Making a difference in the workplace: Implementing a comprehensive health and wellbeing program
A growing number of companies are moving to develop and implement comprehensive health and wellbeing programs to create a safer workplace and to comply with health legislation and industry standards. The benefits of targeted programmes are wide ranging and effective employee health management reduces sickness absence, enhances productivity, and contributes to increased staff morale.
In a recent Abbott-sponsored webinar, Steve Botterill (Principal Consultant, Resourceful People Group,) reviewed best practices for setting up comprehensive health and wellbeing programs aiming to support the company’s needs.
The aim of this article is to provide a summary of this discussion, the full webinar is available on-demand here.
The Evolution of Occupational Health
Traditionally, when procuring occupational health services employers focused on services necessary to meet their regulatory and industry requirements. This may be medicals to ensure a prospective employee is fit to commence a specific role or reactive services such as case management to facilitate an employee’s return to work after a period of absence. Regulatory and industry requirements are usually based on specific risks and often focus on employees working in heavy industries or safety critical roles leaving a large cohort of employees without occupational health support.
Employers who did implement a health and wellbeing program, through their occupational health provision, tended to mainly focus on topics directly linked to the persons physical health e.g., ergonomics, diabetes prevention, or cancer awareness. With the aim to maintain and promote the employees’ health to improve the working conditions and environment.
As the understanding of the benefits health and wellbeing programs have developed, employers are increasingly starting to focus on the wider wellbeing of their entire workforce. Better understanding alongside evolving employee rights and expectations for employers to create healthy and cohesive working environments as standard are encouraging employers to work closely with their occupational health provider to develop and implement proactive and inclusive programs.
Influencing Employee Wellbeing
Over the past couple of years many changes have been observed in the workforce: Remote and hybrid work is rising, mental well being has been recognised as an important contributor to employee’s health and there is a new focus on employee engagement – all factors important in maintaining a healthy and effective workforce and in turn aiding in better retention and productivity.
In order to develop a comprehensive health and wellbeing program all factors contributing to the wellbeing should be considered. By ensuring programs are all encompassing and relevant to the environment or health challenges faced by each company, it encourages employee engagement across the entire workforce.
The delivery of occupational health services is evolving to break down barriers for employees to access health and wellbeing support. This includes investment in the development of remote or virtual services to support the increasing number of employees working from home.
Developing a Health and Wellbeing Program
The first step in developing a comprehensive health and wellbeing program is for the employer to set clear goals for what they want to achieve. The goals should be focused on the overall company health and wellbeing strategy and relevant to health challenges within their employee demographic. National health trends can also be useful when determining goals. For example, in 2020/2021, 50% of long term absence cases in the UK were associated with mental health conditions such as stress, depression and anxiety. Information like this provides a great foundation for a focus of the program.
Many occupational health providers will provide a set annual program schedule designed with national initiatives in mind. However, it is clear that not one solution fits all – different goals require different programs and the need to be fit for purpose.
To maximise the effectiveness of the program, employer’s visibility and understanding of health trends within their workforce is essential. Customer specific information such as case management referral information, medical outcomes, anonymised data from health checks as well as indicators such as absence volumes and trends are invaluable and occupational health teams are on hand to help navigate and provide their expertise.
Input from key partners is almost as important to ensure an inclusive perspective when building goals. This may include a combination of employees, unions, HR function, line managers, occupational health providers for a true integrated approach. Additional factors that need to be considered may include the industry sector, e.g., if there are their standards or market expectations – and it all should align with the company culture and strategy.
Once the strategy and goals have been agreed, the occupational health provider is able to work with the employer to develop a suitable program. They will take into consideration the mix of employees, e.g., where they are located, what different jobs do they perform and the budget a company is willing to invest. The proposed program may range from individual activities to a full annual program.
The list of activities to include in a program can by quite long, but as an example it often includes any combination of the below:
- Employee Assistant Programs (EAP)
- Vaccination services
- Health and Wellbeing checks
- Supporting literature
- Educational workshops and webinars
- Employee recognition programs
- These are very different activities and not all provided by occupational health, but all with the common goal to support the wellbeing of the workforce.
The success of a comprehensive health and wellbeing program speaks volumes when a company is building a business case for investment. The use of data is critical to measure success. Examples of this are reduced costs associated with absences due to proactive prevention and reduced costs associated with recruitment of new staff as motivated, healthy and engaged staff increase retention rates. Both examples can be easily measured with data on absence volumes and staff turnover rates. Other data indicators may include number of workplace accidents or changes in productivity and feedback directly from the workforce through employee surveys and recognition schemes.
When setting up a program it is important to define key metrics which will enable employers’ oversight of the success of the program. This will aid the case for reinvestment year after year. The best programs are usually those that evolve over time and follow a continuous improvement process that is established as a true partnership between the employees, the employer – and an external occupational health partner.
“When you want to move from good to great, you should have a systematic approach in place for continuous improvement and look at the data after 6, 12 month in relation to what you are doing, what can you improve on, what can you tweak, what can you invest in next – look at reinvesting some of the savings you gained from the improved wellbeing in the workplace.
Impact of a comprehensive Health & Wellbeing Program Beside hard savings through decreased absence days and improved attrition, employers with comprehensive programs usually also observe soft savings through better engagement as well as a positive impact on the employee branding
A comprehensive health and wellbeing program which is relevant and fully inclusive for the workforce encourages employees to actively engage and take ownership in improving their health. They do this by raising awareness, understanding and proactively identifying common health issues and outline simple ways to support employees lead healthier lifestyles.