Academics aim to cut sick leave in the region by a quarter

Academics at the University of Bath are leading a region-wide project that aims to cut sickness absence by 25 per cent by improving wellbeing at work.

The project will bring together businesses from across the South West, including RWE npower, Royal Mail and Airbus, with academics from the universities of Bath, West of England and Exeter, to develop initiatives for tackling the problem, which costs businesses in the South West up to £1.67 billion per year.

Dr David Wainwright, from the School for Health, convenes the Work, Health & Wellbeing Research Group at the University, which obtained funding for the project.

He said: "In the current economic climate saving jobs might seem more important than improving the health and wellbeing of workers. However, sickness absence and work-related illness can seriously damage a company's performance as well as causing misery for workers themselves.

"Recent evidence suggests that the problem is particularly acute in the NHS and other public sector organisations. Yet we know that much sickness absence is avoidable, not just by improving the physical health of the workforce, but by introducing measures that improve workers' subjective wellbeing.

"People who enjoy their work and find it fulfilling take less sick leave and are much more productive than those who are unhappy at work. Our project will work closely with businesses to find practical ways in which to enhance wellbeing at work and reduce the burden of sickness absence."

Health and wellbeing at work have been high on the Government's policy agenda since Dame Carol Black published the findings of her review of the health of Britain's working age population last year.

The Government responded with a policy document that proposes to replace sick notes with electronic 'fit notes'; improve occupational health support for small to medium sized businesses; improve training for GPs; and a range of other initiatives that aim to improve health and wellbeing at work.

Dr Wainwright said: "Although the Government is doing much to improve health and wellbeing at work, it is equally important that businesses and Universities also play their part in tackling this problem.

"Many government agencies, including the Economic & Social Research Council, the Department of Health, the Department for Work & Pensions, and the Health & Safety Executive, are keen to commission research and practical initiatives that address this issue. Our project will directly engage with these agencies in order to take up these opportunities and make the South West a flagship region for innovation in this important policy area."

The project is funded by the Knowledge Escalator programme and will entail the generation of up to six collaborative projects that will receive development funding. A conference on 27 January will include presentations from government agencies looking to fund research and development initiatives around work and wellbeing, followed by collaborative workshops that will bring together businesses and academics to develop projects and grant applications.

Businesses and academics in the South West who are interested in the project should contact Dr Wainwright at University of Bath at the following address: Dr David Wainwright, Senior Lecturer, School for Health, University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY. 01225 385477, email d.wainwright@bath.ac.uk

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