Yorkshire Water uses occupational health to create a healthy workforce culture

Yorkshire Water

Yorkshire Water gave its occupational health provision an overhaul to ensure that it helps to support a healthy workforce culture for its 3,000 employees.

The organisation’s approach is to refer staff to occupational health on day one of absence. As is the case with many organisations, the majority of absences are musculoskeletal or mental health conditions so it fast-tracks employees for counselling or physiotherapy, and makes use of an external psychiatrist when necessary.

In 2012, the occupational health department consisted of one internal adviser and two external physicians, but the service was underused. In 2013, the service was remodelled to include two internal occupational health specialist practitioners and an external supporting physician. There were 170 referrals in 2012, but in 2014 this rose to 926.

Yorkshire Water’s employee health and wellbeing manager, Susan Gee, says: “There has been a shift in culture of how occupational health is perceived. The profile of it has been raised and, arguably, one could say because we’ve put policies in place that are mandatory and direct managers.”

Gee explains that her plan behind the changes to occupational health included making sure that managers were confident in referring employees. “The barriers to effective management of attendance and monitoring of health, and getting the wellbeing piece going, is that managers can be timid when it comes to referring people.”

The organisation implemented directives that gave managers clear instructions on how to manage attendance. Key to engagement is to have transparency, consistency and fairness, says Gee. “To me, this is one way of changing that culture because everyone gets the same opportunity and it reinforces the message that occupational health is there to support helping people to remain in work, whatever their health status,” she explains. ”We can be confident that we’ve done everything possible to retain that employment and that that person feels valued.”