Employers found skimping on health and wellbeing benefits

Barely four workers out of 10 have access to occupational health services, concludes a major government-backed snapshot of workplace health provision in Britain.

Three research reports from the Department for Work and Pensions have assessed attitudes to work and health among employers, employees and the population at large.

The first research report found that 80% of almost 3,000 people both in and out of work believed that work was good for both physical and mental health.

More than nine workers out of 10 agreed that they would go to work with a short-term illness, although significantly fewer (around 60%) said the same about a hypothetical long-term physical or mental health condition.

There was also strong support for GPs (91%) and moderate support for employers (53%) having a say in the length of time that individuals should be signed off due to ill health.

Most also felt that employers should have a role when employees were ill, with more than 80% agreeing that employers should take steps to help employees with long-term conditions to carry on working.

In addition, a survey of more than 2,000 employees found that nearly half had taken some sick leave in the previous 12 months and that the average number of sickness absence days was 4.5. Four employees out of 10 reported that they had gone to work in the previous 12 months when, in their opinion, they should have taken sick leave.

The most commonly cited health and wellbeing initiatives offered by their employers were more than 20 days’ annual leave (84%) and an employer pension scheme (70%).

Only 38%, however, said they had access to occupational health services, with workers in large public or private sector organisations reporting a higher than average num­ber of initiatives.

A total of 32% reported that stress management or support was provided within their organisation.

An employers’ poll, meanwhile, found that 21% of the 2,250 employers surveyed did not have a system in place for recording sickness absence, and this was most common among small employers. Large employers generally reported a higher incidence of sickness absence than small and medium-sized firms.

Two-thirds of employers had not taken any action to help employees with health problems stay in work or return to work.

Among the one-third that had taken action, the most common were allowing employees to work different or reduced hours and having meetings to discuss extra help employees might need.

In addition, 83% of the employers polled did not provide stress management advice and support – these were more likely to be small employers, private sector employers and employers where there was no trade union presence.

There was also a strong agreement that employers had a responsibility to encourage their employees to be physically and mentally healthy and that there was a link between work and employee health and wellbeing.

Nevertheless, only a slim majority agreed that the financial benefits of investing in employee health and wellbeing outweighed the costs, with half believing that their employees would not want them to intervene in terms of their physical and mental health.

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