How to align workplace health with the Public Health Responsibility Deal

Half of UK employees will have a chronic health condition by 2030, according to Is the UK fit for work?: Confronting the challenge of UK workforce health, published by Fit for Work in July 2014. Employers, therefore, have a vital role to play in stepping up to the mark to tackle staff health and wellbeing now and for the future.


If you read nothing else, read this…

  • The Public Health Responsibility Deal was introduced in 2013 to tackle key health problems.
  • It requires employers to commit to promote principles in their workplaces that tackle these issues.
  • Employers can draw guidance from the principles and align their own health and wellbeing strategy to the deal.

In 2013, the government introduced the Public Health Responsibility Deal (PHRD) to help tackle key health problems putting a strain on the health budget. These include alcohol consumption, diet, workplace health and physical activity. It also embodies the government’s ambition for a more collaborative approach to tackling those challenges.

It has recently started to gain momentum and recognition, with a wealth of employers demonstrating their commitment, including BP, Nestlé, Morrison’s, McDonald’s and Heineken.

A key element of the deal is that employers sign up to become a partner and encourage actions in the workplace to help tackle these key areas.

Commit to health and wellbeing

By becoming a partner, an employer pledges commitment to the PHRD and agrees to implement changes in its organisation. The health at work and physical activity pledges focus on improving health and wellbeing by, for instance, promoting stop-smoking services, ensuring employees with mental health and chronic conditions can remain at work or encouraging regular health checks.

Adam Sidbury, director of employee benefits provider Digital Fibre, said: “The public health pledge and what the government is trying to do is great. It’s getting employers to change the way they conduct workplace healthcare and wellbeing.

“It’s also about people becoming more aware of the damage certain habits can have on their body, and aiming to change these.” 

Healthy staff, healthy workplace

The deal sets out clear principles for organisations to follow, demonstrating that a focus on health and wellbeing in the workplace can have a positive effect on productivity levels, so employers that align their own strategy to the deal will reap the business benefits. But Raman Sankaran, sales director at Simplyhealth, believes that just signing up to the deal is not enough. “Employee wellbeing is at the centre of successful businesses; the better the health of employees, the happier and more productive they are likely to be,” he says.

Professor Sayeed Khan, chief medical adviser at manufacturers’ organisation EEF, emphasises the simplicity of doing this. He says: “Employers can pick and choose which aspects of the pledge best suit their workforce’s needs. Easy things can really improve the healthcare [given] to employees, and therefore what they give to an employer. And why not get credit for being seen as an employer of choice for doing what [they are] meant to be doing?”

Align a health and wellbeing strategy with the deal

Employers can take the lead from the principles laid out in the pledge to implement measures in their organisation that effectively align their own health and wellbeing strategy to the deal.

To combine effective employee health strategies with the PHRD, employers need to select the most appropriate pledges for the workplace culture. Rebekah Hymes, wellbeing expert and senior consultant at Towers Watson, says: “The deal can put health and wellbeing at the forefront of employees’ minds and help them understand what’s actually involved in a health strategy.

“The pledge is such a good opportunity for employers to be seen doing something good and worth shouting about.”

Encouraging employees to make simple changes to their diet and lifestyle will boost their health and wellbeing. Sidbury says: “Both employers and employees need to move to the next level by doing simple things such as getting off one bus stop early and walking, or not sitting down too much.”

Mike Blake, compliance director at PMI Health Group, adds: “Employers should encourage exercise, taking a lunch break, cycling or walking to work and healthy eating. But there’s no point telling employees they should if the boss doesn’t; employers need to make an example from the top.”

Healthy education

Communicating the principles of a health and wellbeing strategy will help employees gain a better understanding of why their employer is promoting it, and increase engagement with schemes and programmes. Blake believes it may be difficult for some employers to align their healthcare schemes with the PHRD if they do not engage and educate their employees about the importance of good health and wellbeing. “If there are any cracks in engagement, it can be detrimental,” he says.

By aligning a workplace health and wellbeing strategy with the PHRD, employers can embed behaviours that will help to safeguard the future health of both employees and the business.

Case study: Luton Borough Council supports staff through the pledge


Luton Borough Council has pledged to improve the general health of its 3,000 employees by offering several health initiatives, including offering help to quit smoking and signing up to the Department of Health’s Public Health Responsibility Deal (PHRD) in 2013.

The council started to implement a number of initiatives to boost its workforce’s wellness in 2012, such as: health checks with referrals to specialist support for weight loss and improved physical activity, training for staff around managing employee sickness and supporting returns to work, mental health first-aid courses, monthly challenges to walk to work and guided lunchtime walks and a rapid physiotherapy service.

The council aims to improve the productivity of its workers and help them feel part of the organisation. 

Gerry Taylor, director of public health at Luton Borough Council, said: “Luton Borough Council firmly believes that a healthier and motivated workforce is a happier and more productive workforce. 

“With ongoing pressure on local authorities, our responsibility for the health of our population, and the need to save money, we have introduced a variety of the new measures focusing on supporting and improving the health of our staff.

“Looking ahead, we are updating our employee wellness plan this month with more focus on preventing cancer, physical activity for everyone, healthy eating and behavioural change towards mental wellbeing with training, briefings, activities and challenges.

“We know our workforce is our most valuable asset, and we want to help them to feel as healthy, happy and energised as we possibly can.”


Viewpoint: Paul Winter: Blending the pledge with day-to-day health at Ipswich Building Society

We signed up to the Public Health Responsibility Deal (PHRD) in 2013, recognising that it would provide structure for our health and wellbeing strategy, as well as give us access to other organisations’ help and inspiration.

We signed up to five pledges, which have become the cornerstones of our healthcare.

Some practical examples of this include the mental health and wellbeing pledge, through which we actively encourage lunch breaks and ‘desk breaks’ so employees can take time out to charge their batteries.

We created a quiet room for those wishing to relax, and we introduced lunchtime activities and walking clubs. All staff have also received desk-side yoga sessions; simple moves they can do to help with back health and remaining supple.

Ipswich Building Society also signed up to the chronic conditions and carers pledge, through which we have a flexible-working policy that enables employees to work from home or amend their hours, along with the smoking cessation/respiratory health pledge, occupational health standards pledge and the health and wellbeing report pledge.

In addition to these activities, the PHRD requires consistent and timely updates to track the progress of your health and wellbeing strategy. We also receive updates from other organisations and this sharing of initiatives and experiences is invaluable, especially for smaller organisations such as Ipswich Building Society.

The PHRD has formed a significant part of ensuring that our employees are healthy, happy, motivated and proud to work for Ipswich Building Society.

Paul Winter is chief executive officer of Ipswich Building Society