Taking a holistic approach to employees’ health and wellbeing may be easier said than done, but it can be achieved with the right team structure.
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- Responsibility for an employer’s healthcare strategy provision may be divided between multiple teams.
- A cohesive strategy relies on a clear governance structure, determining where responsibility lies between teams.
- A shared healthcare benefits dashboard can give all teams access to relevant data.
Responsibility for providing an employer’s healthcare strategy is often divided between a number of teams, particularly in larger organisations. In many cases, this has resulted in ineffective strategies and, therefore, inadequate staff support as teams fail to understand their responsibilities for providing the benefits.
Broadly speaking, healthcare teams have typically comprised some, or all, of an employer’s reward and benefits staff, HR department, occupational health, health and safety, and finance, with healthcare benefits, such as private medical insurance and group income protection (GIP) , sitting among them.
But as employers become more mindful of employees’ wellbeing, they are increasingly aware of the importance of these teams learning to work together, and understanding how best to support this.
Mark Armour, clinical director of rehabilitation provider RehabWorks, says: “Traditionally, teams tended to work in ’silos’. The occupational health department worked with staff once they had a problem, so that would be a very reactive service. As employers have progressed, they have realised that employee wellbeing isn’t just about staff who are having problems at work, it’s ensuring they get the most out of their workforces, and make the workplace a great place to be.”
An employer’s geographical spread can shape its healthcare strategy. Wolfgang Seidl, head of health management consulting, Europe, Middle East and Africa at Mercer, says: “Some organisations are more dominated by HR, some more by occupational health. Also, some global organisations are very centralised, and others very local in their decision-making. Both are acceptable as long as they have the governance structure to bring it all together.”
Industry best practice dictates that healthcare governance structures outline an employee’s ‘healthcare journey’, a roadmap of all the benefits an employer may use to support an employee with a health issue.
But Doug Wright, medical director at Aviva UK Health, says employers must move away from the tendency to run healthcare services in isolation, in a best-of-breed way. “Not only is this disconnected from the employer’s point of view, but also for the employee, and most health conditions don’t work like that,” he says. “The solution typically starts to cut across the different internal agents within a business, and the different providers.”
Employers should start their holistic healthcare strategy project with a strategic overview of their current healthcare benefits offer, and the employees tasked with delivering it.
Business in the Community (BITC)’s Workwell model advocates board ownership to oversee the different strands. Louise Aston, director of BITC’s Workwell programme, says: “The Workwell model articulates all the different elements, in terms of what employers can do to create an environment for the whole employee to flourish, and that is in terms of creating an environment that promotes better physical and psychological health, better work, better relationships and better specialist support, which result in working well.
“When talking about this collectively, instead of about different silos, ultimately it is all about good staff management. Without wellbeing supporting engagement, employees are going to get burnout, and we know the links between high engagement and high productivity.”
Data is key
Employers must then consider where their employee benefits data is held and what it consists of. A benefits dashboard that holds such data is one of the tools employers can use to connect the teams responsible for delivering their healthcare strategy.
Mercer’s Seidl says: “When I talk to organisations and show them a dashboard to track the various data sets and create a story of health, I get buy-in from those various sources that are often disjointed otherwise.
“Because if [one team] finds out that maybe compensation and benefits, or finance, has the insured data sets, and would have loved to cross-reference them to what occupational health data says but has never been able to get its hands on them, then the teams appreciate that putting everything onto one dashboard is actually the first, most pragmatic and helpful step to get those siloed entities to work together.”
Whatever culture or structure an organisation has, strong communication between all relevant stakeholders tasked with delivering its healthcare strategy, and a strong governance plan for them to follow, is the key to create an effective, holistic healthcare strategy.
Case study: Severn Trent Water involves multiple teams in staff health and wellbeing
Severn Trent Water runs a holistic health and wellbeing programme with the help of multiple teams focusing on keeping staff fit and well.
The benefits and occupational health teams sit within the HR team, as do health and safety and wellbeing teams.
The high risk of employees developing musculoskeletal problems through manual tasks, such as digging holes, is a particular focus of the teams.
Severn Trent’s health and wellbeing programme, Fit for the future, focuses on preventing staff injuries and maintaining their current fitness levels with the help of provider RehabWork, while reactive services include physiotherapy. A functional restoration programme gives employees rehabilitation support, enabling them to return to work as soon as possible.
Deborah Edmonds, occupational health and hygiene manager at Severn Trent Water, says: “The goal of the programme is to stimulate change in how staff think about their role in preventing musculoskeletal disorders, and how they are going to keep fit.”
She says it is crucial for staff of all ages to maintain their fitness levels to be able to perform their roles to the best of their ability, because work will inevitably become harder with age, particularly for staff in manual roles that require lifting, for example.
Edmonds says it may not always be possible to offer injured staff alternative or lighter duties, but some sort of support is essential.
“I don’t want staff to go home at the weekend in pain because of the work they’ve done over the course of their working day,” she says.
Viewpoint: Richard Jones: Employers should offer staff healthy living information
Statistics on the cost of work-related ill-health are truly eye-watering. According to the Health and Safety Executive’s Annual statistics report for Great Britain , published in October 2013, more than one million UK employees suffered ill-health that they put down to work, and almost 23 million working days were lost in 2011/12 because of work-related illnesses.
Employers must tackle the causes. Being in ‘good work’, work that is safe, supportive and meets employees’ individual needs, can be one of the best things for an employee’s health and wellbeing ; there needs to be more of it.
And, once basic health and safety risk is managed effectively, employers can go further and encourage staff to help plan health-related activities at work. This fosters social interaction and community spirit, with the happy consequence of a motivated workforce that is more productive and likely to stick around.
Leadership from senior managers is crucial to achieve staff wellbeing, and HR, occupational health, and health and safety practitioners all have important roles to play. Key to wellbeing is the promotion of positive mental and physical health to all employees, who need to be fully consulted and engaged in the process.
There are many free resources and online tools that can help employers assess the cost impact of wellbeing programmes and ill-health, such as our guides, A Healthy Return and Working Well .
The most sensible and cost-effective approach begins with issues that give staff most concern, such as stress or back and neck problems. Other areas for improvement include healthy eating, physical activity, smoking, alcohol and drugs. Initiatives could include smoking cessation support, healthy food options at work and, for staff in sedentary jobs, opportunities for physical activity at work.
Helping staff with health conditions to remain in or return to work following absence should be part of any wellbeing plan. As long as the correct provisions are made, managing an employee’s ill-health at work is often better than a prolonged absence.
Ultimately, the UK needs stronger multidisciplinary working on health, safety and wellbeing and better employer awareness of how to ensure that work is ‘good work’.
Richard Jones is head of policy and public affairs at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health