PMI Health Group Award for Managing Health at Work

Award profile

This award recognises organisations that have adopted a proactive approach to improving the health of employees. Entries considered were about a one-off project or a wide-ranging policy change linked to strategy. The judge looked for a clear explanation of what action was taken, who was involved, how and why. Entrants needed to supply evidence of positive outcomes for the organisation, such as reductions in absenteeism, improved morale or changes in workplace culture.

The judge

Sayeed Khan is chief medical adviser for EEF, the organisation for manufacturing, engineering and technology businesses. He is also a fellow of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, a member of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, and a fellow of the Royal College of GPs. He was recently appointed as an independent commissioner at the HSC and is a special professor in occupational health at Nottingham University.

The sponsor

PMI Health Group is a supplier of employee health management solutions. It offers products and services that protect organisations from the risks posed by health issues at work, and helps them to take steps to minimise the cost of organisational ill health. PMI Health Group’s integrated, client-focused approach creates customised solutions based on strong client relationships and partnerships.

Leeds Mental Health Teaching NHS Trust

The team: HR department

Number in team: 18 Number in HR function: 41 Number of employees HR is responsible for: 2,500

About the organisation

Leeds Mental Health Teaching NHS Trust’s core purpose is to improve the mental health and wellbeing of the people of Leeds and to provide them with effective, accessible and modern mental health and learning disability services.

The challenge

In 2002-03, the trust had sickness absence levels at 12 days per employee – higher than the public sector average of 10.7 days – costing the trust £1.78m, with indirect costs estimated to bea further £2m.

What the organisation did

  • Conducted a research project to ascertain causes of stress, the staff support mechanisms and how could be improved.

  • With a university research student, designed and implemented, the ‘supporting staff at work’ programme.

  • Introduced a phased return-to-work scheme after absence or reduced hours.

  • Looked at alternative methods of working.

  • Extended leave in special circumstances.

Benefits and achievements

  • A 1% reduction in sickness absence in 2004-05.

  • Staff survey shows an annual improvement in staff feeling supported at work.

  • Without the framework, 100% of cases would have resulted in staff taking time off or extending their absence.

The judge says “This organisation has dealt with the important issue of the rights and responsibilities of employer and employees. Too many initiatives fail because the employees or the employer have all the rights but no responsibilities, or vice-versa. Both parties need to accept their rights and their responsibilities. Also demonstrated the value of involving a university research student.”

Comet Group

The team: Reward, colleague services and colleague relations

Number in team: 5 Number in HR function: 85 Number of employees HR is responsible for: 10,000

About the organisation

Comet is the second largest electrical retailer in the UK and part of Kesa Electricals plc, a pan-European group operating in seven European countries. It has more than 250 stores across the UK.

The challenge

Comet had traditionally used an external occupational health provider to support the HR team in managing complex absence cases. In December 2004, with targets to reduce absence rates, Comet created a specialist team to review this service to provide further support to managers, staff and the HR team.

What the organisation did

  • Partnered with Cigna Healthcare to provide a new case management approach to tackling all types of absence.

  • Built a business case to gain a £140,000 investment for this service.

  • Identified six absence ‘trigger points’ that managers can use to categorise absence. before referring staff to Cigna Healthcare.

  • HR business partners briefed managers about the service in area manager meetings.

Benefits and achievements

  • Absence has fallen from 3.2% to 2.9%.

  • Comet has saved £336,000 in sick pay costs alone.

  • Positive feedback from colleagues on how the Cigna system has helped them manage absences in their teams.

The judge says: “This organisation tackled the issue of continuous improvement and is always looking at the way things are done. Many businesses would give their eye-teeth to have a pre-intervention sickness absence rate of 3.2%, but Comet showed that even a small drop could save £336,000. I liked their information sheets for staff and their trigger points for absence.”

Office of Government Commerce

The team: HR

Number in team: 15 Number in HR function: 15 Number of employees HR is responsible for: 410

About the organisation

The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) is an independent office of the Treasury, and its key areas of business include delivering the government’s £21bn efficiency programme.

The challenge

Being a relatively small organisation within government, employing around 400 staff with scarce skills, means that looking after, attracting and retaining talent is crucial, and health and wellbeing has a key role to play in this.

What the organisation did

  • HR developed a best-practice policy to encourage healthier working practices, including family-friendly working, such as a phased return from maternity leave, subsidised nurseries and childcare vouchers.

  • Introduced flexible working practices, such as compressed hours and phased retirement.

  • Trained managers in new ways of working.

  • Offered subsidised gym membership, an on-site gym at one office, interest-free loans for bike purchase and an annual sports day.

  • Produced monthly attendance reports.

Benefits and achievements

  • An annual budget of £85,000 has delivered an additional 3,600 productive days, saving almost £1m.

  • Achieved three-fold reduction in absence.

  • Reduced employee turnover by one-third.

  • Raised productivity, saving £3bn.

The judge says “This organisation faced what many organisations have to face – coming up with significant productivity improvements within existing resources while keeping the customer happy. Furthermore, it had the added pressure of a highly skilled, relatively small workforce, but identified that health and wellbeing was a crucial element in attracting and retaining talent.”

East Sussex County Council

The team: Occupational Health Services

Number in team: 6 Number in HR function: 120 Number of employees HR is responsible for: 15,000

About the organisation

East Sussex County Council aims to be a modern, efficient and responsible authority, working with partners to provide a better quality of life and security for the people of East Sussex.

The challenge

In response to the release of the government’s Choosing Health White Paper in 2004, East Sussex decided to embark on a broad wellbeing initiative, with the aim of raising the profile of the occupational health (OH) team with a view to getting staff to improve their physical health.

What the organisation did

  • Recruited additional OH staff, including a project manager to drive wellbeing initiatives.

  • Communicated initiatives extensively across the council via TV screens in the canteen, team briefings, online diaries and a wellbeing resource pack for managers.

  • Held a Health Promotion Week.

  • Invested £31,000 in a free at the point of entry staff counselling service.

Benefits and achievements

  • Won a bid to introduce physiotherapy at an investment of £22,500.

  • Achieved a 6% reduction in sickness absence between 2004 and 2006, releasing £432,000 for front-line resources.

  • 62% of employees who joined smoking cessation groups have given up.

  • In the annual staff survey, 73% of staff enjoy working for the council, up 6%.

The judge says “This organisation showed the value of re-branding. It moved the focus from sickness to health and from reactive activities to proactive interventions. The key has been “the ability of the OH team to inspire and communicate both internal and external resources”. This is a marker of a good OH service.”

Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council

The team: HR

Number in team: 97 Number in HR function: 97 Number of employees HR is responsible for: 8,962

About the organisation

Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council is a local government authority serving the towns of Ashton-under-Lyne, Audenshaw, Denton, Droylsden, Dukinfield, Hyde, Longdendale, Mossley and Stalybridge in Greater Manchester.

The challenge

Research by Tameside’s health partner, Vielife, highlighted that 71% of employees experienced stress and 50% led a sedentary life, so the council wanted to improve and support employee wellbeing.

What the organisation did

  • Enticed staff to health presentations with healthy bacon sandwiches, demonstrating how small changes can elicit health benefits.

  • Introduced a mobile clinic measuring staff’s blood pressure and body mass index.

  • Ran Tai-Chi classes and handed out pedometers to encourage walking.

Benefits and achievements

  • Overall health and wellbeing of employees has improved by 12%, according to Vielife, with a 10% reduction in stress levels.

  • Reduced absence from 10 days to 9.5 days per employees, amounting to cost savings equal to 16 additional employees.

  • Secured a further investment in health of £90,000 to continue the programme, including an in wellbeing web portal.

The judge says “This organisation showed the importance of being innovative in identifying the best way to get the organisation’s message across to disparate groups of employees. For example, it enticed staff by offering bacon sandwiches (using brown bread and grilled bacon), and giving out pedometers led to friendly competition when employees heard that the refuse collectors were managing 29,500 steps a day.” 

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