Should employers do more for their employees’ health?
Employers already have some commitment towards the wellbeing of their staff—their responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Legally, this may be the extent of their care; however, more and more companies are choosing to add perks to their workers’ remunerations and benefits packages that centre on improving their health. This could be anything from gym membership to subsidising healthy meals in the canteen.
It’s common for employers to include private medical insurance in their employees’ compensation packages, for example. However, aside from the physical, some bosses are also taking a holistic view to employee wellbeing and placing more emphasis on the emotional and mental health of their staff, with some providing counselling or talking therapy sessions within work’s time.
Whilst it’s great that some businesses are seeking to improve the health of their employees, not every enterprise can afford to offer additional perks—does this mean they care less about their employees?
At the moment, it’s a candidate’s market. There are more vacancies available across the country than people unemployed, according to statistics. Certainly, in the top positions, it may be that salaries alone will not be enough to entice top talent away from their current employers or from other job offers on the table.
If you’re beginning to think that there’s an altruistic movement afoot or a raft of huge companies turning into health gurus, focusing on employees’ health could prove a benefit to their bottom line (let’s face it, there had to be—not that there’s anything wrong with this). Studies show that, if an employee feels valued, their productivity will be greater. If an employee isn’t stressed in their role, they will likely take fewer sick days. Given that it is a candidate market, it also makes sense to keep employees happy, so that they stay with the company and they don’t have to go through the hiring process, which will probably prove more costlier than providing the perk on the first place.
But how far would an employer go, if they continued down this path? For example, do you think they:
Would ever get to a point where they demanded an employee lose weight if their size was inhibiting them from carrying out their work?
Would ever insist that their in-house healthcare professionals’ diagnosis of a condition was more reliable than that of the NHS?
Would ever discriminate against a candidate who may be physically or mentally less healthy than others (even though they may be better experienced and more highly skilled)—because they fear the cost of the associated health perks would be too much?
Of course, out of work, it’s on our head if we partake in a dangerous sport, if we frequent dodgy areas, or if we take risks when travelling from A to B. But would we have to take much more responsibility for our health in work if our employer took a greater interest in this regard? Could they force us to eat salads and drink healthy smoothies?
The pandemic has highlighted gaps in our health service, and services that are underfunded. The more responsibility employees and their employers can take when it comes to individual health, the less stress placed on the national service. But should the NHS’s underfunding be a responsibility the private sector should cover? Where should the line be drawn—will employers become health providers? Whilst I’m no fan of huge conglomerates (the gap in remuneration between the lowest paid worker and management is far too wide, in my opinion, but that’s an aside), it’s not their job to sort out the government’s failures.
There’s also the irony that a good proportion of health conditions, particularly those affecting mental health, can arise from bad situations within the workplace. A sticking plaster via a private doctor isn’t needed in these scenarios; effective management, capable HR departments, and a healthy workplace culture of collaboration, employee trust and autonomy, and shared goals would achieve much more instead.
Want your article or story on our site? Contact us here