Employers must address root cause of employee ill health

Initiatives by employers to promote healthy living and working are a waste of time unless managers also tackle their underlying workplace culture, including stressful working practices, bullying, and working hours, trade unions have said.

The TUC, in its submission to National Director for Health and Work professor Dame Carol Black’s review into working health, has said that offering stop smoking campaigns, lunchtime exercise classes and low-fat foods in the canteen are all good, but only if employers also address the causes of what makes workers ill in the first place.

However, the union body has warned employers against moralising to their workers over lifestyle issues. Drug and alcohol issues, for example, were a concern only when they affected the performance of a person in the workplace or put at risk the safety of workers or the public, it said.

Black’s review is looking at a range of questions around how to keep working age people healthy and how the workplace can be better used to promote health. The report’s findings are expected this month.

Lunchtime yoga classes are no substitute for reducing stress in the workplace, and while access to fresh fruit is a good thing, it is of little use if employees never get to take a lunch break, according to the TUC.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Employers should be creating opportunities so that staff can make healthier choices, rather than try to force them to adopt a particular lifestyle that has no bearing on how they do their jobs.”

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