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Developing a Healthy Workforce

In 2009, Local Government Improvement and Development worked closely with experts in the worklessness field in England, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and Communities and Local Government to develop a series of 'How to' guides. The guides are aimed to help practitioners who have a role in tackling worklessness and meeting local employment outcomes.

These guides contain practical advice, tips for action and support, and offer practical support for tackling worklessness

Developing a Healthy Workforce

A healthy workforce, both physically and mentally, is important in terms of benefits to the business and to the individual. For those unable to work, whether they are sick, have poor mental health, are on incapacity benefits or have been injured at work, there is an emotional and actual cost. At any one time around three per cent of the working age population is off work due to illness or incapacity costing the economy over  £100bn per year. The average number of sick days per year in the public sector last year was 9.8, costing £1,333 per employee.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests that people take time off mainly for minor ailments such as colds, flu, stomach upsets, stress and back pain. The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health (SCMH) estimates mental health costing £77bn per year in England. The costs of this to businesses and individuals "dwarf the sums of money used in treating mental health problems" . Almost 4 out of 10 adults with mental health conditions are unemployed which represents a loss to the economy of £9.4bn - compared to £6.5bn spent by the NHS on mental health services in 2008. 7% of the working age population is on incapacity benefits. The cost of paying incapacity benefits, including associated housing and council tax benefits, has now reached £16bn.

At a recent conference, Judith Hackitt, chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), indicated that while good progress is being made in reducing deaths and injuries at work, "we are not moving as quickly as I would like to see. We need another step-change in tackling this issue. We still have 200 people killed through work-related incidents every year and between 5,000 and 6,000 people who die as a result of exposure to materials at work."

There is, therefore, an even greater need to support existing employers to invest more effectively in the health and well-being of their workforce to reduce these costs.

From the figures above, it is clear that good health is good business. Employers can be assisted when employing people who have mental health conditions and helped in considering available initiatives to enable those who are not working, to return to work. By helping businesses, particularly small and medium sized enterprises, access occupational health advice and support on issues of health and safety, their response to their workforce's needs can be strengthened and as a result the number of sick days reduced (see www.hse.gov.uk).

 

Top tips

  • ensure that you are accessing good quality, current local health data, keeping it updated regularly and sharing it effectively with your partners. Do you have data sharing protocols in place for this purpose?
  • speak to local employers, doctors, people and organisations regularly about their needs do not assume that you already know what they want - and find out what works locally
  • ensure that agreed priorities are embedded in partner's key funding plans check that this has happened. It is great to agree priorities, but they also need to be funded
  • give activities time to bed in, evaluate them continuously, and make sure they are adequately funded and resourced to be successful.