This week sees the launch of a long-anticipated open consultation around the vital topic of employee health and the responsibility of employers.
The Green Paper consultation reflects ideas supporting the Government’s 10-year strategy to enable one million more people with disability or long-term illness to remain in work. It highlights that the demographics of our workforces mean more workers with health needs require additional occupational health support.
Building on the Good Work Plan published in December 2018, this open consultation marks a shift from intention to action.
It provides employers not only with clear and comprehensive insight into the challenges they face but sets out proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss and assure access to work.
The Paper highlights that half of UK workers, particularly those in smaller businesses get little occupational health support when ill, which differs from many workers in other European countries.
Helping employers help employees
The consultation will explore the challenge faced by employers in investing in the health and wellbeing of their workforce, encouraging early and supportive action. It documents the evidence of benefit from occupational health advice, but reveals the variability in quality, consistency and access to such.
The central question is how employers can do more to reduce ill health-related job loss – because there is a strong case not only that they must, but that it will benefit them to do so.
The proposals include changes to the legal framework that are suggested to spur employers into action. Although employers are already required to consider reasonable work adjustments when an employee needs them for reasons of disability, this could raise the bar. It is suggested that the “right” to ask for work modifications could be extended to many more workers, not just those with long-term needs.
Employers and employees will need support in adapting to this – and the government has additionally set out proposals to deliver them the advice and help they will require.
Innovation holds the key to effective OH provision
For Empactis, the inclusion of proposals to widen access to high quality, cost-effective Occupational Health services for employers are of paramount importance. Innovation can drive quality and improvements in services and enable access to services. We are delighted to see the government explicitly interested in supporting innovation, not just in the way employers buy OH services but how these services are delivered.
The consultation describes case study examples in which software technology is being used to improve managers’ capacity and capability to provide such interventions. This is the approach Empactis has focused on developing with clients across many different industry sectors.
A key challenge is enabling small businesses to also access and benefit from occupational health support. The Green Paper promotes research and improved use of technology to transform the occupational health marketplace to deliver cost effective and reliably available support to those working in any UK business. Having sat on the Expert Advisory group advising policy makers on this issue, I recognise the opportunity this could afford – however, there are also considerable barriers that currently stand in the way. These are reflected in the consultation.
Opportunity to shape the future
We strongly encouraged business leaders and HR professionals to read, consider, and contribute their needs, insights and responses into this consultation [Update: this consultation closed on 7th October 2019]
It is especially important that larger employers weigh in.
Although SMEs are noted in many of the consultation points, the responsibility lies just as significantly on major UK employers – or perhaps even more so. Employee health is a need that overarches and interconnects with all elements of workforce strategy – and which larger employers have a correspondingly greater responsibility to meet. They will be even more impacted by demographic changes such as aging and the trends in obesity. Their approaches to health, wellbeing and ensuring equality of access to work for those with disabilities and long-term health issues have an enormous impact on the working population.
One thing is becoming very clear. Employers of all sizes will need to step up more proactively in future to putting processes in place to managing their employee health. That means embracing the innovative systems that can make these actionable and practical, even at scale.
This consultation is a landmark opportunity for employers to shape future policy and say what they need. It is a unique chance for them to help shape their future by adopting preventative as well as management strategies to ensure their employees enjoy maximum work opportunities and are healthy and productive long into the future.