over 10 million people and have achieved over 200 pieces of press coverage, which has been great to see.
I also helped lead the implementation of Mental Health First Aiders across all of Legal & General’s offices. Over the last couple of years, we’ve been actioning the Thriving at Work report standards set out by Stevenson and Farmer, not only by supporting managers to help their employees thrive in the workplace, but also by encouraging people to bring their whole self to work.
FR: Why did you decide to launch the Not A Red Card (NARC) Campaign?
We’ve made a lot of progress towards removing the stigma associated with poor mental health in recent years, but more still needs to be done. Figures show that mental health costs businesses between £33 and £42 billion in absenteeism and lost productivity.
However, our research reveals that employees are becoming increasingly aware of these issues. In fact, 69% of employees say that they are more attracted to working in an organisation where senior level executives have spoken openly about mental health.
That is exactly why we launched NARC. At our annual NARC forum and awards, a diverse mix of business leaders, mental health experts and personalities from the world of sport come together to challenge any remaining taboo in this area by tackling the barriers to starting conversations about mental health. They also come up with practical solutions to help break through any obstacles that may arise.
Mental ill health does not discriminate and can affect anyone at any time. Work is where most of us spend the majority of our time, so employers must continue to come together to share best practice and to discuss how they can support their people in the best way possible.
FR: What value does group income protection bring to businesses?
Extended absences from work can have a devastating effect on both employees and businesses. Employee absence as a result of sickness and injury remains a huge expense for UK organisations, with an estimated 141 million working days lost in 2018 . This is equivalent to 4.4 days per worker and has increased by around 3 million since 2016.
GIP is designed to benefit both the employer and employee. GIP provides employees with a regular income should illness or injury require them to take time off work; without it, employees would need to rely on the Government’s Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), which currently stands at just £94.25 per week.
But GIP doesn’t just provide an income replacement for employees who are unable to work; it can also help to minimise and even prevent absences in the first place, since it includes services that are designed to prevent the onset of poor health. Many policies also provide businesses with effective absence management in the event someone does fall ill to ensure early intervention, with procedures and support in place to facilitate a successful return to work when the time is right.
Employers that offer early intervention programmes, rehabilitation services and access to specialists can help to reduce the length of time their employees take off ill, maximise their chances of return and, in many cases, eliminate long-term absence completely.
FR: What advice would you give to women starting their career in the financial services?
Be authentic and stay true to your beliefs. Decide what you want to accomplish, work hard, persevere and don’t believe anyone who says you can’t achieve your goals. You also need to make sure that you maintain your own mental health and resilience, and that you enjoy what you do.
FR: Lastly, if you could read one headline about financial services in 2020, what would it be?
I’d like to see greater gender diversity in financial services and within the FTSE 350 companies in general. It may not be realistic for 2020, but for me a great headline would be that a woman had been appointed as CEO of one of the top UK insurance or financial services firms. True diversity and inclusion in our businesses, where everyone can thrive, should be the ultimate objective for all companies.