It pays to invest in a healthy workforce
The recent publication of the 'Sickness Absence Review', commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions, has put the spotlight on health and well-being as a strategic business priority. Increasingly, companies of all sizes are recognising the value of investing in a broad range of health and well-being services, challenging the assumption that workplace health is simply a benefit or perk for senior managers.
The Confederation of British Industry estimates that every year sickness absence costs the economy £17 billion. The costs to society are even greater. In her review of the health of the working-age population, Dame Carol Black, national director for health, work and well-being, found that the annual costs associated with working-age ill health are over £100 billion.
That's arguably what prompted the Department of Work and Pensions to launch the sickness absence review. Led by Dame Carol Black and David Frost, former director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, it made a number of recommendations about how the current sickness absence system could be improved, including tax relief for employers investing in vocational rehabilitation and a new independent assessment service to provide fitness-for-work advice to employers.
"We support the review," says Dr Natalie-Jane Macdonald of Bupa Health and Wellbeing. "The health of the UK workforce is vital both to the economy and to society."
What can employers looking to promote a healthier workforce do?
Macdonald is quick to point out that many UK employers are already ahead of the curve in implementing workplace health solutions as part of a broader health and well-being strategy aligned to their culture and business priorities.
"Employers can take a few simple steps that will deliver quick wins," she says. "Evidence shows that a range of interventions benefit both employers, through reduced absence and improved productivity, and employees, through improved well-being and earlier detection of disease. By investing in these interventions and doing so in a way that is informed by an understanding of the health profile of their workforce, employers can make a significant contribution to reducing levels of illness and disease."
"The health of the UK workforce is vital both to the economy and to society."
And this investment is proven to pay dividends. 'Healthy Work', a report published by Bupa in partnership with the Work Foundation, C3 Collaborating for Health and RAND Europe, highlighted research that suggested that employees who are healthier can be up to 2-3 times more productive than those in ill health.
Macdonald continues: "With so many health and well-being products, services and interventions available, it can be challenging for employers to know where to start. It can also be very difficult to measure the impact of health strategies and evaluate return on investment.
Help for small businesses
Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) face specific challenges, not least because they may have no dedicated human resource function. Given that 99% of companies in the UK are SMEs, this is where the real challenge of promoting productivity and improving public health lies. Bupa offers a number of workplace health interventions, specifically tailored to the needs of SMEs, including flexible health insurance, cash plans and employee assistance.
While the worsening health of UK workers presents huge challenges, it also presents an unusual opportunity for a win-win for employers, government and society.
Macdonald says: "UK businesses need to be resilient, agile and resourceful, with employees who are healthy in mind and body if they are to meet the economic demands required to ensure the UK thrives in the global marketplace.
"By getting workplace health right, employers can make a significant contribution, helping to reduce levels of disease and illness in the UK and deliver benefits for everyone."
Bupa's advice on how to ensure the effectiveness of workplace health interventions in an organisation:
- invest where it makes sense - in health interventions that are known to be effective
- understand the health profile of your workforce and involve employees in decisions about investment in workplace health
- ensure that workplace health interventions have clear objectives and are supported by senior management
- track key metrics about workforce health, such as levels of sickness absence, health and general well-being
- consider improving the quality of work as well as more traditional workplace health interventions
- find innovative ways to engage as many employees as possible in workplace health interventions.
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