Opinion

Home and away

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I heard a shocking statistic this week. Someone told me that one in three working families in Britain are just one pay cheque away from losing their home! The statistic, from research by Shelter, also reveals that one in three low earners regularly borrow to cover their rent and that 150 families become homeless every day.


These sobering statistics published by the charity in August 2016 illustrate that a significant percentage of the working population are just getting by from day to day. As well as impacting directly on mental wellbeing, such immediate and significant personal concerns, they are very likely to impact on attention and concentration and could therefore also contribute to accidents in the workplace.

There is much talk about the need for businesses to invest in wellbeing, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach. To be effective, wellbeing programmes have to consider and address the issues that are of most relevance to each specific workforce. Availability of fruit in the canteen, and a cycle loan scheme will be of no consequence to someone who is worried about whether they will still have a home for their family in a month’s time.

There is a need to tailor wellbeing initiatives to meet the needs of the workforce while a standard risk-based approach is a really good place to start.  A simple risk assessment process can assist in identifying the issues of greatest concern and relevance within a particular workplace, and help businesses to structure an evidence-based needs analysis and focussed control measures. Such initiatives have the potential to deliver tangible benefits and make a real difference, particularly to those who may be struggling on in silence.

I recently heard from a London-based construction company that had adopted this approach. They have a number of transient workers, operating on short-term contacts and often living away from home during the working week. They identified that these workers have significant concerns about financial security and about the impact of being away from their families for long periods of time. 

In response, the company have retained a financial advisor who offers group advice sessions and one to one appointments. This has been very positively received, and workers are hugely appreciative of the support. In the first week he helped several people to deal with situations which, in some cases, could have led to the loss of their family home.

Recognising the importance of family engagement and the difficulties of staying in touch while working away and living in temporary accommodation, the company have also installed private skype booths in the canteen area. Workers can use this free of charge facility to stay in touch with their families and remain involved in day to day life despite being away from home. The area is in constant use, and, as with the financial advisor initiative, again the feedback has been really positive, with workers reporting that it has made a real difference to their wellbeing and to their families.

People are at the centre of every successful organisation, and it makes sense for a business to invest in the wellbeing of their workforce. Properly-targeted wellbeing initiatives make a huge difference on a personal level, but also have the potential to improve productivity and staff retention, delivering a tangle benefit to the business.

So, in the run up to the general election on 8 June, the British Safety Council is calling on the political parties to support employers by putting the health and wellbeing of the working population at the heart of their manifesto pledges.

People really matter. The UK is facing a period of significant change as we exit the European Union. An engaged and healthy workforce will be an essential component in building a successful and sustainable future for us all.

Read more about wellbeing initiatives at: sm.britsafe.org/safer-conversation-wellbeing-work-–-part-i

Louise Ward is director of policy, communications and standards at the British Safety Council.

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