Record numbers of people are dropping out of the labour market, with 2.8 million people whose ill health is limiting their ability to participate in work. The UK loses some 185 million workdays each year to ill health, costing the economy around £150 billion annually.

To address this workforce crisis, the Royal Society for Public Health and Business for Health held a roundtable which brought together leaders from across the business community and public health.

The outcome was five recommendations for the how the next government could work with business to support a healthier working population and stimulate economic growth.

The roundtable identified five key areas where the next government can support businesses:

  • Incentivise businesses to improve the health of the workforce: The government must encourage businesses to invest in workforce health, particularly small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), to demonstrate the economic impact of a healthy workforce.
  • Upskill HR professionals with support from Occupational Health specialists: With upskilling, HR professionals and line managers can learn the principles and practice of health improvement, and support those facing the greatest health inequalities. 
  • Establish a national Health and Work Standard: Through a national Health and Work standard, workplace health would become an integral part of company operations and provide a more holistic approach.
  • Standardise and regulate data on workforce health: By collecting data on workplace health, businesses can evaluate the impact of health interventions on the economy and predict future health support needs of employees.
  • Ensure fair pay and guaranteed occupational sick ​​pay: Providing fair pay and guaranteed sick pay will reduce sick days, prevent worsening health and increase productivity.

Commenting on the recommendations, William Roberts FRSPH, Chief Executive, Royal Society for Public Health, said:

 “The crisis of ill health in the workforce must be addressed by the next government. A healthier future and thriving economy depends on a healthy workforce. Economic growth this has been a central theme during the election – addressing this crisis will be key to achieving this.

We spend a huge amount of our adult lives at work. Our workplaces should support employees to improve their health and as well as playing a critical role in preventing illness.

We need a joined-up approach between business, government, and public health to achieve this. The next government can play a key role in helping to put the principle of prevention of ill health into practice in the workplace.

Ensuring that people are healthy enough to return to work and stay in work is good for businesses, the workforce, and the economy.

By demonstrating the tangible economic benefits of a healthy workforce, we can drive a culture shift across the business community.”

Elizabeth Bachrad, Head of Programme Strategy, Business for Health, added:

"These key priorities demonstrate the need for collective action and accountability to accelerate the case for investing in health and wealth for a more prosperous society. We can only do this by creating, in partnership, the conditions that drive people towards good health, with regulation and reform being a cornerstone of effective system change."

The recommendations follow a vision released by RSPH for the next government to put prevention at the heart of its agenda.