Sickness struggles | Could staff health checks help curb the UK's labour shortages?

Could staff health checks help curb the UK's labour shortages?

The Government is considering introducing cheaper annual health checks for workers to combat labour shortages caused by staff sickness.

The proposal is one of several that could be unveiled by Jeremy Hunt at the upcoming Spring budget, amid concerns that a Brexit and Covid-fuelled worker shortage is holding back the economy.

The plans, which were first reported by the Sunday Times, could involve giving companies subsidies of up to 80% for occupational health services to prevent workers going off long-term sick.

Offering his preview of the Spring budget, Barret Kupelian, senior economist at PwC said there was: “a growing awareness of the extent to which the UK’s high figures of economic inactivity are linked to ill health of the workforce”.

Kupelian went on: “We can expect some measures, such as health MOT programmes, to specifically support those who can return to work and also potentially targeted welfare measures to convert part-time workers into full-time workers.”

Other measures that could be revealed during the Budget, which were first reported last month, include encouraging GPs to sign fewer employees off sick as the Government attempts to slash the amount of working time lost to illness.

“Doctors would be encouraged to focus on recommending ways people with long-term illnesses can continue to work with support rather than using sick notes to authorise them to drop out of the labour market entirely”, The Telegraph wrote at the time.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it was “considering a range of factors to address inactivity” but refused to comment on speculation.

‘UK has a problem with long-term sickness’

Last October, the number of workers inactive because they were long-term sick hit a record high of nearly 2.5 million, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Additional figures showed that an estimated 149.3 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in the UK in 2021, equivalent to 4.6 days per worker, costing the UK economy an estimated £20.6 billion.

Jonathan Boys, labour market economist for the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, explained: “The UK clearly has a problem with long-term sickness and employers and policymakers need to take this more seriously.

“Significantly improving workers' access to occupational health services and advice and support for employers on occupational health issues affecting staff could have a big impact over time.”

How to properly help staff with wellbeing

One of the most direct ways HR teams can save themselves time and energy is by investing more effort into staff health & wellbeing, thereby reducing the risk of anyone having to be signed off sick.

Four in five (80%) employers have even increased their health and wellbeing support or employee benefits to adapt to the changing circumstances of their staff, according to new research1 conducted during January 2023 for GRiD, the industry body for the group risk protection sector.

The research found that over the past 12 months, employees felt that their health and wellbeing had deteriorated mentally, physically, financially, and socially, with financial wellbeing being the area most impacted:

  • 40% of employees felt that their financial health had deteriorated.

  • 29% felt that their mental health had deteriorated.

  • 28% felt that their physical health had deteriorated.

  • 24% felt that their social health had deteriorated.

However, over the same period, employers themselves felt their responsibility had most increased for supporting the mental and social health of employees:

  • 51% of employers felt increased responsibility for their employees’ mental wellbeing.

  • 51% felt increased responsibility for employees’ social wellbeing.

  • 49% felt increased responsibility for employees’ financial wellbeing.

  • 47% felt increased responsibility for employees’ physical wellbeing.

As a result of this increased sense of duty, during the past 12 months, many employers have increased the provision of the health and wellbeing support or employee benefits, that they offer their staff.

In total, 80% of businesses have increased their support for health and wellbeing or employee benefits over the past 12 months. GRiD is pleased to see meaningful changes, including a quarter (27%) increasing their investment in new employee benefits to provide extra support, support being made available for more of the workforce (27%), and also extending support to family members (22%).

However, while GRiD believes that employers are right to adapt to changing circumstances, the industry body feels more could be done.

Twenty-four percent of employers have responded positively to employee requests for changes in health and wellbeing support, however three quarters (76%) have not. With financial wellbeing the area of most concern for employees, it would be good for employers to provide support here.

The Mountain of Lost Benefits: Making Employee Benefits Matter

The Mountain of Lost Benefits: Making Employee Benefits Matter

It’s clear that benefits and rewards are essential to your people, but they must be fit for purpose, easily accessible, and incorporate financial, mental, and physical wellbeing support.

However, only 11% of employees make the most of their workplace benefits and rewards. 

When your people don’t engage with the benefits you make available, continuing to offer them may become unsustainable. The cost-of-doing-business crisis rages on – putting pressure on profitability. It’s more important than ever for employee benefits to be cost-effective and deliver an ROI.

In our new e-Book, we explore:

  • The importance of benefits and rewards

  • The reasons behind low uptake

  • Solutions to boost engagement

Show more
Show less

Similarly, 20% of employers reported that they have increased access to funds to pay for support directly, but unlike offering employee benefits, such as private medical insurance, or group risk benefits (employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness), funding support directly on a case-by-case basis can be expensive. It’s also difficult to budget for, as no employer can predict how many staff will need support in any given year or for how long that support will be required.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, said: “A crystal ball would be hugely beneficial to help plan ahead for employees’ needs but in the absence of any ability to see into the future, employee benefits must be all encompassing to support all areas of health and wellbeing. This time last year, interest rates were still quite low and the full impact of the current cost of living crisis was not known and so it’s understandable that employers were not as focused on supporting financial wellbeing as they might be now.

“It’s important that employers do not try to second guess what employees need but listen to their current concerns. Many employee benefits, such as group risk products, are all inclusive in terms of the wellbeing support they offer. This means that no matter what happens within a business, or what external factors employees face, support is available across all pillars of health and wellbeing to ensure all staff have access to the comprehensive support they both need and deserve.”

You have used up your content previews.

Create a free myGrapevine account to read the latest HR news and analysis, and personalise your experience.