Stephen Phipson highlights the latest EEF report, which shows employers take seriously the health of their workers. However, progress still needs to be made in measuring long-term absence levels and the effectiveness of investments in the health of their workforce.
It has long been recognised that the right to work is beneficial for employees, bringing health and wellbeing, improved status, economic security and enhanced social support.
It is also beneficial to employers when a company invests in both the health and the wellbeing of its workforce.
EEF’s annual Work & Health report shows that employers are taking the issue of employees’ health seriously and providing effective and flexible support for their return to work when they have been absent.
It is not only a legal requirement, but also good business practice to do this, as a healthy workforce is also a productive workforce, as many academic studies have shown.
Therefore, it’s important that employers take what steps they can to support and assist employees suffering from long-term ill-health problems, particularly ill health that is caused by work, so that they can remain at work and enjoy all the benefits of continued employment.
Key to this is implementing an effective employee benefits strategy.
Helping people to remain in work also reduces the cost to the benefits system and the burden on the NHS.
Furthermore, prompt intervention reduces the number of days lost to unnecessary sickness absence and prevents absence becoming long term, with the possibility in some cases that employees will never return to work.
According to our report, just over half of companies measure their long-term absence levels, while almost all companies, whatever their size, implement measures to help re-integrate employees back into work.
Employers are also taking a proactive approach to the wellbeing of their employees, with over four-fifths providing occupational health services.
However, it remains surprising that in many cases employers are still not measuring the effectiveness of their investments in the health of their workforce, while almost a third don’t measure their long-term absence levels.
This highlights that there remains considerable work to be done, both by employers and government to address health and wellbeing as part of an overarching, wider occupational health strategy that addresses more than just sickness absence.
We had anticipated that the government’s Industrial Strategy, published in November 2017, would recognise the benefits to the economy of a healthy workforce in terms of improving productivity and providing assistance to employers by incentivising schemes that would enhance health and wellbeing.
While ‘people’ is a key theme within the strategy, it was disappointing that health is only mentioned in the context of healthy ageing. No reference was made to a fit, healthy and productive workforce, which was a missed opportunity.
Do the right thing
Since then, the government has announced that addressing an ageing population is one of the so-called ‘Grand Challenges’ associated with its Industrial Strategy.
While technology will undoubtedly play its part, tacking this challenge must begin at the workplace with employers providing employees with an environment that is healthy and safe in the first place.
Where absence does take place, employers and government should have in place a wider occupational health strategy that provides support and rehabilitation to enable a swift return to work.