The hidden yet essential workforce -as those working in routine, manual and service jobs are sometimes referred to- has been mentioned on this blog a number of times. Behind the scenes, work has been ongoing to get to a stage where practical and tangible suggestions can be made to any business or organisation that engages third party contracts and outsources its cleaning, security or maintenance services, for example, to improve the work-life balance and health and wellbeing outcomes of this workforce.

Business Healthy has continued to convene and be part of a project team that included L&G, PwC, Tavistock Relationships and the UCL Institute of Health Equity to build on discussions from a Roundtable event held in July 2022, which in turn was the continuation of work around the hidden workforce that started before the COVID-19 pandemic.

What was missing from the discussions were the voices of those whose health and wellbeing inequalities we were talking about, and their lived experience.

To address this, L&G commissioned research to hear from e.g. cleaners, security guards, construction and catering staff about their jobs, their lives, their health, their aspirations, transport, sleep, caring responsibilities and more.  It is well worth a read, and you can do that here: Working well: Delivering better health outcomes for hidden workers.

Of course, it is worth much more than a read.

The report lists a number of recommendations and any business or organisation that procures third party services can implement small and big changes that can help with a better work environment, work-life balance, improved health outcomes and fairer contractual arrangements. Not all of these cost money. Often, it is about culture, and ways of doing things that can make a big difference to someone’s working life.

Below are some of the recommendations from the report.

Daily modifications

  • Give certainty of hours so workers can plan to mitigate some of the impact of their working hours
  • Encourage and make provision for breaks or different patterns of breaks to combat fatigue
  • Provide facilities for preparing fresh food or meals brought from home

Management considerations

  • Review communication to hidden workers for available support such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and access to training courses
  • Make provision for confidential calls to health professionals and schools
  • Consider amending policies to allow an additional paid ‘flex’ day per year, booked with six weeks’ notice, to support education, caring or family commitments
  • Do not assume your third party partners can implement any changes alone – they will need support and often additional budget within existing contracting arrangements

Procurement considerations

  • Avoid 12-hour shifts where possible
  • Provide guidance on real living wage or above, in line with regional average pay rates to ensure you can attract and retain the best people
  • Provide guidance on sick pay policy you would expect to be part of third party employment contracts and the mechanism for managing these costs
  • Specify death in service benefit as a minimum requirement in third party employment contracts

Arguably, the changes that would have the most impact will cost money. However, the rewards will likely be much bigger than the financial investment: staff retention, happier staff is more productive, a more reliable work force.

With regards to health care, many firms already have the provision for 24/7 GP services (online) under their existing health cover at company level. It’s sometimes more a case of ‘activating’ it and working out how to spread the message – so in many cases no added or new cost, but just better communication, and making sure private space is made available to allow those conversations.

Not every company may be able to do all this at once, but every company can start with small steps and culture changes. For inspiration and a very practical example of how it can be done, look at Clean for Good.