Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Do you need a corporate wellness strategy

In my recent blog post on the subject ( I talked about the different types of insurance products and support services that can assist your company with keeping staff happy, well and productive.

It's amazing how many clients I speak to who really do not have a wellness strategy at all for their staff, who in fact do not really give it any thought at all. Is this approach short sighted ?

It is not my role to bully or cajole clients into understanding that they do need a strategy around their human capital but to me it simply stands to reason - if you don't invest in your staff's workplace, mental and physical well-being then they will not be contented or motivated to work to their full capacity and inevitably they will take more and more time off work - it may be easier for some to think of this as a purely financial transaction, a little money spent in advance of the problem prevents future breakdown.

A little bit like spending money on maintaining a car to prevent it breaking down at a later date with a more catastrophic and expensive fault later on.

Although not directly analogous/applicable to this situation a friend of mine came out with an expression recently that although I had not heard or used before made me wish it was mine :

"Buy cheap, Be prepared to Buy twice"

Seems reasonably relevant and more or less covers my point above I think.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Everyday Carry

Whilst I was on holiday I was introduced to the 'Leatherman' series of multi-tools. Had never really heard of them before (see below, always been a Swiss Army kind of person).

As a lapsed pen knife fan (always wanted one as a kid but was never allowed and it drove me mad) I ended up ordering this amazing new (to me) multi-tool for use around the house, for DIY when out walking and so forth.

During my research (yes I really am that nerdy) into which model to invest in I watched a lot of YouTube reviews and as a consequence came across this an American phenomenon which has made it's way over here called 'Everyday Carry' - google it and you will, like I did discover a world of oddly OCD people who obsess over pocket bulge, the weight of titanium and the benefits of pocket note books versus smart phones.

Now do not misunderstand me, it may be a bit of an odd, even a fairly obvious, if slightly sub-conscious thing (who doesn't think every now and then about what they carry around with them on a daily basis) but I am finding it alluring. It turns out that EDC (as we proponents call it) is not just OCD by any other name but rather a lifestyle choice and it really does make you think about focusing on task and ensuring you have the right tool at hand at all times. Good idea for business and entrepreneurs me thinks too !

So on the surface it is a bit odd, however isn't it sensible to carry the stuff around with you that you need and ditch all the other rubbish that ends up in your pockets or coat or bag for no reason. I'm finding that as I read more it's about slimming down some items (wallets for example) but adding other items to your personal kit. I never dreamed of carrying a torch but my new mini flashlight is so much more powerful than the one on my phone, more accessible and a lot less power intensive.

One of the things you'll see on EDC websites is a photo of a persons kit along with a brief description. I'm a fairly new and to be honest slightly bewildered/half hearted EDC'er at the moment but here's my starting out kit as of today :

Nappy/Poo Bags - we have a 14 week old puppy - do the math !
Iphone 6 Plus - trusty work horse smart phone
Sennheiser ear phones in pouch
Cash for parking/coffee (maybe even a muffin ?)
Leatherman Wave - just to stress, this is not legal to carry without a good reason in the UK due to having locked blades - I only use it at home or when out walking in the wilds.
LED Lanser PSE mini flashlight
House and car key
Animal Wallet (due to be slimmed down !!!)
13 inch MacBook Pro 2014
Apple Watch
Fitbit Charge

Seems like a lot to me so I am planning to slim down a little although to be fair the MacBook only goes out with me on work appointments otherwise it lives in my office along with the Leatherman that sits on my desk and the flashlight which comes out for nighttime dog walks etc.

I'm looking for a slimline swiss army knife to add to my keys and be a fallback for the Leatherman for everyday use (have a Victorinox Huntmans for my bag on order along with a Spartan for my key chain).

Will update if this EDC thing proceeds - am finding it a little all consuming at the moment but if nothing else it encourages me to be prepared and walk more with the dogs to justify carrying proper outdoorsman type kit.

Nerdy, ODC, - you bet but great fun !

Monday, 8 August 2016

Welcome back from holiday

First day back in the office following just over two weeks away (Bristol and South Devon). Over the break have done a fair amount of client work so nothing too desperate sitting in my in-box.

Just had a call from Talk Talk (?), my fibre broad band and home phone line provider. They tell me that in the last two weeks there has been an enormous amount of data being used by my broad band account - an odd statement since I have unlimited data on my home account.

So I mentioned that wasn't possible as no one had been in the house for nearly three weeks. Ah ha they said. Someone can 'hack in' with a 'worm' even if you have a password and use your data.

So he then asked me what business I used my broad band for - I replied that was confidential, "fine" says he. Then he asks me if my brand band line was in use at the moment, puzzled I asked "if you're really Talk Talk should't you be able to tell me that ?" This was apparently one sarcastic question too many as the once seemingly professional caller told me to "expletive off" and hung up on me.

The lesson, never give out any information at all during in-coming calls without checking the source  and have some fun with them if you possible can. When anyone who provides me a service contacts me, particularly by phone but also by e-mail if the old spider sense starts tingling always contact them yourselves to check especially with people who should have access to phone numbers, technical info, bank details etc - there's no reason for them to contact you unless there is an issue and calling them yourself proves you are speaking to the company for real and not some scammer in a call centre in Moscow.
Henry the Cocker-Poo

Friday, 1 July 2016

Corporate Wellness Strategy - do you need one ?

If you are running a business you do not need me to tell you that your work force, the 'human capital' within your business, is of vital importance.

Many companies will have the odd product to help staff health and well-being : medical insurance or income protection, perhaps a cash plan. In most cases very few businesses, certainly very few smaller businesses will have an over-riding strategy to keep staff health, happy and motivated. What follows below are some basic areas of insurance and health products that can assist with this vital area of employee support.

Private Medical Insurance - one of the cornerstones of health protection for a business. Immediate access to private treatment for all employees when needed. The advantages for the staff are fairly self evident and tie in to the main advantages for the company. Access to healthcare with no waiting lists and timed at the most convenient point for the business. Faster access, better treatment (usually) and quicker recuperation times mean staff are healthier, happier and when treatment is needed everything happens faster meaning less time off work sick at it's most basic.

Many insurers will also offer additional added value benefits, usually aimed at providing health related benefits or discounts. These and the core benefits of medical insurance usually mean that staff value PMI benefits over other employee benefit products. This means that as well as a 'health benefit' PMI is also key when recruiting and attempting to retain staff. In other words, words once staff have had this benefit and derived value they will usually be loath to lose it.

It's also worth noting that (as you might imagine) medical insurance is a key benefit that staff will regularly use so often obtaining immediate value from.

Income Protection - I would suggest that income protection is another health cornerstone for employees. Basically a product that pays an income - as the name suggests - when a member is unable to work through sickness. There are usually limits on cover (taking into account statutory disability type payments for example) and often a waiting or qualifying period before the payment kicks in.

In some ways I would view PMI and Income Protection as two sides of the same coin. Medical insurance pays immediately for private treatment then IP kicks in several weeks later (following the qualifying period) usually when the company sick pay ends.

Cash Plans - a product which offers discrete, usually fairly low value, cash benefit across a variety of types of health treatment. Often an adjunct to a PMI scheme or put in place as a low value alternative to full medical insurance. The key benefits of this type of cover tend to be for routine dental treatment and optical cover. As neither of these is typically available within a core medical insurance product there is some value to be found here even if some of the benefits are quite low value.

There is a trend at the moment for cash plan providers to offer a benefit that pays a PMI excess. this can often be a good tactic for companies to reduce overall PMI plan costs whilst adding in additional value for staff. There is some controversy within the market though as to how sustainable this sales tactics, driven by providers, actually is.

Dental Insurance - given the relatively low cash value levels of cash plans full dental insurance can be a useful way of adding in full dental benefits for staff and like PMI employees really value this cover and regularly will use it. Dental is often found in progressive businesses and those whose culture might demand this kind of cover e.g. American owned companies.

It's also worth considering that dental work, whilst not life threatening does often have time off work implications and a properly set up and managed dental scheme, like PMI can seriously cut down time off work for a business.

Health Screening - as part of a drive to create health prevention is is now fairly standard to offer varied health checks (well-person, executive check ups and the like) for senior employees to promote a healthy lifestyle but also ensure key employees are able to work at peak efficiency.

Sickness Absence Management - run and monitored by HR in many cases a full SAM capability handles the notification of illness by staff to the business, reports MI around this to the business and typically handles return to work scenarios and will often liaise with PMI and IP providers to offer initial triage and treatment options. For larger business this program in tandem with other product areas can be useful in understanding their staff absence profile and enable pro-active measures to be undertaken.

Employee Assistance Programs - at their most basic an EAP is simply a helpline aiming to provide staff support around stress and other lifestyle type problems. As currently constituted a modern EAP would typically offer a telephone helpline staffed by counsellors, the possibility of face to face counselling (usually 6 or 8 sessions per annum) and often a legal helpline as well. The advantage for the business is covering off some of their duty of care responsibilities to staff and gaining MI that give insight into staff health and morale. I would point out though that all management information from an EAP would be anonymised. Again an EAP tends to be (although not exclusively) for larger businesses. There can be value though for groups of 45 or 50 staff upwards.

Occupational Health - onsite support usually provided by clinicians (doctors and specialist nurses). This is one of the older forms of health cover for business and despite the increased 'health and safety' culture in which we exist is really a dying art. At one time most factories had a full time Occy. Health capability but more recently most OH is supplied by larger specialist businesses who offer visits from clinicians or helpline support in this area. Increasingly the workplace H & S support is provided by the companies HR function with the NHS or private PMI providers left to catch the fall-out.

There are a number of additional areas of employee benefits - shopping discounts schemes, legal advice, cycling schemes and so on but I have endeavoured to highlight the main 'health' related areas.

Obviously no company (unless they are ridiculously cash rich) would ever provide all of these benefits but proper advice on the companies requirement from a specialist adviser like myself can be valuable. Research has shown (please don't ask me to quote it as I'm struggling to pin down the publication but it was paid for by AXA PPP when they launched a new healthcare plan in the late 1990's) that once a PMI scheme reaches a certain size - around 2,000 lives as I recall - it will literally pay for itself every year in terms of the salary costs it will save by reduction of sickness absence. Given that most companies won't have 2,000 employees we simply need to look at the various products and options out there and consider what the companies problem/historic approach to absence has been and use the above tools in an integrated way to provide solutions.

This is the kind of work I am undertaking with my clients every day of the week and they range in size from 2 man small companies up to corporates with hundreds of employees on cover - each client needs a bespoke approach and an honest appraisal of how to meet their wellness strategy and of course in some cases my assistance to actually design one in the first place !

If you are interested in have an initial discussion and for more information and a free review of your companies health call : 07792 075748 or e-mail :

Thursday, 23 June 2016


So we are going to blow the explosive bolts along the South Coast, East Anglia and Channel Tunnel and float off into the North Atlantic.

After one of the most bad blooded and frankly incomprehensible political fights we have allowed the lowest common denominator in British society (those who incidentally won't be paying tax anyway - pensioners and layabouts, the true little Englanders) to out vote the ones who took the time to look over the political and economic implications and decided that the status quo was slightly better than another 8 to 10 years of financial turmoil.

Good news is though that there are about to be a lot more jobs picking fruit, serving in pizza shops and the sex trade. Glad I had some positive information to pass out to my ten and sixteen year old son and daughter.

This vote is totally unbelievable and in effect nearly half of the population have been disenfranchised (after all we can't ever vote to go back in now) and it is our kids generation that will suffer not us.

The implications are completely unknown but it is very likely that we will have at least a year of tumbling financial markets which loath uncertainty.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The saga of my kitchen never ends and the perils of eBay

It seems as if the saga that is my kitchen renovation will never end. As it stands a part of the kitchen 'fell off' (literally) a couple of weeks ago and the fitter still hasn't returned to fix it. In addition the electrical work is not finished insofar as we still need a safety certificate following the installation of a new circuit box but the gentleman was due to arrive on Saturday last week and didn't turn up so we're basically waiting for the final couple of things to be finished. Frustrating but not too much of an issue - still haven't paid the fitter 50% of his fee so the ball is in his court.

The story doesn't finish there though. At the end of May I finally sold my 2 year old Samsung Fridge Freezer on eBay - it took five or six auctions before it finally went and it was collected two days after the buyer won the auction.

This buyer had been a bit of a presence around all of the previous auctions. He'd never actually bid until the final auction and each time it failed to sell he contacted me via eBay messaging with questions about the item and offers below the starting price. On each of three occasions I told him that he should bid if he wanted the item. Eventually he did, reluctantly though I suspect.

On the day of collection (28/5/16) the buyer turned up unannounced at my home (he had arranged for a removals company to pick it up in the evening) in the afternoon. Fortunately I was in and as luck would have it in the garage emptying my own items from the fridge - I'd had cheese, milk, sauces etc in the thing as it had functioned as my main fridge in the garage all through the kitchen refit and that weekend (this was a Saturday) the fitters were in again doing some work so I couldn't get into the kitchen and I'd been in and out to the fridge all day including emptying the ice maker which I'd turned on accidentally dusting it the day before for the collection.

He insisted on inspecting the fridge and was quite surly but I didn't object - he'd already paid the fee on Paypal so I just wanted the thing away. He went off and later the removal company turned up and took the fridge freezer.

Fast forward to last Friday the 17th of June (21 days later) I receive a message from eBay telling me that the buyer is demanding to return the item as it was 'not as described'.

Basically he's saying that immediately on plugging it in it blew his circuit breaker every hour or two and that having spent over £ 240 putting in a separate circuit onto his board it still doesn't work.

My problem is this. I know the thing was working and had worked unbroken until the moment I unplugged it at my house for his movers to take it. So I replied and pointed this out. I suggested that given it had not worked from day one he should have contacted me earlier, before undertaking work for additional cost which I did not agree to and he also should have spoken to his removers because the scenario he outlined sounds very much like it was damaged in transit.

His subsequent replies have now veered into the realms of name calling. Thus far I am a liar, immature and he does not like my tone. It seems that defending your own corner is now something to be mocked. He is of course refusing to even speak to his removal company, won't say why he waited three weeks to contact me and has created a fantasy in which complex, unboxed electrical items are invulnerable to damage in transit.

In addition to turning up uninvited at my home (a breach of eBay seller etiquette if not their actual rules) he has begun name calling and also making threats to go out-with the eBay procedures. In fact I have now told him twice that I am happy to abide by the eBay resolution process. One assumes they have robust procedures in place for just this eventuality. One suspects, given his behaviour that the reason he is yet to raise a complaint via eBay is that he doesn't have much of a case and thinks intimidating me is a better tactic.

Little does he know the futility.

In our last exchange he threatened to report me to eBay (which of course I have been encouraging him to do since last Friday) but he gave me a deadline that is actually some time before the deadline given by eBay to resolve the matter between us before they can intervene. Given the level of discourse from him has dropped to threats and name calling I've had to report his conduct to eBay myself. Whether I ultimately end up 'winning' this dispute is to an extent irrelevant. I'm not prepared to be intimidated by an irrational and unprofessional bully in anyway shape or form.

Unfortunately the 'not as described' claim is a well know fiddle on eBay to get out of paying for an item and of course this guy is now also trying to get me to pay for additional repairs and his other costs - all incurred (based on his version of events) without any go ahead from myself. At the moment my Pay Pal account sits in debit (they take the money straight out of the amount pending resolution of the initial return request) so I cannot use eBay or Pay Pal and of course I no longer have my item or any hope of getting it back without incurring enormous cost especially as his movers managed to break it.

Frankly though I am quite enjoying winding him up. In my experience he's the classic bully and he hates me standing up to him.

Will update as we progress. His deadline for reply was the 23rd of June but I will be waiting until one minute to midnight on the actual deadline eBay cited, why ? Because I can.

Update - 24th of June.

I've now replied to my buyer and so far he hasn't, as I've requested three times in writing, set up an eBay resolution claim.

Earlier in the week I was forced to report him to eBay for asking me to circumvent their rules and turning up uninvited at my home.

As he hasn't bothered, for some reason, to start a resolution claim I've actually had to do it myself to ask eBay to step in. It's really quite bizarre that he's raised an issue, refused to try and sort things out with either me (in a realistic fashion) or with his removals company and now I've been forced to set up the claim with eBay myself. I'm pretty sure from reading about 'not as described' claims on line that the process is stacked against the seller but hopefully his silly position and name calling will go against him.

Monday, 13 June 2016

A post about my friend

I wrote this blog post some weeks ago, in happier times before Jasper passed. This is a sad blog post to write and upload but I wrote it in advance of his passing as a kind of eulogy and knew that following his death I just would not be able to put into words my thoughts. I hope it will serve to celebrate him and the times we shared and in the future be a reminder if his fun and vivacity.

"Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality"
Emily Dickinson

My dog died today.

He was 11 years old, the second Cavalier King Charles spaniel we've had. He was born in March 2005 when my wife was pregnant with our son, now nearly 11 and we can still clearly remember bringing him home in a card board box with a towel in the bottom and then sitting with him for hours on our kitchen floor whilst he settled in.

He'd just woken up, was not deformed !

Although all the animals are my wife's, Jasper always seemed to be 'my dog'. He always wanted to know where I was at any point, even towards the end when he got a bit unstable on his paws and he usually waited on the door mat in the hall way waiting for me when I went out shopping at the weekend regardless of whatever anyone else in the house was doing.

He loved food, we always knew when he was poorly because he stopped eating. That was rare though because, with one or two exceptions although he had lots 'wrong' with him he was overall a healthy and vivacious dog.
He did love food !

We used to joke, especially when he was young that he was at least as intelligent as a person and sometimes looking at how he watched you and reacted to conversation I wouldn't be surprised if behind that handsome face he was, in a nice way, plotting doggy world domination.

Poised for action ...

As I mentioned above, Jasper was a healthy and happy dog. Not sure why but when he was a puppy we used to call him the Rangy Baby Jesus - that kind of stuck as he was never a fat Cavalier but always rangy and kind of athletic. He had a heart murmur from a relatively young age but this is common in Cavaliers and in no way caused problems, he also had syringomyelia a brain condition again common the breed which caused him every now and then to freak out and scratch but had no major health impacts.
 Last year he began coughing a little on an evening and this was a deterioration of the heart condition but was treated with meds and he came right back to normal. Over Winter 2014 and then Summer 2015, as a family we had some of our best, longest dog walks with Jasper and our other dog : Muffin in the local woods and really explored our local area through having our dogs. It could be seen as a bit of a cliche but they were great times and I am going to miss sharing them with him and of course the rest of my family.
Post eye problems

When we returned home from holiday in August last year Jasp developed an eye problem which deteriorated very quickly and one evening in late August his left eye literally burst and he had to have emergency surgery to remove the damaged eye and was left after several weeks of convalescence with a cuter face but only one eye. We quickly discovered though that his remaining eye had very limited sight. As a clever creature though he has been able to adapt to limited sight and has total recall of where everything is in the house, garden and on our regular walks.

We were staggered at how well he overcame the eye problem given his age and heart condition but then we hit another setback, no sooner was he over the eye and back to his normal self when he became very poorly with pancreatitis, a nasty gastric problem and came close to dying. With intensive treatment and a continuous vet food low fat diet he overcame not one but two serious bouts of this condition.

That was over Christmas 2015 and then again January of 2016.

Unfortunately the heart condition, eye and then pancreatitis have just taken their toll and his heart condition ramped up in mid March. We literally battled to save him, increasing medication to the absolute maximum and even a bit beyond to eke out a few more weeks for him because right til the end he was happy, eager to eat and walk and spend time with us. Over the last few weeks he couldn't be left alone because any noise outside would set him off barking and that stressed his heart and his breathing became harder.
With us on one of his favourite walks

In the end, we had to make the determination that all pet owners dread from the day they bring home their new family friend to the very second it happens and decided that it was us being selfish to make him suffer the difficult breathing problems that would only get worse and more uncomfortable for him any longer.

We all know what happened next. I will not suffer those last few moments again but suffice to say that I was with my friend for his last moments and am glad to have been able to see our friendship through to its bittersweet end.

I am an atheist so think there is no infinite green field for him to run through but perhaps there should be. Whatever happens afterwards, my friend will run through my happy dreams with me forever. 

"The song is ended but the melody lingers on ...."
Irving Berlin 


Jasper Nathaniel Knight - Catamaran Sweet Fudge - March 2005 to May 2016

Woof !

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Brand new iMac, sort of ....

In April 2014 I got so sick of the slow down on my 2009 iMac that I finally snapped and spent £ 1600 buying a replacement. I'm typing on my current Mac and even after over two year it is still blisteringly fast has almost no issues and I see the spinning beach ball perhaps once or twice a week.

I do still use the iMac which sits on my desk behind the MacBook but mainly for light browsing and Netflix plus I won't install MS Word or Excel on my MacBook so I occasionally have to fire up a spreadsheet every now and then.

Last week though I was sat messing about with the iMac's settings and found a screen in 'About this Mac' that showed the iMac had four slots for RAM and two of the four were empty - at the moment it had 2 x 2GB of RAM on-board. Some basic research later and I discovered that I'd probably wasted my £ 1600 and new RAM could just be inserted into the old machine to improve it's performance.

Long story short I wanted to see what effect boosting the RAM might have. I bought 2 x 4GB of RAM from Crucial (for £ 36 !) and installed at the end of last week. Having gone from 4GB to 12GB very cheaply and with a very easy install it literally is like a new machine. Whilst not as quick as the MacBook it's still far faster than anything else we have in the house and i've been rocking it all week. Problem is though that my MacBook is still faster and cooler. I was thinking about upgrading to a new iMac though and to be honest I just don't need to bother at the moment - both machines are much faster than current entry level models anyway.

Game of Thrones - Ser DeadCharacter is Back !

Am I the only person in the world who doesn't watch Game of Thrones the second it airs in the US/UK ?

I mean I thought we were in the age of watching TV when we wanted, downloading, DVR'ing and watching at leisure. The days of using someone else's schedule long since past.

Not so much apparently.

 I always record GoT and then watch a day or two later. So every week when flicking through my news feed on Flipboard some muppet always manages to try and spoil the episode that I haven't yet watched for me.
So I always skip these articles bur now the spoilers have a new tactic. Put the spoil in the article title.

This is just mean spirited - no matter how fast one is in closing down Flipboard I've now read the title of the post and know what happened - now I'm not going to spoil it for you but now I know who came back in this weeks episode, didn't want to, have waited for seasons for that and now it's ruined - words fail me.

There may be a special place in hell reserved for spoilers, either that or in the dungeon of the High Sparrow.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Adding and Deleting members on small group Medical Insurance schemes

One of the day to day tasks that I regularly undertake for clients is the addition of new members and the deletion of members off schemes as they leave employment. Both are pretty straight forward pieces of work that take but moments to log and pass through to insurers.

Of particular importance for the employer is making sure that when employees are eligible to go on cover (many companies have a probation period for staff of three or six months) they do notify the insurer (or preferably myself) that there is a member to join.

If an employer forgets to add someone it is always possible to add them later but there is of course a potential problem. The new members underwriting occurs at the point at which we tell the insurer the member is to go on cover. Then whether the member is joining as a new moratorium or fully underwritten there is generally an exclusion period of medical conditions for five years prior to the date of joining.

As an aside, large corporate and some SME cases are sometimes underwritten differently on what's called 'Medical History Disregarded' or MHD terms - this works entirely differently and is not the situation I am describing.

The problem then is that if you forget to advise us a new member can join and they subsequently develop a new medical problem prior to actually joining then that condition is not going to be covered under the medical insurance plan. Insurers are very strict about this and have all sorts of safe guards in place against this kind of negative selection, not least being unprepared to back date underwriting except in exceptional circumstances.

This scenario to be fair happens fairly infrequently but when it does it can (for obvious reasons) upset employees and cause fairly major problems, even if it is a simple mistake or an oversight on the part of the employee /employee it is unlikely to be something we can fix.

Obviously if the insurer makes a mistake and doesn't add someone when told (i.e. we have a paper trail to show we told the insurer) then the issue is easily soluble.

So my advice to clients is, if you haven't added a process already, perhaps add another step in your HR or recruitment process that suggests or diaries inclusion on the medical insurance scheme for staff as they become eligible.