Much of the Westminster ‘Chat’ at the moment – especially post-budget – is about the best way to build economic recovery. The majority of the debate is focusing on whether we should erode the deficit by making deep cuts or raising taxes, or some combination of the two.
Real benefits to be gained from a healthy workforce
29 June 2010
Of course there is a third lever to pull – economic growth. If we can get the economy to grow, in addition to cutting and taxing, then we reduce unemployment and chip away at the deficit. One of the things which will drive this growth is labour productivity. Ironically in the year or two before the recession, UK labour productivity was improving when compared with our main competitors.
A productive workforce is one which is appropriately skilled, has access to technology, is engaged, motivated and healthy.
The Bupa report focuses on this last point, the health of the workforce, because it is giving cause for serious concern and, if we can’t improve it, our chances of maximising labour productivity will be inhibited.
We know from Dame Carol Black’s review that the health of the UK’s working age population could be better. About a quarter of the UK workforce has a long-standing health condition which affects their ability to work. The Boorman Review, which looked at the health of NHS staff (The Work Foundation led the research) showed that reducing sickness absence to the average of the Private Sector would make 15,000 more NHS staff available each day.
But there are two further concerns. The first is that this situation is going to get worse. The proportion of the working age population who will have long-term or chronic health conditions by 2030 will increase. A combination of ageing and lifestyle factors will increase the prevalence of CHD, MSDs, diabetes, COPD, mental ill-health and respiratory disease.
The second concern is that ill-health at work is, to some extent, going ‘underground’. It is hidden from view because of stigma, fears over job security, pressure to perform and, indeed, to attend. Being sick and at work is all too common and is representing a serious, yet barely visible drain on both organisational performance and national productivity. Some call it ‘presenteeism’, though we prefer Sickness Presence.
The Bupa report suggests that there are real benefits to be gained from more concerted efforts from employers to promote the health of their employees. However, this has to go beyond subsidised gym membership and fruit bowls in the canteen – it means providing ‘good work’ which promotes autonomy, control, discretion and job satisfaction, and it means having a culture and management style which makes workplaces physically and psychologically healthy.