The UK’s productivity performance is currently the subject of a major policy debate in which the UK government is expressing concerns about the relative weakness of the economy and, our relative performance compared to competitors.
The health of employees is a major factor in an organisation’s competitiveness. Employees in good health can be up to three times more productive than those in poor health; they can experience fewer motivational problems; they are more resilient to change, and they are more likely to be engaged with the priorities of the business. Research shows that once people are off work for six weeks or longer, there is an 80% chance they won’t return to work permanently, which can be a major loss of skills for an employer.
Keeping people in work and helping employees return to work is enormously important for the manufacturing sector and the wider economy. It is also important for employers that the working-age population pool is made as large as possible through improvements in general health, fitness, wellbeing and capability.
This means boosting productivity by getting people back into work as early as possible and reducing unnecessary sickness absence. It means government investing in public health programmes to improve the health and well-being of both the general and the working-age population. It means designing workplaces so that the working population is exposed to safe and healthy work at any age.
However, right now we are at a crossroads as our latest annual survey of sickness absence, the UK’s biggest business survey, shows. According to the survey long term absence is continuing to increase with an under pressure NHS proving unable to support the working age population by providing timely and effective rehabilitation and medical treatment. In the long-term this situation is untenable and, given we have an ageing population, the situation is only going to get worse unless Government, and employers, take radical action.
Currently, most companies still rely on the NHS as the primary source of treatment to reduce absence with less than a fifth of companies currently paying for non-NHS treatment. Yet, with the NHS and GPs constantly under pressure there seems little prospect of return to work rates improving.
The forthcoming Green Paper on workplace health provides an opportunity to look at radical solutions to reducing long-term absence and improving return to work rates. Fiscal incentives from Government would encourage employers to pay for private medical treatment, take pressure off the NHS but and allow a speedier return to work. This would be a win win for Government, the employee and employers.