The health and wellbeing gap for frontline and essential staff: what a business can do now

On these pages we’ve talked about the challenges that essential and frontline staff face, and the inequalities that come with it: lower pay or insecure contracts, working shifts or unsociable hours that mean it’s harder to access healthcare, have time for leisure activities, or even spend time with family.

In a Roundtable meeting with partners such as L&G, PwC and the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) and a range of businesses, especially in facilities and asset management, frank discussions were held. Below are some of the key observations:

  • It requires a financial commitment to make meaningful change
  • As the buyer of services we need to pay a fair price not a minimal price
  • Use the workplace as a force for positive change
  • Facilities management contracts are an opportunity to improve the working conditions and lives of frontline workers
  • You supply people so you need to appreciate they come with needs
  • It’s not a saving but an investment into the frontline workforce and you have to look at it like that and stand by it
  • Bringing people into a caring culture that includes benefits such as sick pay also helps to retain people once they are on board
  • Recruitment has become challenging and offering good working conditions will help attract and retain staff so it isn’t just morally right it also makes business sense

All participants had a similar intent. Yet it can be hard to know what a business can do -now- to start making a change. There was agreement that actions would not just be practical, or with a financial implication – they also had to be cultural, reflecting a different approach and attitude:

  • Hold ourselves to account and communicate our intentions clearly to partners
  • Have a strong statement of intent as an organisation and stand by the entire workforce whether directly employed or through service partner contracts and make it immovable
  • Frontline workers often view themselves as employees of the businesses they go into so should be treated as such and receive the same benefits as in-house staff
  • Create the right conditions and culture and people won’t ‘fake’ sickness – need to move away from this way of thinking
  • Challenge ourselves on working flexibility for frontline workers: people may have multiple jobs or caring responsibilities and need to work around the set shift patterns
  • Make health and wellbeing as important as securing a Living Wage
  • Look at what work you are bidding for and make sure it aligns with your values: if you want to put people first and profit second, look for clients that want the same

In practical terms, what can businesses do:

  • Actively share the values and culture of the business from the outset and set non-negotiables at the inception of a new contract
  • Death in service benefits
  • Sick pay for cleaners and security officers etc. (currently wait for three days before they get statutory sick pay); it is not as expensive as people think
  • Extend employee assistance programmes to service workers
  • London or national Living Wage as the starting minimum
  • Working patterns: offer more flexible or condensed hours for service partners, people with families/caring responsibilities

Some of the actions might be quicker and easier than imagined, and may have an immediate impact. Cultural shifts tend to take longer, but it’s never too soon to start the conversation. As per the feedback from one participant:

Doing the right thing has a strong link to health benefits. (…) had only really considered doing the right thing from an ethical perspective and maybe not considered the strong health case.

For a deeper dive, read the Marmot Review for Industry here.