The Case for Improved Workforce Health

The Case for Improved Workforce Health

The working population is the backbone of any country. It is the farmers, construction workers, office workers and many others who make it all happen for the rest of the population. Such people are so crucial for the economy and that is why it is important that they remain healthy at work. However it is a rather sad situation in the UK that health and work are not commonly thought of in the same page. We tend to overlook the health of the workers and thus end up losing a lot. For instance in the UK around one in three employees have a long term health condition and what’s more saddening is that fact that the number keeps rising as people get older until they retire at 68.

Most of the problems start as just minor illnesses and for a long time do not present any threat to the quality or quantity of their work. With the right support such minor illnesses remain just that, minor. However for many in the workplace, four out of every ten employees to be exact, such illnesses do affect the amount and type of work they do.

The effects are pervasive throughout the economy. In the UK 140 million working days are lost to sickness absence every year. Almost half of employees take time off sick every year with up to £30 billion being lost to productivity through absenteeism costs. It is because of this that stakeholders have been trying to address the problem of poor workers’ healthcare. The UK government in itself spends more than £60 billion in healthcare services annually, however this alone is not enough. If we are to fully tackle this issue then there needs to be active involvement from all stakeholders in the system. Starting from the employees, the employers, the government and healthcare providers. Such interventions are present today and have been demonstrated to be improving employee health outcomes. The Workplace Wellbeing Charted for instance has provided guidance to support employers to develop effective programmes to meet the health needs of their employees.

Such interventions have also proved to be financially beneficial to organisations that implement them. It has resulted in the reduction of lost days to absenteeism which is due to sickness. This results in improved staff turnover and employee satisfaction. This also translates to benefits for the whole economy as the government will save a lot in terms of the money spent on health benefits for employees.

However the cases stated above are just a very small percentage of employers in the country. The truth is that many employers fail to tackle poor workforce health. Some feel that the cost is too high while some do not recognise the benefits of investing in good employee health. Small employers in particular simply lack the time and resources for such a programme. It is thus a challenge for the country and policy makers to come with solutions to tackle the issue of employee health seeing that it is not financially beneficial for many employers.

The challenge is in making employers see the importance of workforce health and wellbeing. If the government is to tackle this issue then it has to come up with ways to incentivise employers to invest in employee workforce.

Some of the solutions might include reviewing of the current taxation of employer sponsored health interventions. The government can also introduce other fiscal incentives such as tax breaks, tiered VAT rates and changes to levy systems. Such changes will go a long way to reducing the cost of the employers and thus leaving them with more money to invest in workforce healthcare.

However the buck starts and stops with the employers. It is they who hold the key to any change being made to their employees’ healthcare. The government can only do so much as it has already done but if the employers are unwilling or unable to implement policies to improve their employees’ health then the country will make no headway as far as workforce healthcare is concerned. Unfortunately this is the case for much of the organisations in the UK. Despite the financial incentives to implement healthcare policies for their employees most employers are opting not to. The reason is that they themselves face barriers to planning and implementing such policies.

In the planning stage there is always the problem of making a business case for such policies. There is often failure by employers to articulate the benefits of a healthcare programme for their employees to investors and other stakeholders. Without the consent of the stakeholders the employers cannot undertake any project hence the failure of such programmes.

The employees themselves might not be interested in participating in such programmes. This is common for employees who feel no need for such since they have no health problems at the time, this comes at the expense of those who do have issues and those who will in the future. If the people you are trying to help are not for the programme then the project is doomed to fail form the start.

There is always the problem of budgetary constraints for the employers who usually fail to allocate any funds for health programmes since there are more pressing needs in the business. Other problems to implantation include communication and management of the evaluation.

There are however simple rules that every employer can follow to ensure a good employee health within the organisation.

  1. Always make sure that the employees doing a particular job are fit to do it. This is important particularly for those very demanding jobs.
  2. The employer needs to provide sensitive and practical help and support to employees who may have health conditions especially those with long term conditions.
  3. Engage with employees about health matters and make sure that they are well informed on their own health and safety and also that of their family members.
  4. Create policies that improve that improve the partnership between the managers and staff especially on matters relating to health and safety.
  5. Make sure that you have systems in place to plan deliver and monitor employees health
  6. Get professional help if need be to achieve healthcare and safety objectives within the organisation. This can be in the form of healthcare professionals and also the government.

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