Do more to promote health at work, employers told

Jun 07 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Health and well-being in the workplace should be higher up the corporate agenda as a new report find that few companies are investing enough in improving the health of their employees.

The 'Spend Now, Save Now' survey produced by Business in the Community, vielife and HR Magazine shows that while a healthy workplace is rated in the top five people issues that boardrooms are concerned about, almost seven out of 10 organisations fail to effectively promote health and well-being at work.

The study, which quizzed 454 Chief Executives, Finance Directors and HR Directors, was used to find out how employee health and well-being at work was regarded by business.

It found that while employers recognised the impact of health in the workplace and the need for health at work to receive more attention, many struggled to deal confidently with the costs and still tend to focus on treating sickness rather than promoting health.

Moreover, one in four of CEOs and FDs questioned do not know what ill-health costs their organisation.

This is despite the fact that sickness absence is estimated to cost UK employers £12 billion per year, or some 16 per cent of payroll.

The research also suggests that employers are confused about what constitutes health at work. For example, mental health, which has a significant impact on employee's performance is ranked the least important people issue facing boardrooms.

Julia Cleverdon, Chief Executive Business in the Community said that implementing healthy workplace practices should be an integral part of being a responsible employer.

"Achieving business benefit and improving public health requires small but significant progressive steps, shifting from cure to prevention."

To illustrate the point, the report cites a a study exploring the link between health and productivity carried out by vielife, the IHPM, Harvard Medical School and Unilever.

Based on a sample of over 2,300 people, it found that employees participating in workplace health programmes experienced, on average, a 5.9-hour reduction in short-term disability per employee and self-reported performance improvement of two per cent.

These improvements represent a gain of over two days a year in productive time.

As Sir Nigel Rudd, Chairman of retailer Boots, says in the introduction to the report, health at work is relevant for any business regardless of size or complexity.

"Health at work affects our people, the communities we serve and our bottom line," he said.

"I will watch with interest as the introduction of the OFR reporting rules require companies to evaluate and communicate non-financial risks to their business. The health and well-being of a company's workforce is one of these risks to influence and manage."