Sarah Barnes, HR policy and equalities manager, Crawley Borough Council: Wellbeing agenda for workers is not frivolous

When it comes to wellbeing initiatives, the line between good practice and good business sense is often unclear. As individuals, we know the benefits of healthy eating, regular exercise and work-life balance. And as employers, it is clear that if we provide wellbeing benefits we can attract and retain our most valuable resource: people. But in the current economic climate, spending on training and benefits is under constant scrutiny, which means delivering cost-efficient measures to promote workplace health can be a challenge.

Sickness absences levels can be actively addressed by going back to basics. At Crawley Borough Council, for example, we have made the most of return-to-work discussions, and revised and clarified our policies to make them clearer for managers. We also trained managers and trade union representatives to improve the quality of management information on sickness absence and how it was reported. Data generated from this exercise was used to build the case for our on-site occupational health service. Within three years, average sickness levels per employee reduced from 11.2 days to 7.9 days.

While we were pleased with the results, we knew there were still further improvements to be made by introducing preventative measures. Our wellbeing budget covers a range of services including an on-site occupational health service, employee assistance programme, voluntary annual health screenings and vaccination schemes. In reality, these were only accessed when an employee was absent and additional support was required. This meant it was important to offer alternative benefits to employees with a good record of absence and already engaged with workplace health.

Last September, we launched our first wellbeing month. Some of our 800 employees organised the activities, including t’ai chi sessions, running clubs, lunchtime walks, dance lessons, and football and golf matches. The benefits of our wellbeing initiatives were seen in the staff survey results, which show employees feel valued and rewarded at work. As a result, we are championing our ideas in the local community and working with other businesses to help promote and demonstrate the value of healthy workplaces.

  • Sarah Barnes, HR policy and equalities manager, Crawley Borough Council