This was the stark warning by the trade body, Group Risk Development (Grid), which says a number of policy papers, from different government departments, which could set the pace for legislative change.
These include the Department of Health and Social Care’s Prevention Is Better Than Cure paper; the Department of Work and Pensions’ Improving Live: The Future of Work, Health and Disability; the Taylor review into modern working practices, published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Stevenson/ Farmer review of mental health in the workplace, published jointed by the DWP and DHSC.
All recognise that employers are well placed to make positive changes that will help improve the lives, health and happiness of their people.
Grid spokesperson Katharine Moxham says: “The period between a tidal current rushing in and then rushing out in the opposite direction, is called ‘slack water’, and that’s exactly where I think the debate on employee health and welfare is currently. We’re not in a legislative environment just yet, but the tide is turning and employers would be wise to take heed.”
The financial effect of absence from work due to mental health problems has also been debated in Westminster. This focused on the role employers can play to address this issue, especially smaller organisations.
Group Income Protection, in particular, was recognised as being a useful tool, both to offer financial support to affected employees, but also to help facilitate better outcomes in terms of people returning to work.
Moxham adds: “Group risk products give financial protection to staff and their families when they need it most. They also often come with a raft of extra support, such as giving employees fast access to physiotherapy, treatment, counselling and mediation, employee assistance programmes; and can help encourage better health behaviours through wearables and apps.”
She points out that employers can also benefit by accessing rehabilitation advice to help meet legal obligations, mental health first aid training, employment law advice, and early intervention and mediation for absence issues.
Secretary of State of Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock recently stated that employers must “play a bigger role in helping staff stay healthy”. He drew comparison with the military where there is an 85 per cent return-to-work rate after serious injury.
Hancock says: “Civilian employers must do the same. Employers have a responsibility to help improve the health of their staff and the nation. Each of us has a stake in our health and care system so each of us has a responsibility to work together to build a sustainable system.”
Moxham adds: “It’s clear that in seeking to solve the problems of the nation’s health and welfare systems, the government is looking to employers of all sizes to really step up to the mark and provide more support to their staff.
“Having only just shouldered the burden of compulsory pension payments, it’s understandable that employers might be reluctant to take on any further financial commitments, but offering group income protection is a great way to move towards the tripartite effort between employers, individuals and the state that Government has in mind for the shifting tide.”