Health secretary Alan Johnson has demanded that employee wellbeing be higher up the list of organisational priorities.
In his speech to a British Heart Foundation conference in London last week, he also gave his backing to an overhaul of how GPs write sicknotes.
“By actively promoting health and wellbeing, employers can incentivise changes in behaviour as well as reducing stress and other causes of employee absence,” he said.
“Those of us who work full-time spend one-fifth of our lives in the workplace. What we eat there, how we sit, how we travel to the office, how we deal with pressure, whether there are opportunities to exercise – these things affect both our productivity and our long-term health.”
Johnson used his speech to call for GPs to write ‘fit notes’ rather than sicknotes, indicating what people could do at work rather than signing them off completely.
Sayeed Khan, chief medical adviser at manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, welcomed the announcement. “Too often there is an emphasis on what the employee cannot do, rather than what they can do,” he said.
Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the CIPD, added: “GPs are letting down patients signed off work by not communicating effectively with employers. All too often the reality is a quickly scribbled note signing someone off for another period of weeks.”
But the British Medical Association said employers should provide staff with access to proper occupational health services that would help them get back to work.