Nick Pahl: What should employee wellbeing look like in 2020?

In December 2019, the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) published a report, The value of occupational health to workplace wellbeing, which examined how occupational health practitioners and providers can add value to workplace wellbeing initiatives. The report also emphasised four broad areas of the knowledge, skills and competences required to introduce and implement workplace health and wellbeing programmes in the future.

Primarily, the SOM recognises that an employee’s relationship with their line manager is perhaps the most important attribute to leveraging wellbeing in the coming year. Good and supportive relationships between staff and their line managers are associated with better health and wellbeing outcomes, including sustainable return to work following sickness absence due to common mental health problems.

Line managers also have a key influence on how work is performed, clarifying role expectations, delegating authority to make decisions, and role modelling appropriate behaviours that set the tone for the social climate at work, affecting both job quality and social relations; sustainable wellbeing will be wholly dependent on this relationship in the future.

This should establish a clear role for occupational health providers to engage in line manager training around elements such as returning to work, making workplace accommodations in a fair and equitable manner, and supporting workers with health conditions or caring responsibilities. Looking ahead at this, the SOM has introduced a self-assessed voluntary code of practice for its own members, which should pave the way for greater consistency of professional standards.

Changing health behaviours, such as smoking cessation, alcohol consumption and physical exercise, are familiar to occupational health practitioners, but promotional programmes are likely to be more targeted at changing organisational cultures. In turn, this might create an environment in which employees are more receptive to, and will act upon, communications concerning health and wellbeing.

Occupational health practitioners will not be able to deliver change by themselves; for 2020, the capacity for change will need to be built on a cross-functional basis, involving HR, employee benefits providers, internal champions and other key stakeholders to achieve full integration with organisational health and wellbeing.

Nick Pahl, is chief executive officer at the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM)

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