The government’s health at work reforms, including moves to replace the sick note with a fit note and create a Fit for Work workplace health service, have put health and wellbeing at work firmly on the long-term agenda of many companies.
Research by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) on employers’ current thinking on wellbeing has found that investment in health and wellbeing had actually become more important during the recession, not less, for more than half of the 50 employers polled.
The survey of both private and public sector firms found a clear recognition that, in difficult times, getting the most out of their people and managing absence effectively were more important than ever.
Employers’ health and wellbeing priorities included:
Increasing or improving line manager training and engagement to ensure managers felt able to deal with wellbeing issues proactively
Better absence management, including shoring up policies and having more systematic monitoring of any problems
Closer communication with staff about health and wellbeing to ensure that messages filter through to all employees
Being better equipped to deal with mental health issues and having more developed stress management provision in place.
Claire Tyers, associate director at the IES, said there were still concerns among employers about how the new fit note would work in practice, with firms particularly worried about the potential extra work it could create for their already stretched HR departments and line managers. Nevertheless, she added: “The fit note could be a constructive way forward, and some employers already feel it will encourage flexibility in how staff are deployed around the business.
“Those employers that welcomed it appreciated the more positive focus on the duties that employees can perform, rather than on what they can’t, and felt that it could be useful in reducing sickness absence if implemented properly,” she said.
Yet, while employers still remain committed to health spending, more than half of hard-pressed UK workers said they would trade in benefits for cash if they were allowed.
More positively, a survey of 1,300 workers by Aon Consulting found that illness and injury protection and alternative health treatments were among those benefits most favoured by workers.