In focus: Coaching the wellbeing champions

One of the main thrusts of Dame Carol Black’s review of the health of the UK’s working population, Working for a Healthier Tomorrow, is that employers should use the workplace to promote healthier lifestyles.

However, training those not qualified in various aspects of health management presents a challenge, not to mention ensuring they are qualified to deliver standards of the right quality.

Wider business case

As part of the Black Report, consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was commissioned to consider both the wider business case and the economic case for employers to invest in wellness programmes. The PwC report, Building the Case for Wellness, looks at what makes a wellness programme work, meeting specific staff needs, and how to set up a framework that offers a practical approach to implementation.

PwC defines promoting ‘wellness’ as a combination of health and safety (abiding by statutory regulations and government requirements) managing ill health (best practice use of occupational health, absence management and disability management) and prevention and promotion (health promotion, work-life balance and stress management, career and social development and primary care). When all these components are in place, the goal of workplace wellness can be achieved.

The report found that many employers lack a clear definition of workplace wellness, don’t know how to in­-centivise staff involvement in such programmes and have no clear business case for promoting wellness to staff. Factors relevant to the business case include changing demographics and expectations the rising costs of chronic disease and ill health and external influences such as corporate social responsibility and competition, says PwC.

But the business case is compelling. According to PwC, 45 out of 55 organisations surveyed reported a reduction in days lost through sickness absence, 18 case study organisations reported a positive impact on staff turnover, and 14 reported an improvement in employee satisfaction.

Good communication is essential, stresses the report. Senior staff should take a lead role – one university reported improved performance after the chief executive visited all departments to gain a better understanding of attitudes to the university as an employer.

Line managers need to ask fundamental questions about staff needs, motivation and knowledge, and need continuous support. This may mean that volunteer ‘wellness champions’ (employees trained in the issues outlined above) could have a part to play.

There is now training available for staff willing to step up to these roles. The Royal Institute of Public Health, an independent body that protects and promotes public health, is offering programmes of training to ‘workplace health trainers’. It launched a new qualification, called ‘Understanding Health Improvement’ in November last year.

Offering qualifications

A growing number of commercial health providers are also beginning to offer qualifications.

One example is workplace health consultancy WellKom Corporate Services, which is working in collaboration with industry body the Public Sector People Managers Association (PPMA).

Currently in development, its qualifications will include personal wellness management and leadership wellness management. Once qualified, employees can act as wellness champions to help promote the practices of wellness management to their colleagues.

WellKom is also proposing to introduce a Wellness Management Charter in which employers could set out their commitment to wellness, and which unions, employees and other stakeholders could measure.

“Examples of the charter commitments could include offering development opportunities to gain qualifications in wellness management, taking a proactive and positive approach to wellness and recognising that personal wellness management is a competence,” says Anthony Phillips, managing director of WellKom.

WellKom also plans to launch an online wellness community to help employees take control of their own wellbeing. This includes a web-based learning resource giving employees access to interactive materials designed to help them assess and improve their health and wellbeing, and includes an online diary and e-learning modules.

Phillips is hoping that, in the wake of the Black Report, employers are more likely to see that they will benefit from such an integrated approach, and the days where promoting wellbeing was seen as an altruistic add-on are over. Like gaining Investors in People status, this should eventually help with recruitment and retention – and at some point we may even see wellbeing indicators in company reports.

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