Absence ails industry


Absence ails industry

Employers have a vested underlying interest in staff wellness as sickness absence continues to put pressure on British industry

Some employers take the view that when it comes to the health and wellbeing of their employees, as long as the environment in which they work is safe and comfortable, then that’s enough.

However, employers have a vested interest in ensuring that they have a healthy workforce. It stands to reason that an employee who is fit and well is likely to work better and take fewer days off sick.

Sickness absence counts for 3.5% of working time or eight working days per employee each year, according to statistics from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) Absence Management Survey 2006. This translates to an average cost of £598 per employee per year.

It is far better, therefore, for employers to try and put preventative measures in place to limit the chances of employees getting sick, to help them when they are unwell and to assist them back to work once better.

With obesity, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, lack of exercise and stress becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s society there is perhaps an even greater need for employers to play their part in addressing staff health and wellness issues.

Putting philanthropy and vested interest to one side, employers also have legal obligations to ensure that their staff are looked after.

Julie Waddington, consultant on the healthcare team at the financial advisory arm of consulting firm Punter Southall, says: "In terms of responsibility, the government is encouraging employers to take a more active role. Employers [already] have a legal responsibility to ensure that they do not do anything to endanger an employee’s health and a duty of care responsibility to provide support to those that may require it. They don’t have a legal responsibility to improve the health and wellbeing of staff, although it could be said that they have moral and commercial responsibilities."

The legislation employers have to adhere to includes the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. In addition, government initiatives such as Pathways to Work, which tries to get people off incapacity benefit and back to work, stress management guidelines from the Health & Safety Executive, and the government pilot scheme looking at alternatives to doctors signing off sick notes, all bring the employer into the fray when it comes to employee healthcare. Employers fully expect these responsibilities to increase.

Healthcare provider HSA carried out a survey in 2006 which found that 80% of HR professionals expect their duty of care responsibilities to increase over the next five-to-ten years.

Suzanne Clarkson, head of corporate marketing, group sales and marketing at the company, says: "Proactive support to improve health and wellbeing was seen as the most likely way to improve the health of the workforce over the next decade."

An unhealthy workforce will impact on the employer not only in terms of absence costs, whether an employee is off work for short periods or long term, but also on the cost of providing insurance and health benefits to staff.

But even though the argument makes perfect sense, when it comes to making the case for promoting healthier lifestyles for staff, it is difficult to source statistics that prove prevention is better than cure. However, a 2004 review, the Economic benefits of workplace health promotion and prevention reported a reduction in sickness absence of between a 12% and 36% when health promotion measures were put in place. It concluded that every £1 spent on promoting health in the workplace could lead to a £2.50 saving for business

Key reasons to keep staff healthy
There are several benefits for employers should they help their employees stay fit and healthy. These include: increased productivity, meeting their obligations as an employer for their employees’ health and wellbeing, boosting the retention of good staff and cost savings through lower absence rates.

Julie Waddington, consultant on the healthcare team at the financial advisory arm of Punter Southall, says: "Increasing productivity, reducing absenteeism, impacting staff turnover and improving staff morale are all positives that introducing a health and wellbeing strategy can influence. For the employees, [the benefits include] having an employer that cares about them and their wellbeing, and assists them to make positive changes that may not only affect their working life but also their personal life."

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