Businesses should offer staff perks like free fruit, bicycle loans and counselling to help them stay healthy, according to a new government strategy – but experts argue that more substantial change is needed.
The new initiative, to be launched today by the health secretary, urges employers to “help improve the health of their staff and the nation”.
Officials hope the strategy – which cites a Cornwall dairy firm that offers its staff free fruit, counselling and a cycle-to-work scheme as an example – will help relieve growing pressure on the NHS.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Matt Hancock said employers should do more to help ill workers transition back into the workplace. He said he is “attracted to the model in the Netherlands where employers have more of a role in working with employees who are off sick”.
Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, welcomed the initiative, saying the charity had “long been calling on employers to take responsibility for creating mentally healthy workplaces”.
“Offering free fruit, cycle-to-work schemes and counselling are just some examples of things that can make a difference, but we also want employers to create environments where staff can talk openly about poor mental health at work, and know that if they do, they’ll be given support and understanding, rather than facing stigma and discrimination,” she said.
Mamo added it was not just about supporting people in work, but employers also need welfare and health systems that help people “when their mental health deteriorates”. She said investing in prevention and early intervention was also important.
Iain Thomson, director of incentive and recognition at Sodexo Engage, said it was “positive to see the government buying into benefits strategies that support staff wellbeing”.
“Businesses should take this as a huge opportunity to make their workforce feel more engaged and motivated,” Thomson said. “Companies should take this chance to boost their health initiatives, offering benefits that can keep their staff happy and well.”
However, others criticised the new initiative saying most businesses already incorporate these programmes into their organisations.