Ill-health prevention requires provision of ‘good work’

Preventing workers from falling ill needs to be as much about the provision of “good work” and the promotion of good health as about interventions and tackling absence, three reports have argued.

The government’s Marmot Review of health inequalities, published in February, stressed the need for employers to play their part in reducing the burden on the economy from health inequalities.

Meanwhile, the TUC has unveiled a discussion pamphlet highlighting the links between health and job satisfaction, and think-tank The Work Foundation launched a wide-ranging investigation into the UK workplace, including what we mean by the term “good work”.

The TUC report, In Sickness and in Health?, argues that “good work” needs to go much further than simply ensuring that jobs do not make people ill, and needs to be more about organising working in a way that promotes good physical and mental health. Factors that can constitute “bad work” include lack of control, poverty pay, repetitive or monotonous work, lack of respect, incompetent line managers, too much (or too little) work, a lack of training, unsafe working conditions, long hours and bullying.

It also found a link with increased levels of ill health and sickness absence, lower motivation, higher turnover of staff, reduced levels of productivity, increased stress, use of tobacco, recreational drugs and alcohol.

It recommended the creation of a national standard or index of “good work” which would allow employers to look at work organisation and job design, and encourage employers and employees to work together to ensure that work is not seen just as a place where employees go to earn a wage.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “The economic rewards of a national ‘good work’ culture could be huge. Every year around 170 million working days are lost in the UK because people are too ill to go to work, and the cost of this sickness absence runs into tens of billions of pounds.”

The Work Foundation’s Good Work Commission, meanwhile, will examine the major challenges of work in the 21st Century, including redefining the notion of “good work”. It includes industry, religious, media and trade union leaders. The commission will publish two reports resulting from its deliberations and research in the next seven months.

The first will examine the state of the contemporary employment relationship in the UK, and will be published this spring. The second will focus on how to encourage more good work among firms and organisations and will be published at the start of the autumn.

Will Hutton, executive vice-chair of the foundation, said: “Now that the worst of the recession is past, we need to ask again how more work can be good work – more productive, more engaging, and fairer.”

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