Healthy choice will revive UK business

The Government has at last included the role of the employer and the working environment in its vision for a healthier nation. And about time too.

The cost of sickness and absence are shockingly high – as well as costing 11bn in sickness absence, some 40 million days are lost each year to occupational ill health and injury. The Department of Health estimates two million people suffer an illness they believe has been caused or made worse by their work.

The Government’s White Paper, Choosing Health, recognises that there is a need for a holistic approach to health that involves individuals, employers and the state. The idea is that we must all take responsibility for our health and well-being. This is a step in the right direction.

But outside of moves to ban smoking, there is no compulsion for employers to act. Not so far. But what greater compulsion can there be than healthy, engaged employees?

This is borne out by a recent Health & Safety Executive report revealing that 90 per cent of the 1,700 respondents strongly agree that health and safety is important for staff productivity and morale.

HR, often working with occupational health, is having a huge impact on the health of workers. This is clarly evident in the shortlist for the managing health at work category of this Thursday’s Personnel Today Awards.

Choosing Health’s focus is that prevention is better than cure, but for HR, the challenge comes before prevention – it has to get under the skin of what motivates employees and what engages them in the workplace.

People measures will prove the value of proper HR

Speaking at the HR Strategy Conference, Denise Kingsmill, former head of the Accounting for People Taskforce, said it was time metrics played a big part in HR.

This will force the profession to do something that all the other functions have done for years – show tangible evidence of their value. If HR wants to be a big player, then it really needs to get involved.

Sadly, proper measurement is still just a pipe dream for many. Will any alarm be loud enough for this wake-up call?

By Martin Couzins, acting deputy editor

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