Marco Forato interview: Why it pays to care for staff welfare


Unum is moving its focus from straight protection sales to an holistic look at employee wellbeing. Paul Robertson asks Marco Forato to explain why

Group risk markets, both on the protection and the PMI side of businesses, are increasingly focusing on workplace wellbeing as a core element of their product offering. The reason is simple: a healthy workforce makes fewer claims, and this has an impact on the premiums charged to the employer. However, there are also ancillary benefits. 

A problem advisers have faced in this area is it is a bit nebulous and it has been difficult for an adviser to say, “If you do this, the advantage to your company will be ‘X’.” 

Unum has decided to address this issue and to start a conversation on how group risk advisers can get involved. Marco Forato, the chief marketing officer at Unum, is keen to provide information available to advisers in sales conversations.

Social media campaign

But why is Unum focusing so much on employee wellbeing at the moment? Forato is obviously keen to highlight this question. “We are talking about what it means to be a company that cares and values its employees, and the reason is simple,” he says. 

“We started a campaign to educate HR directors and employees about the need for income protection, the protection gap, cost of absence – all those things you are familiar with – through social media. 

“The beauty of social media is you get an instant reaction to things you put out, and we did not get a lot of engagement. Actually, the people who engaged with us are probably the ones who already offer income protection, because they understand it. 

“What does get a lot of traction is attraction and retention of employees. Being valued as an employee, working for a company that cares, actually carries weight [when it comes to someone] staying with an employer or not. We are talking about that.” 

The social media experiment also identified that, although Unum needs to talk to HR directors, another key audience for the message is finance directors. They have the budget and they have to approve increasing or expanding benefits. 

To this end, there are three strands to the Unum campaign: the first, the Brain Drain, is an understanding of the financial impact of staff turnover. There are obvious costs to recruiting new staff, but Unum has identified other costs. 

When replacing an employee, there are logistic costs: hiring a new person, advertising the role, spending time interviewing. That is on average £5,500 for a new employee hired. 

Forato points out that is the tip of the iceberg. “The hidden cost is the loss in productivity of those new employees,” he says. “It takes on average about 28 days for a new employee to get to the optimum level of productivity, knowing everything they need to know about the company, like the old employee did. The cost of that on average is about £25,000 for an employee. Yet we focus a lot on the £5,000, which is 20% of the total cost.”

An example are the figures for media: the logistics cost of hiring a new journalist is £4,154 on average. The productivity loss is £21,633. Unum believes that these costs could actually become more onerous as the economy improves.

During the recession, employees were found to look for stability, rather than looking for a new opportunity. So employees were not moving to new opportunities. As the economy recovers and unemployment declines, opportunities will appear and will become a huge cost for companies if they do not pay attention to it. 

Wellbeing focus

Unum is linking this to sickness absence as well, rolling in the feel-good factor of the company caring. This is ‘Wellbeing’, the second strand of the campaign.

Forato explains: “We and the entire industry are experiencing a lot more work stress-related claims. This happens when you do not have a work environment, or the wellbeing at the workplace is not as good as it could be, which links directly with absence. 

“We ran a piece of research with employees and asked what would be more effective in showing that a company values you or cares for you? Salary comes top, but not every company can continue to increase salary to all employees. 

“What we found really interesting is that pensions are actually at the bottom now. And it might be that now everybody is getting a pension, so it is not differentiating anymore. 

“One thing that does make a difference is having a comprehensive benefits package: 62% of employees said this will shows that a company cares about wellbeing, especially benefits that take care of you where you cannot work because you are ill, which links nicely to income protection. 

“So the bottom line is that wellbeing will keep your employees engaged and it will not cost you to hire new people if they stay, and income protection and a comprehensive benefits package is one major factor in demonstrating that you care about your employees.” 

Of course, many firms have packages in place. They also have a tendency to think: ‘Right, I have the package in place, I needn’t do any more.’ Should advisers be trying to instigate reviews?

Forato notes that the workforce has changed over the past ten years: “You have a lot more women in the workplace, you have people working as they get older and not retiring as early as they used to. For the first time, you have three generations in the workplace.

“The vast majority of employers that we talked to have not reviewed their benefit package for more than three years. 

“We hear quite a lot from advisers is it is hard now to have that conversation about the rest of the benefits when you are asking employers to pay more for the pension. 

“We need to turn that upside down: employers can’t afford not to look at the rest of the benefits, because that is what will start differentiating an employer from competitors. When pensions are going to become pretty much the same for everybody, how can you differentiate?”


The Blueprint for loyalty

The last strand of Unum’s campaign is The Blueprint, the building blocks of staff loyalty. Unum asked industry experts and senior executives of different-sized companies about what they have done and are hearing about.  

The provider came up with five building blocks: “First is a culture of caring,” Forato says. “Culture of caring is just having that open conversation and understanding your workforce, and what will drive engagement and loyalty from them. 

“Once you create that, then it is very important to have leadership. This should come from the top down. It is not something that the HR director just puts in. If you do not live it as a senior leader, employees will not believe that you actually care for them. 

“Line management is very important; it is not only senior executives, it needs to trickle down through the entire organisation, because even if you are in a large organisation, every little business unit is like a small company. People look to their line management as an inspiration and leadership, and they need to also buy into that. So leadership is the second building block.” 

The third strand is employee benefits, (making sure there is a comprehensive package); fourth is workplace environment (being able to offer flexible working hours, or perhaps being able to work from home); and fifth is an assessment of benefits’ future proofing.

Unum backs up its three strands of benefit planning with data. It has found that 30% of employees would leave if their workplace wellbeing was poor, 26% would be less motivated, and 21% would be less likely to stay long term. So hardly anyone is unaffected. 

But what can an employer do, in partnership with adviser, to take on
this position? Forato says: “It is about understanding your workforce, understanding what their limits
are, understanding the diversity you have in your workforce. One size fits all does not work any more. It is very important to offer something that cares for the different types of people and the different industries.” 

Forato is adamant that employers will expect their advisers to be talking about this. “If you take all the social media platforms out there – we have more than 35,000 followers on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter – the vast majority are employers. I think they expect their advisers to continue the conversation once they read the stuff we put out there,” he says.

As an example, Forato cites an adviser who wanted to hear Unum’s theories. Forato says: “Because they did not talk to their client about it, another broker came in and asked the client have you seen this thing? The client now wants to know why that broker hadn’t talked to them about it.”


In effect, the adviser wants to quickly be brought up to speed to placate the client firm – a tricky and precarious situation for any adviser to find themselves in.

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