POSTED: February 08 2017
What next for health at work?

What next for health at work?


Leading health and protection insurer, Unum, has published a thought provoking collections of essays.

Titled ‘What next for health at work’ the essays cover a range of topics including how to incentivise employers to invest in staff wellbeing, reforms to the Fit Note process and how to support employees with mental health and musculoskeletal problems.

Launched in Parliament recently this is the culmination of a project to mark the Five Year Anniversary of Dame Carol and David Frost CBE’s independent review of sickness absence for the government, Health at work.

Unum and Dame Carol invited many of the participants in the Black/Frost review plus some other influential voices to write an essay each on what more could be done to help people with health problems to reach their potential at work in the coming years.

In the introduction to the essays Professor Dame Carol Black commented that “Musculoskeletal conditions of many kinds are the most common physical causes of sickness absence. Although the nature of some has become clear, in others, often a cause of long-term sickness, the pathology is poorly understood. But this should not hold back supportive approaches to rehabilitation and work.”

On what is seen as one of the other major challenges Dame Carol went on to say “Mental health problems are probably the most important yet largely hidden factors underlying sickness and disability in relation to work, and are a major factor in presenteeism.” She further commented “It is clear that work and the working environment are major influences in securing good mental health.”

The collection of 11 essays includes contributions from:

  • Professor Dame Carol Black, Expert Adviser on Health and Work to Public Health England and the National Health Service England
  • Liz Walker, Director of Human Resources and Dr Chris Schenk, Chief Medical Officer, Unum
  • Stephen Bevan, Head of HR Research Development, Institute for Employment Studies
  • Dr Steve Boorman CBE, Director Employee Health, Empactis
  • Jenny Edwards CBE, Chief Executive, Mental Health Foundation
  • Dr Richard Heron, Vice-President Health and Chief Medical Officer, BP plc. President, Faculty of Occupational Medicine
  • Professor Sayeed Khan, Chief Medical Adviser and Terry Woolmer, Head of Health and Safety Policy, EEF
  • Dr James Kingsland OBE, President, National Association of Primary Care
  • Kevin Thomson, Head of HealthFirst, BMI Healthcare
  • Audrey Williams, Partner, Fox Williams LLP
  • Professor Anthony Woolf, Chairman, Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance

The essay collection is being published as the government consults on how employers can help more people with long term health problems retain employment2. It’s Green Paper on Work, Health and Disability sets out a number of proposals to increase the number of people with long term health problems in work, including a bigger role for Group Income Protection3.  Unum is the leading provider of Group Income Protection in the UK.

Explaining why Unum produced this collection, Peter O’Donnell, Chief Executive of Unum UK, said:

“Dame Carol and David Frost 2011 review produced a powerful critique of how the sickness absence systems failed employees, employers and taxpayers.  Unum was a member of the Taskforce that informed the review.  It is clear that many of problems they identified remain unresolved – too few people with long term health problems get the support they need to stay in work and long term sickness absence costs employers £6.71bn a year4.  This essay collection makes clear that this is not the time for piecemeal changes, what we need now are strategic bold and long term reforms.”

Reflecting on the essay collection, Liz Walker, HR Director at Unum UK said:

“This collection is packed with ideas for government, employees, employers and the companies that help them to look after their staff.  A recurring theme is the need to incentivise employers to invest more in helping people with health problems to stay in work.  Unum’s call for a temporary tax break for employers that provide Group Income Protection would boost employment outcomes, reduce the cost of absence for businesses and benefit taxpayers.”


  • The essay collection has been published on the Unum website
  • Group Income Protection is a benefit employers provide for their staff. It provides a financial benefit and rehabilitation support if an employee is unable to work because of illness or injury.
  • Cebr (2015) The Benefits of Early Intervention and rehabilitation, available from