Businesses can boost productivity by taking a more active role in improving the nation’s health, and businesses need to ensure employees, contractors and workers can lead healthy lives, health experts say.
A review published by a new joint initiative between the Institute for Health Equity at University College London, led by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, an international expert on the links between socioeconomic status and health, and the financial services group Legal & General says that the responsibility to address conditions that affect life expectancy should not be limited to government and civil society.
Businesses “affect the health of their employees and suppliers, through the wages and benefits they offer, through hours and job security, and through working conditions,” the IHE and L&G argue in the report. It adds that the health of clients, customers and shareholders is also affected through the products and services they provide and how their investments are held.
Life expectancy in the UK fell by a year during the pandemic. Before 2010, life lengthened about a year every four years, Marmot said. “If you drop one year, you’ve wiped out four years of improvement, and that drop in life expectancy was larger in the UK than in most other countries,” she said.
The review suggests that companies are better off taking a more active role in promoting better health. Poor health is responsible for 30 percent of the productivity shortfall in the north of England compared to the rest of the country, the authors noted.
Businesses “are more productive if the workforce is physically and mentally well and at a time of tight labor markets, it is not just a human tragedy but a missed opportunity if experienced workers are forced out of the workforce for health reasons.” sooner than they want,” the report says.
The IHE and L&G say health must be added to the environmental, social and governance agenda for business, drawing a parallel with the climate change movement, in which “trillions of pounds of institutional investment are being lined up to support the net zero”.
Marmot said: “Whereas in the past, we might have thought there was some kind of struggle between improving health and the environment on the one hand, and business with its focus on profit on the other. . . there is no fight. We have a common and shared agenda.”
He cited a campaign, backed by L&G, to persuade Sainsbury’s, the supermarket chain, to introduce a “real living wage” for all workers. The company said: “We pay more than many of our competitors and feedback from colleagues has generally been positive for our pay review, which represents an investment of £100m and exceeds the National Living Wage and National Living Wage.” .
“P&O provides a case study of how not to do it,” added Marmot. He criticized the company, which last month laid off nearly 800 UK seafarers to replace them with cheaper agency labour, for failing to involve employees in key decisions, paying less than the actual living wage and “putting earnings to all other considerations.”
Nigel Wilson, chief executive of L&G, said that employees were drawn to the idea of ”a business with a purpose”, suggesting that this had enabled his organization to retain and improve the quality of staff. “We get probably one of the highest returns on stock in the financial services industry” while operating in a healthy work environment, he added.