Insurance Post

A healthy attitude to work

Absence from work due to sickness and stress is having an increasingly negative impact on UK business. Raman Sankaran looks at health screening as a method of combating this problem and argues that any initial expense will be more than justified in the long term

It is a widely acknowledged fact that employees at every level of an organisation are integral to business success and have a direct impact on results and, of course, profitability.

Despite this, only a small number of UK employers are currently investing in the future of their business by ensuring the health and well-being of their employees.

A report last year by the Confederation of British Industry and Axa PPP concluded that health-related absenteeism is at an all-time high, with businesses of all sizes struggling to cover the cost of salaries of absent individuals and the resulting overtime and temporary cover.

Working day

The report found that more than 176 million working days were lost in the UK alone in 2003 - representing an increase of 6% on 2002 figures - costing UK business in excess of £11.6bn.

Health screening, however, offers an effective way to address these statistics and, unsurprisingly, the market for this product is growing.

Based on the principle that prevention is better than cure, a regular health assessment can obviously identify any health problems early before they have a significant long-term impact.

Screening provides employees with a top-to-toe evaluation of their overall state of health, and takes the form of a complete medical examination with follow-up consultation and advice, or a more compact 'well man' or 'well women' health check.

The specifics vary but most screenings include a comprehensive health questionnaire and examination from a doctor. Blood pressure, height-to-weight ratios and body mass index are all considered as well as hearing and vision tests. Urine analysis, ECG, chest X-ray, breast examination, mammograms, cervical smears, prostate, lung function and stool tests are also often included.

Both flexible and forward looking, health screening is a perfect business tool - valuable to employees as a benefit while giving employers the chance to invest in the future health of the business.

Encouragingly, healthcare providers are now seeing a significant rise in the number of businesses providing health screening to staff as part of a wider cultural change towards preventative treatment.

Sporting start

Complementing corporate employee benefit schemes, sports facilities, gym memberships, flexible working hours and healthy workplace initiatives, dedicated screening policies can have a highly positive impact on business performance. Screening can also be incorporated into healthcare cash plans.

It is clear that early recognition, effective assessment and rapid intervention on healthcare issues are key to managing employee sickness levels and can prevent problems from becoming more sustained.

Independent research carried out by HealthSure last year identified a clear gap in the market for health screening - more than 60% of employees stating they would welcome a regular health screen if one was provided by their employer.

Additional research by Gissings backs up these findings, confirming that 78% of employers that had offered screening to their employees felt that they valued it.

Faced with such a positive response, it is surprising that only 14% of companies are actively using screening to protect the health of their business and the well-being, morale and productivity of employees.

Many companies worry about the expense, but health screening does not need a high level of investment - just a little thought, understanding and extra commitment.

After all, with the cost of sickness absence at an all-time high, a small investment now will help combat the associated costs of both short and long- term health-related absenteeism.

With the cost of private medical insurance continuing to increase, covering employees for health screening through a healthcare policy is arguably a more effective use of a financial budget, bearing in mind the additional everyday and essential healthcare benefits they primarily cover.

In addition to the cost of the screen, policies enable cash to be claimed towards the cost of associated treatments such as GP or specialist consultation fees, X-rays, scans and eyesight testing. Eyesight testing is now a legal requirement and is often specifically included within the plans to remove the hassle of onerous administration from employers.

Healthy, happy and well- motivated people are more productive, less prone to absenteeism and better able to handle day-to-day stress. However, people do become ill and will have to miss a certain amount of work. According to a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, more than 90% of organisations cite sickness absence as a major business burden and many believe that reducing sickness absence would improve their business.

So companies need to accept that they can do something to address the rising level of sickness absence.

Aside from detecting and identifying a multitude of health issues at their earliest and most treatable stage, screens can also offer advice on how to improve general health and well-being and significantly improve quality of life.

Regular health screening demonstrates an employer's commitment to an employee and their day-to-day welfare. And when a workforce is getting more out of life, it follows that the employer will get more out of the workforce.

After all, companies are diligent about servicing and changing their fleet cars to avoid unnecessary expense and penalties - why then do they choose to ignore their employees who could also benefit from a regular MOT?

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