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It's time to really understand the health issues affecting your workforce

Peter Mills , 19 Aug 2010

A recent research paper published in the BMJ (link below) has received considerable media attention over the last couple of days. The investigators from Scotland very clearly showed that it is possible to predict individuals who are likely to have long-term sick leave and claim incapacity benefit due to psychological health issues. By using a combination of questionnaire data and frequency of GP attendances the researchers found they could identify a significant proportion of at risk individuals up to 3 years beforehand they became unable to work.

>Although this was a very nice study the findings shouldn’t come as any real surprise to us. We’ve known for at least a decade that data gleaned from health questionnaires (often called health risk appraisals, or HRAs) can predict, at a population level, future medical costs, absenteeism and even productivity. In the US the perceived value of such data in aiding HR to plan appropriate services and interventions for the workforce is so great that it is unusual to find an American company that does not get its employee base to complete an annual HRA.

So why are we so backward on this side of the Atlantic? One of the main reasons is undoubtedly the lack of direct responsibility employers in the UK have for the medical costs of their employees. But there is also a generally held belief that the health of the individual is a personal matter and not something an employer should be involved in. This attitude is gradually changing with the increasing understanding of how employee health impacts business performance as well as how work can impact health (both positively and negatively).

My recommendation to all HR professionals out there is simple; if you do nothing else related to the health of your employees make sure you implement an annual HRA. It'll be worth its weight in gold...almost literally! 

BMJ Link: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/341/aug17_1/c3838

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