The workforce of the future will be older and sicker, according to a new report from Bupa, necessitating investment by employers if they are to protect productivity.
Healthy Work warns that by 2030 the number of workers with diabetes or respiratory diseases will increase by at least seven per cent to over four million, while the rate of mental illness will rise 5% to affect 4.2 million workers. Musculoskeletal disease will increase by 8%, affecting more than seven million while heart disease will risk by 11% to impact over a million. The average age of the workforce will reach 43, while 68 will be the average age of retirement by 2050.
Based on more than 200 pieces of research, the report identifies four key barriers to employer investment.
EXAMPLES OF BARRIERS TO INCREASED EMPLOYER INVESTMENT IN WORKPLACE HEALTH
■ ECONOMIC: The difficulties of demonstrating the business case
■ SOCIAL AND CULTURAL: The fear of being accused of “nannying employees”
■ LEGAL: The fear of being accused of discrimination
■ PRACTICAL: The growing burden on line mangers and the increasing number of atypical workers (Source: Healthy Work, Bupa)
Health Insurance interviewed three experts to explore the barriers to investment and the environment in which employee benefits consultants and their clients find themselves in 2009.
Question 1: IS THERE A CONVINCING BUSINESS CASE FOR EMPLOYERS TO INVEST IN THE HEALTH OF THE WORKFORCE?
HVJ: Costs may be hidden, like line manager costs, HR department time and the impact on teams. We know that these costs are huge. Investing can help to reduce those costs as well as add value to the business. There are a number of tools available such as the Business Health Check.
Coors Brewers carried out a 360 degree review of health related services and costs, we made a number of recommendations and it led to a £1.1m saving, up to a six to one return on investment.
Employers do need to be monitoring absence in the first place.
SB: Data on productivity does tend to be very subjective, based on questionnaires where employees are asked whether they are more productive than last week, for example. However, organisations that do embrace health and wellbeing do have a lower absence and a stronger brand that can help them attract better quality people. In terms of anxiety about the cost implications of absence there is not much but a study has shown that on average employers are paying about 10% of their pay bill on absence. In general I think that organisations are more likely to invest in things with a short-term return. Longer-term is a bit more difficult to justify.
AN: Return on investment, hard, bomb-proof data is going to be difficult, however that is not to say that you can’t take measurements before you started to make changes (such as a staff survey) as a baseline and then after you’ve made your changes to check what the reaction has been. If you design it carefully you ought to be able to see evidence of a change in attitude. A lot of this is around attitude or engagement. How are people feeling about their work, their employer and their role? If you can improve that, there has to be a benefit to the employer. We are seeing a bit of a sea change and my gut feeling is it’s the intuitive piece that is partly driven by an ever tougher world where the bar is raised higher and higher and you need to keep searching for new things that can help you achieve something more than before.
Question 2: TO WHAT EXTENT IS IT FEASIBLE TO EXPECT EMPLOYERS TO INTERVENE WITH REGARD TO ‘RISKY’ EMPLOYEE BEHAVIOUR?
HVJ: What we’re trying to do is set out not only the long-term benefits that can be gained from investing but also the short-term benefits. That will offer substantial opportunities to employers who may have high levels of turnover. For example, helping employees to quit smoking will help them have fewer headaches and improved levels of health and wellbeing. There is an appetite from employees who will feel valued by the organisation – it sends a powerful message that the employer values them and their organisation.
SB: Some big companies who have gone down the health and wellbeing route don’t tend to make the business case before they do anything. They may have had a particular issue like lots of mental health problems and done something about it and then evaluated it and found business benefits. It has to be a bit viral.
AN: This should not be about magnifying the nanny state but about putting another trough of water in the field. You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. If you try and force these things down people’s throats you are going to get a pretty negative reaction.
Question 3: SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT BE GIVING BUSINESS MORE FINANCIAL INCENTIVES TO INVEST IN EMPLOYEE HEALTH? PARTICULARLY GIVEN THE PUBLIC HEALTH GOALS OF THE GOVERNMENT MAY NOT ALIGN WITH THE BUSINESS CASE FOR INVESTING IN EMPLOYEE HEALTH?
HVJ: We work with employers in 80% of FTSE100 and in companies of all sizes. What employers tell us is that tax treatment is a barrier to investment. The removal of tax disincentives would allow more employers to invest in this.
SB: They should remove disincentives, and there are many. The government is being a bit ambiguous about this. The main issue for me is most employers think about health things as benefits rather than as trying to change the health of the workplace; more a part of the benefit package, as a crude means of competing with other firms. It’s not because they have a genuine interest in the health of the workforce. If we can overcome that we might make some progress.
AN: I have yet to have a conversation with a client where they mention anything about what it is the government would like them to do. It’s just not on the radar. People are running businesses and they do what feels right for their business, not taking into account what the government would like. If there were an incentive, that would get some attention.
The second phase of the Bupa study is due out later this year and will identify and provide evidence of workplace health services that will help companies tackle the health issues of the future. It will also advise how to increase the quantity and quality of workplace health for individuals, the NHS and the government.