Inspire summer 2021

The latest health and wellbeing news from Towergate Health & Protection

Welcome to the latest edition of Inspire, our quarterly newsletter, designed to keep you informed about issues and developments that are relevant to your business.

In this edition we explore how the biggest UK companies are incorporating remote working into their business models, lift the veil on 'lockdown brain fog', consider how to return to work safely and explore the issues around vaccination and employment law

The future of work is more than hybrid

For over a year, we’ve seen great success from the UK’s en-masse migration to remote working where roles were able to be performed at home.

With reports showing a surge in productivity and happiness following the move to home working,1 employees are becoming more vocal about what they want their workplace to look like – and employers are listening.

Larger corporations are mostly embracing hybrid working

The Evening Standard recently asked FTSE 100 firms about their return-to-work plan.2 Of those who responded, the vast majority confirmed that hybrid working was here to stay.

Following feedback that 77% of their employees want to work from home at least three days a week, Lloyds Banking Group is aiming to reduce its total office space by 20% over the next three years.

Mining group Rio Tinto has introduced a flexible working policy for all of their office-based employees around the world but holds that on-site offices will remain important for ‘face-to-face meetings, networking and team collaboration’.

Global investment firm Standard Life Aberdeen seems to be taking a more literal approach to hybrid working. Chief executive Stephen Bird says, ‘We want our offices to be collaboration spaces where people want to be…in our London office at Bow Bells House we’ve completely redesigned the space, removing the banks of cramped desks to create open-plan zones for people to interact and generate ideas.’

Mark Read, chief executive of advertising multinational WPP, says the company will never go back to fully on-site working. ‘Our people will work more flexibly, in our offices, with our clients and from home.’

Why should SMEs change?

Already we are seeing employees quit their roles after being told they would have to return to the office full-time3 while nearly half of office-based UK employees say they would look for another job if told the same.4

As well as retaining top talent, making sure your workforce is engaged and happy yields a wealth of benefits for business, including:

  • Increased sales by up to 37%
  • Productivity boosted by 18%
  • A drop in absenteeism (which costs the average UK company £554)5
  • Outperforming organisations with low levels of engagement by 202%6

Hybrid working is just the beginning

There is a disconnect between what CEOs believe the new generation of talent want compared to what they actually want, Glassdoor has found.7

While CEOs cite practical perks like flexible work hours as a top benefit priority for young employees, this is only a part of it. From their own reports, millennials value purpose and a wider sense of connection from the workplace, as well as using ethical and sustainable practices to fulfil big picture business objectives.

Moreover, it isn’t just millennials. ‘Even pre-Covid, stats on millennial expectations at work were generally in line with multigenerational data,’ reports Fast Company.8 One theory for this is that the pandemic and climate crisis have prompted a desire for change for most employees, regardless of their age.

While employers largely embrace hybrid working as here to stay, questions arise about what else could be possible when it comes to shaping the future of the workplace. Employers may feel overwhelmed by the speed at which the modern workplace is changing but should take solace in the fact that even multi-generational workforces are united in core values and can therefore offer businesses a unique opportunity to focus their messaging, ethos and strategy.


1. UK workforce finds happiness in ability to work from anywhere |
2. FTSE 100 firms share latest London office plans following WFH year, with many set to embrace flexible working | Evening Standard
3. Return to Office: Employees Are Quitting Instead of Giving Up Work From Home | Bloomberg
4. New research finds half of workers could quit jobs if businesses ignore employee work from home preferences | HR News
5. The ROI of Employee Happiness | Knight Frank
6. 15 Employee Engagement Statistics You Should Know in 2020 | Clear Review
7. New Survey: Company Mission & Culture Matter More Than Salary | Glassdoor
8. This is the thing employees want most from their employers | Fast Company

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Lifting the veil on ‘lockdown brain fog’

With symptoms including forgetfulness and an inability to focus,1 even difficulty reading and following elaborate plotlines on TV,2 ‘brain fog’ isn’t actually a medically recognised disorder. Unlike common medical conditions like anaemia and asthma, for example, brain fog has no single underlying cause that could be called the culprit.

While there are many theories about why brain fog happens – including stress, sleep problems, diet and medication – this lockdown-induced variant, as a recent phenomenon, is less understood; people who otherwise tick all the boxes of ‘healthy’ complain of a mental cloudiness they can’t quite snap out of.

But why?

The weight of stress

Lockdown is no longer a new experience to people, but it once was. The first UK lockdown was mandated amidst a climate of global panic about Covid-19, the worst pandemic in recent memory. The threat of danger combined with novel stay-at-home orders was the perfect recipe for stress.

Stress that doesn’t let up has a certain effect on the body, sometimes leading to a feeling of fogginess and fatigue. The reason, according to an article by The Times last year on why lockdown gives you brain fog,3 is something called allostatic load.

Described as ‘wear and tear’ on the body from living in a persistent state of stress, allostatic load happens when chemicals released by stress build up. A person might feel the effects as ‘brain fog’, which could include feeling tired, forgetful and unmotivated.

The brain perks up at new things

Though stress is no doubt a factor in lockdown-induced brain fog, for many the novelty of stay-at-home mandates has worn off – yet their brain fog stubbornly remains.

A recent article by The Guardian discusses the other cognitive factors that might be at play4 which we relay below.

The orient response

‘When there’s a new stimulus, a baby will turn its head towards it,’ cognitive neuroscience professor Catherine Loveday says, explaining that the human brain is stimulated by the new.

During lockdown, however, lives tend to lack novel stimulation as the same routine is carried out day in, day out, in the same space, which makes some people mentally dull because ‘we have effectively evolved to stop paying attention when nothing changes, but to pay particular attention when things do change.’

Social interaction

While on some level remote video chatting is socially satisfying, it can’t completely remove the ‘down’ from ‘lockdown’.

Loveday says that a dependence on Zoom and Skype for the past year has led to ‘degraded social interaction’. Just like human brains are stimulated by novelty, Loveday explains that they also ‘wake up in the presence of other people’ and, while on some level a video call is socially satisfying, it’s not enough to completely perk up our brains.

A lack of pattern separation

Another symptom of lockdown brain fog is an inability to recall memories with the usual clarity and a sense of the days blending into each other.

One theory for why this happens is a disruption to ‘pattern separation’, a process the brain uses to encode memories. Pre-lockdown, our lives tended to involve varying faces, places and events which lent a sense of ‘distinctiveness’ to our memories, making it easier to recall them and providing our lives with a sense of context.

A fix for the fog?

‘[Brain fog is] our body and brain telling us that we’re pushing it too much at the moment. It’s definitely a signal – an alarm bell,’ Carmine Pariante from The Guardian article reports. Employees suffering with brain fog should therefore take some time to feel settled within themselves and work with where their mind is at – not where they wish it was at. Pushing themselves harder risks unnecessary emotional suffering which could lead to burnout.

Brain fog, as with all mental afflictions, could be a highly personal topic for one-on-one discussion, so your first port of call as an employer should be signposting to their EAP so sufferers can seek assistance confidentially. If your employees have other benefits that can help them out with their mental health, particularly remote services that allow them to receive support from their own home, make sure they are aware of them and know how they can be accessed.


1. Brain Fog: 6 Potential Causes (
2. How lockdown is leading to endemic levels of ‘brain fog’ | Belfast News Letter
3. Why lockdown has given you brain fog — and how to fix it | Times2 | The Times
4. Brain fog: how trauma, uncertainty and isolation have affected our minds and memory | Health & wellbeing | The Guardian

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How to drop the mask without the guard

With all social distancing measures expected to be lifted over the summer, it seems almost inevitable that vigilance around health and safety may equally slacken. But just because the UK’s successful vaccination rollout offers security and peace of mind about Covid-19, that doesn’t mean other rising health concerns come without worries.

These conditions crept up behind Covid-19

As remote working became the new norm and employees with ill-fitted home working equipment had to make do, a rise in musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions1 and claims for MSK problems followed. Now that remote or hybrid working looks to be here to stay, it’s likely this problem won’t go anywhere anytime soon.

Mental health issues are another major problem worsened by the pandemic. The sense of isolation led to skyrocketing mental health issues.2 It is likely slackening social distancing measures may help to alleviate this problem, but with the end of lockdown comes a new set of problems: social anxiety and social burnout.

Employee benefits are the key

Your employee benefits package is probably the most useful vehicle you have to ensure your employees are looking after their health. They’re effective because not only do all employees have access to them, but as the employer you’re able to adjust your benefits package to address business concerns or objectives.

How do you know if your employee benefits package is useful?

The first question to ask is: do your employees use their health-related benefits? If they aren’t, why not? Is it because your workforce isn’t aware those benefits exist and need clearer signposting? Or is it because they don’t find them to be relevant or useful?

How to make employee benefits more useful

You don’t necessarily have to change up your existing employee benefits package or go out of your way to spend a great deal extra. Instead, there are lower-cost decisions you can make as an employer that can have a meaningful difference on your employees’ ability to seek and receive certain medical treatment. This could include:

  • Make it clear to employees that they have benefits. Did you know that only 57% of employers think their workforce is aware of all their benefits and understands them?3 If you think your benefits package is full of unused perks that could really help out your employees, make sure to clearly signpost to them and schedule in regular reminders so they’re always kept in mind
  • Management participation. Employers look to their colleagues on whether a product or service is useful or not, so it follows that managers who are vocal about their own benefits usage may spark other employees to do the same

As well as enhancing existing benefits, your package can always be changed if you feel that you and your employees aren’t getting the desired value. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Health cash plans, which can help pay for everyday healthcare costs, such as optical and dental care. This can encourage employees to seek help for medical conditions before they worsen instead of avoiding treatment because of the cost
  • Employer-discounted gym memberships to help your employees keep physically fit at an affordable cost
  • Health assessments are made up of a series of smaller tests and give us the most comprehensive view available of our health. Employees can choose the modules/tests most relevant to them to save money further and focus on a particular health problem if they so choose. Health assessment don’t need to be company funded - as a customer of Towergate Health & Protection your employees can access significant discounts on health screenings that they pay for themselves – ask your Towergate Health & Protection consultant for more information or visit our health screening clinic finder website here.
  • Affordable self-funded physiotherapy treatment is available to employees of Towergate Health & Protection customers through our partnership with Ascenti, one of the UK’s leading providers of physiotherapy services. Right now Towergate Health & Protection customers can receive a 25% discount off the cost of physiotherapy treatment with Ascenti. Simply book online here.


1. Working from home: four in five develop musculoskeletal pain | Personnel Today
2. The unequal mental health toll of the pandemic | The Health Foundation
3. Research undertaken by Opinium on behalf of GRiD amongst 500 HR Decision makers between 27-31 January `2020.

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Covid vaccination and testing: employment law and you

With over 41 million UK citizens now having had their first Covid-19 jab,1 the question being asked increasingly frequently is whether employers can require their workforce to get vaccinated.

All employers are under a duty to protect the health and safety of employees and provide a secure working environment under health and safety legislation. 

Can an employer require an employee to be vaccinated?

This is an untested area, and has been discussed widely in the media. Relevant factors to consider could be:

  • The risk profile within the workplace itself. For example, a care home may have a strong argument that in order to protect staff and vulnerable service users, an employee cannot come into work unless they have been vaccinated or have a valid reason for not doing so.
  • The workplace itself means having to work in small workspaces, so it is not possible to maintain recommended social distancing measures.
  • Whether there is a need for an employee to be vaccinated in order to do their job, for example, if they needed to travel abroad and the country to which they were going required entrants to be vaccinated.
  • The services carried out by the employer will be severely affected if lots of employees are off sick with Covid, the business may not be able to supply services if staff are off sick for an extended period of time.

Does requiring an employee to be vaccinated breach their human rights?

Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights protects the right to private and family life. The right for an individual to choose whether or not to be vaccinated is likely to fall within this right. It is possible to interfere with this right ‘in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.’

Therefore, if there is a real need to protect health or economic wellbeing, it may be possible to override Article 8.

On what basis could an employer require staff to be vaccinated?

Employers could only require employees to be vaccinated where it is identified within a risk assessment as a necessary requirement. If it is identified as a requirement, then it may be that an instruction to staff will amount to a reasonable management instruction.

What happens if an employee refuses to be vaccinated?

If an employee does refuse, you should adopt the process as follows:

  • Firstly, you will need to explain why the employee needs to be vaccinated. Any action against the employee is based on the fact that the instruction is reasonable. The employer’s business, the employee’s role and the reason why vaccination is necessary, will need to be considered carefully before arriving at a conclusion. If an instruction to be vaccinated is unreasonable, no further action can be taken. 
  • Investigate why they are refusing. This might be because they have been advised not to due to health issues such as having previous experience of a serious allergic reaction, pregnancy, or because of religious beliefs.
  • If refusal is due to perceived risks of taking the vaccine or conspiracy theories promoted on social media, take steps to understand fully the individuals concern. Alleviate them using official information and explain why their role requires them to be vaccinated.
  • If the employee continues to refuse, explain that other options will have to be considered. These include finding an alternative role for as long as the risk assessment identifies vaccination as a required measure; not being able to attend work which will be unpaid; the possibility of disciplinary action, which could result in dismissal.

As mentioned earlier, this is an untested area and it is not known how tribunals will approach this issue. The employer should make sure that the requirement to be vaccinated is backed up with as much evidence as possible, and that it is reasonable.

Protected areas

If the employee refuses to be vaccinated due to pregnancy, disability or religion or belief, they will be protected from discriminatory treatment and should not be disciplined. A business may have to allow them to continue to work if the risk assessment allows, tell them that they cannot work and would be on unpaid leave, (unless they are considered sick in which case they would be entitled to SSP). However, pregnant employees who cannot work due to health and safety concerns will be entitled to full pay. In all of these cases it is important alternatives are sought, including working from home or making adjustments to their role.

Can employers make workplace Covid-19 testing mandatory?

Community testing initiatives or implementing the workplace testing which is now available to businesses that remain open with more than 50 employees, may reduce the risk within the workplace.

It is likely that only where it is necessary to do so because of the risk profile of the business, or the nature of the employee’s role, that testing could be made compulsory.

Health and safety consultation obligations

If an employer is considering introducing any measures affecting the health and safety of employees, there is an obligation to consult with staff or health and safety representatives before implementation. Introducing a vaccination and testing policy, particularly if they are going to be mandatory, is likely to trigger this obligation.

Data protection

Whenever an employer obtains information about an employee’s vaccination or testing status, they will be processing special category personal data. It will be important to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR in this regard.

This is an abridged version of an article from  Towergate Insurance Brokers’ spring 2021 newsletter. Find the full version here.


1. Refer to for the latest vaccination figures

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Latest updates from the insurers

Have you heard the latest from the insurers?

Here are the most recent updates from some of the key providers, including YuLife, Aviva, Bupa, Simplyhealth and Vitality.


14 July 2021 – Harnessing behavioural science to drive change
Yulife is hosting a webinar exclusively for Towergate Health & Protection customers. Learn how to drive change within your organisation by harnessing the power of behavioural science. Sign up for the webinar here and you can join us on 14 July at 11:00am.


12 May 2021 – The links between alcohol and mental health
Don Shenker, founder of the Alcohol Health network, explains why it’s important to understand the link between mental health and alcohol consumption.

4 May 2021 – Over three-quarters of 45-54 year olds report debt worries during the pandemic
Research by Aviva has shown that a quarter of 45-54 year report their debt to have significantly increased over the past 12 months.


3 June 2021 – Pandemic prompts wellbeing wins for diversity & inclusion and mental health
Bupa UK shows that changes to working practices over the last year have seen a record number of employees report good mental health at work.

28 April 2021 – Bupa announces the appointment of James Lenton as Group CFO
In his previous role, James was CFO of Hammerson plc, a FTSE 250 owner and manager of properties with a European portfolio. James will join Bupa later this year.


1 June 2021 – Vitality announces new partnership with Samsung
Vitality has today announced it has partnered with Samsung UK to integrate Samsung Health into the Vitality Programme, providing members with more ways to track their activity and improve their health.

26 May 2021 – Report from Vitality and the RSA warns of crippling impacts on the future physical and mental health of employees
Amongst the report’s standout conclusions was the finding that homeworking has reinforced sedentary lifestyles, leading to an ‘ergonomic timebomb’.

Best of the rest


22 April 2021 – Medicash marks Earth Day 2021 with global pledge to protection the rainforest 
Medicash has protected 234,000 trees in the Peruvian Amazon in a joint celebration of the cash plan provider’s 150th anniversary and Earth Day 2021.


10 May 2021 – McFly’s Harry Judd backs campaign to highlight the role of nature in managing mental wellbeing
The musician has teamed up with Simplyhealth and the Mental Health Foundation to ‘embrace the mental wellbeing benefits of the natural world’.

27 April 2021 - Employers urged to address high levels of people working when unwell as Covid-19 pandemic heightens an ‘always on’ work culture
Unhealthy working habits are proving hard to break as a new survey finds that the majority of employers have observed presenteeism and ‘leaveism’ in their workforce despite the perceived flexibility of remote working.

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