The power of occupational health for generating cost savings
Timely access to occupational health services can reduce sickness absence by two thirds to generate significant cost savings.
Record numbers of employees are going absent from work, with one person now long-term sick for every 14 people in work. This health-related economic inactivity is costing the government an additional £16bn a year in benefits, but it’s also costing employers.
Employees who could have been helped to stay healthy are becoming too sick to work, with over 7m people now waiting for NHS treatment. At the same time, many of those who are still fit to work are being signed off sick, reducing their chances of ever returning to work.
In response, the government is backing occupational health as the solution, by increasing its commitment to new tax breaks and subsidies in the run up to Occupational Health Awareness Week (18-24 Sept). So, what is occupational health and how can it boost business profits?
Three ways to use occupational health to boost profits
1. Stop people from going absent
Occupational health is a service that employers pay for to allow employees who are struggling with a health issue to be supported to stay in work. A clinician will review the underlying issues hindering the person’s ability to attend or perform at work and provide advice on ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help them manage their condition to stay in work. If the individual also needs treatment, recommendations on what’s needed are also provided.
The sooner employees are provided with this support, the less likely they are to go absent and the more likely they are to recover. The Benefits of Early Intervention report found that two thirds of absence could be prevented if employees were referred into occupational health before they became too sick to work. 91% of people referred into OH, while they were still in work, were expected to be in work one month later. Compared to just 45% of those referred between 1-2 months of absence and 27% of those who had been off for over six months.
To help people stay in work, employers such as NTW Solutions, adopt a proactive approach. “Instead of waiting for staff to call in sick, we support them at the earliest niggle,” says Victoria Bullerwell, director of workforce and engagement. “At the first sign of back pain, our cleaning staff are referred into physio and given exercises and reasonable adjustments, such as a break from hoovering, so they can continue to work while they recover. That’s helped us to significantly reduce sickness absence and generate substantial cost savings.”
2. Utilise government subsidies
New government subsidies will make it much more affordable for small and medium business to cover the cost of providing employees with access to occupational health. The cost of referring the employee to an occupational health clinician will be reduced to just 20% of the usual cost, with the supplier reclaiming the other 80% from government.
Unlike the existing ‘fit note’ model, which requires GPs alone to anticipate what someone’s workplace is like enough to say what they can still do, the new approach involves employers. Managers are the ones to raise the OH referral, so they can give context on the employee’s role and workplace and what they’re struggling to do. This allows the occupational health clinician to provide practical and actionable recommendations on how best to support them.
However, the lack of funding for any onward treatment means this consultation is best used upfront, while reasonable adjustments alone are enough to help someone recover. If the employee is left to struggle and their condition becomes entrenched, additional occupational health services might also be required. For example, physiotherapy and mental health helplines provide immediate access to treatment that would take months to access otherwise.
3. Reduce staff replacement costs
Hidden health conditions, ranging from depression to menopause to cancer and heart disease, now affect one in four employees. Yet a third of these are reluctant to tell their employer, meaning 8% of employees are not getting the support they need to stay in work. Left unsupported, many of these individuals will slide into long-term absence, even though simple adjustments or cost-effective treatments can allow them to remain in work.
For example, paying for an employee struggling with anxiety to have a short course of CBT, to learn how to reduce symptoms, typically costs less then replacing them and having to train up someone new. While allowing someone with reduced immunity, due to cancer medication to reduce their exposure to others by working from home for a time, or starting work later to avoid crowds during rush hour, can allow them to safely remain in work.
Research from the Health at Work report also shows that one in two (51%) employees who are given proactive help to stay healthy are less likely to want to work elsewhere, compared to just one in twenty (6%) of those employees given little or no support. Almost half (47%) of the most supported employees also said they felt very productive at work, compared to just one in ten (11%) of the least supported. This shows the value of occupational health for not only reducing absence, but also boosting employee loyalty and productivity.
Critical to success is promoting occupational health as a valuable employee benefit and means of helping people to stay healthy, rather than a last resort for managing absence. Not only will this encourage employees to come forward for support much earlier, it will also reduce the likelihood of them going long-term sick and having to be replaced.
How we’re making Occupational Health Affordable for small & medium businesses
For just 16p per employee a day, our Premier OH subscription plan provides you and your workforce with seamless access to a wide range of occupational health services, including:
Risk Assessment to identify how your workplace might be putting the health of employees at risk, with practical recommendations on how to meet HSE requirements
Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for employees to get confidential mental health support on issues ranging from debt to eldercare and up to six mental health counselling sessions
Management Referrals for a clinician to assess employees and provide recommendations on how best to help employees who are struggling to stay in work
Physiotherapy App and Wellbeing App access to two independent apps to support with general wellbeing and pain/mobility issues arising from physical injury
Virtual Workplace Assessments to ensure workstations are set up correctly to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries, such as back pain
Day One Absence Management Service for employees to speak to one of our clinicians on the first day they go absent for advice and support to facilitate their return
New Starter Screening featuring pre-employment health checks for every new starter, to identify underlying health conditions and outcome report on adjustments needed
Free Wellbeing Webinars to educate employees and managers about topical wellbeing issues, linked to a calendar of wellbeing days, to help people to help themselves
Data-driven Insights with valuable management information and insights on how to support your absence reduction strategy
This package of support is available to all businesses with 500 employees or less and is calculated based on the headcount of the business. It’s an affordable, perfect-fit solution for small and medium sized businesses to create a preventative healthcare service.