Employers are increasingly recognising that a key component of business sustainability is employees being and remaining healthy.
Achieving this necessitates access to expert advice to support staying in work and returning to work following sickness absence, all of which occupational health (OH) can offer.
There are currently record levels of sickness absence because of a combination of factors. Most prominently, this is down to Covid-19 (coronavirus) infections and self-isolation following contact with infected individuals.
Another factor, however, is ongoing health conditions, with treatment programmes prolonged due to the necessary focus of NHS resources on managing the pandemic.
Occupational health can play a part in alleviating this pressure. For example, OH can signpost employees to additional medical and psychological services and, where available through the employer, facilitate access.
OH is also now often acting as convenor for a wider range of skills and expertise to equip employers and employees with the resources, knowledge, skills and confidence to aid a return to work, maintain physical and mental health, reduce presenteeism and high staff turnover.
We are pleased to see investment in NHS OH via its ‘growing OH’ programme, which is a key part of ensuring healthcare professionals can deal with the backlog in the NHS.
The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) is also working with the Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Work and Pensions’ work and health unit to support occupational health initiatives.
A strategic approach is key to identifying what needs to be put in place, and to understand from an employee perspective what is valuable in supporting employee wellbeing.
A focus on wellbeing should construct an environment that supports thriving at work and having a sense of purpose. Workplace health is more than using the latest technology to address issues of wellbeing, it is about being systematic in the development of preventative and responsive approaches to address key issues.
There is a wider issue too, which is that people are increasingly valuing work that enhances their health. My view is that employers should focus on providing ‘good’ work, or work that supports employees’ physical and psychological health.
To that end, employers need to review what the world of work might look like as we emerge from this pandemic. Employers are still in a learning phase regarding new and flexible ways of working, and evidence shows that employees are expecting opportunities to present themselves for greater flexibility.
Dr Jayne Moore is president of SOM (the Society of Occupational Medicine)