Next week, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will set out the government’s tax and spending plans for the year ahead as part of his Autumn Statement.
As the UK grapples with record numbers of people out of work due to long-term sickness, we’d like to see the Chancellor use this opportunity to spotlight the importance of health and wellbeing in the workplace.
In September this year, official figures published by the ONS showed 2.6 million people were economically inactive due to poor health. This is putting severe strain on the UK economy, with Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride calling for a “whole system change”.
At Westfield Health, we believe that employers who prioritise wellbeing at work have happier, healthier and more productive employees. We therefore urge the government to consider new initiatives designed to put health at the core of workplace policy and practice across all sectors. We ask that this includes clear guidance for employers on how they can support their employees’ physical and mental health, as well as clearer routes to access for employees.
We would also request the government makes it clear in its delivery of any new support packages that the responsibility for health and wellbeing in the workplace lies with the employer and the employee, not occupational health practitioners. Any investment should focus on making it easier for employers to understand and manage workplace health services within their place of work rather than viewing it as something they can outsource.
With this in mind, here are the four key policy areas we’d like to see:
Investment in evidence-based guidance for employers
Existing guidelines from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) don’t go far enough to ensure health and wellbeing is consistently supported in the workplace. What’s more, many employers may not even be aware that they exist.
To address this, the government should invest in clear, evidence-based guidance to help employers understand and navigate ‘workplace wellbeing’. This should set out the specific criteria of what constitutes as ‘workplace wellbeing’ and form a legally binding and regulated framework to ensure a consistently high standard across the UK workforce.
We understand that such a framework will require time to develop, which is why we would like the government to commit to actioning this as a priority.
Investment in policies that incentivise employer-led intervention
Employers should be actively encouraged to create positive, health-centric working environments that promote employer-led intervention according to three key pillars:
- Prevent harm – improving working environments and practices to bolster inclusivity and reduce strain, burnout, bullying, stigma, psychosocial risk and sedentary behaviour. Given the crucial role of leaders as role models, leadership and management training should be a priority. This is the case especially for managers managing virtual, remote and hybrid workforces, who require different skills.
- Promote the positive – employee-level wellbeing interventions that seek to improve physical and mental health (physical activity, diet-related, etc.) and resilience (coaching, resources, etc.) should be promoted regularly throughout the business hierarchy.
- Respond to problems – Create, provide, and adequately communicate support pathways for those suffering from or vulnerable to health problems. All workplaces should be fully equipped with the knowledge and skills to support mental health at work—for example, Mental Health First Aid and anti-stigma interventions.
Financial incentives for employers
To ensure that businesses are complying with national frameworks and standards for the management of employee wellbeing health issues, the government should look to introduce financial incentives for those who consistently meet the criteria.
Increased funding in research to build evidence base around workplace health
The UK workforce is incredibly diverse, as are the types of employment. The government must recognise that a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t practical and that research into specific demographics is necessary to tailor policies accordingly. An example of this is the vastly under-researched experience of ethnic minorities and their workplace wellbeing, which is largely unknown.
Further research into workplace wellbeing will help inform future policies, interventions and practices contributing to employee health across diverse work environments.
A pivotal moment
Of course, all this is subject to change before the Chancellor makes his Statement on 22 November. But with a nationwide labour shortage and NHS waiting lists at an all-time high, we hope Mr Hunt will prioritise workplace health reform that supports workers across the UK.
For now, we wait and see…