Sickness Absence statistics can tell a thousand stories about the way employees are managed, the emphasis put on prevention and even about where we are in the economic cycle. 

During the recession namely figures for sickness absences, in particular due to musculoskeletal and mental health conditions went down a bit in the UK, as employees felt the job-insecurity and were less likely to talk to their employers about their physical and mental health conditions. As the economy is picking up however, employers are experiencing labour and skills shortages, and are thus more amenable to address pre-existing conditions of employees and offer greater flexibility to help them manage these conditions. 

Stephen Bevan is the Founding President of Fit for Work Europe, a coalition driving policy and practice change for the prevention of mental health and musculoskeletal conditions and sickness absence and fostering sustainable employment. A lot of very interesting and pertinent points emerge during our conversation, based on Stephen's extensive research work and insight into these issues from a number of European countries. 

One would think that as less and less of the work that needs to be done is physical in nature, musculoskeletal diseases would be decreasing. Surprisingly, the opposite is true. More and more office workers are reporting neck, shoulder and arm problems. The ageing of the workforce adds to the magnitude of the problem, as statistically we all are going to be experiencing some form of physical condition or illness in the last third of our working lives.

The ability to work intensively and productively for 50 years is impossible. 

Governments and employers need to reckon with the challenges of an ageing workforce and also face the necessity of changing work-design and improving how people are managed. Because, as it turns out, when employees are asked, they inform us, that they don't want the fruit bowls, the pilates classes and the gym memberships... they want to be treated like adults, given the autonomy and flexibility to organise their work in a productive and effective manner, while at the same time taking care of themselves and their family. 

We hope you enjoy this really insightful podcast episode with Professor Bevan, whom you can either reach via the IES website, or his Twitter. You can also pre-order his new book, 21st Century Workforces and Workplaces, co-written with Professor Cary Cooper and Ian Brinkley.

And if you are interested in how you can ensure that you prevent mental health and other health issues by re-thinking the way work is organised, have a look at our White paper.