In January of this year, the number of workers in the UK over the age of 50 reached a record 10 million. Longer careers means manufacturers need to adapt their business strategies to keep their employees healthy and able to work for the duration of their working life.
Many business leaders we speak to ask how they can deliver on their corporate responsibilities in a way that is commercially viable, particularly in manufacturing, where there is tough competition for skilled workers, and a greater need to retain them.
This report goes some way to suggest some businesses are already taking a proactive approach to occupational health but there are some key areas that need to be addressed, including whether their employee health strategy is actually working.
The increase of mature workers has been driven by a number of factors: no statutory retirement age means people are likely to continue working as they get older. This in turn means mature workers are more likely to fall ill whilst still in employment, and because of the skills gap there is pressure on employers to ensure these workers are able to return to work. Medical advancements have helped, meaning that previously life changing illnesses are treatable and individuals might chose to return to employment. These changes to the workforce and work environment have encouraged employers to focus on the health and wellbeing of their employees.
This report highlights that medical investigations and/or surgery are the most common cause of long-term sickness absence for manufacturers, which is not surprising. Pressure on the NHS and GP waiting times are widely reported, and in March 2018 only 87% of NHS patients had a waiting time of less than 18 weeks. To decrease long-term sickness absence businesses are now requiring more focused and bespoke medical services for their employees. Businesses need to understand how these should be applied, as buying off-the-shelf medical benefits could be an expensive mistake if they aren’t what is needed for the workforce.
It is encouraging to note that 99% of manufacturing companies implement some kind of solution to help reintegrate employees back into work. This shows that the health of employees is clearly high on business agendas. However, detailed and systematic evaluations of these measures are more difficult to track as different reintegration techniques and their impact on individuals varies dramatically. This is echoed in the report findings, with 37% of companies not knowing whether the measures they put into place to manage Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) risks have any impact on the number of MSD cases in the business. This creates an unknown outcome for businesses who have no idea whether their processes are successfully combating ill-health.
Manufacturers are evidently making use of occupational health services and have identified specific problem areas to target relating to the industry (the most common type of health surveillance is audiometry, followed by lung function tests and skin checks). Also encouraging is the use of wider, broad-ranging occupational health services, with 38% adopting an employee assistant programme (EAP) to help combat work related stress. An independent government review has highlighted the successful return of investment of workplace mental health interventions, £4.20 being the average return for every £1 spent.
Whilst employee wellbeing and rehabilitation services are high on industry agendas it is apparent that businesses need to best utilise their benefit spend both internally and externally. They need to ensure that they are both engaging with employees to find out which services are best suited and making sure that employees are in turn engaging with what is available. Externally, third party providers should have specialist knowledge of the industry they are working with and the risks they face to ensure they are sourcing the best benefits available and most fitting for the workforce structure.