A recent survey by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) highlights key strategies employers believe the next government should adopt to address long-term sickness rates in the UK.

The survey, conducted by pollsters Savanta, offers insights on reducing economic inactivity and improving workforce participation.

The most popular suggestion from employers is to expand eligibility for 30-hour childcare entitlement to parents or carers in employment, training, or education, supported by 55% of respondents. Employers see this as a critical step in reducing economic inactivity and helping more people enter or re-enter the workforce.

A close second in the survey, with 54% support, is addressing NHS waiting lists and providing support to those on long-term sick leave to help them return to work. Employers believe that reducing waiting times for medical treatments is essential for improving the overall health of the workforce and decreasing long-term absenteeism.

Targeted Occupational Health Support and Flexible Working Initiatives

Employers also emphasise the need for targeted occupational health support, with 53% suggesting that long-term sick workers should have access to specialist help to facilitate their return to work. This includes tailored health interventions that address specific medical conditions and rehabilitation needs.

Flexible working is another significant recommendation, with 52% of employers advocating for initiatives that enhance work-life balance. Flexible work options are seen as beneficial for managing health conditions and accommodating diverse lifestyle needs, making it easier for individuals to remain in or return to the workforce.

REC Deputy Chief Executive, Kate Shoesmith, underscores the importance of these measures for boosting productivity and reducing the 1.7 million vacant job postings across the UK. She highlights that while the proposed solutions are diverse, they indicate that addressing economic inactivity is complex and requires comprehensive and sustained efforts from the next government.

Childcare Provision as a Priority

Shoesmith also points out the necessity of prioritising childcare provision, as reflected in the Labour and Conservative manifesto commitments. She stresses that implementing changes within the first 100 days of a new government would significantly support parents and carers in training, education, or returning to work after an absence.

Addressing NHS waiting lists is vital for resolving the inactivity problem, according to Shoesmith. She calls for the next government to partner with external suppliers for recruitment and retention strategies in healthcare. Agency health staff play a crucial role in managing waiting lists, and improving the procurement system should be a priority for the Health Secretary.

The survey reveals that better work-life balance through flexible work options is a key factor in reducing sickness, as stated by 52% of respondents. Many individuals choose temporary agency roles to balance health conditions and personal needs, highlighting the importance of acknowledging different working arrangements that support economic and social needs.

Other popular options among employers include better education and awareness around the reasonable adjustments process (43%) and making all employee assistance programmes (EAPs) entirely tax-free benefits (36%). These measures aim to create a more supportive and inclusive work environment for all employees.