Jo Berriman, consultant at professional services firm Mercer in London, is current chair of the UK Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing development group. She starting working in occupational health in 1986 and has subsequently gone on to qualify as a coaching psychologist. Here, she gives an overview of her career interests and philosophy.
How did you get into occupational health?
Post qualification, while working on a surgical ward at Charing Cross Hospital, I made a conscious decision to seek out a new career away from the NHS. I became interested in occupational health because it represented a perfect opportunity to focus on prevention rather than cure. Personally, it also offered a potential for professional autonomy, variety of practice and challenge. I saved some money, left the NHS, and paid for myself to undertake the occupational health (OH) certificate at the Royal College of Nursing.
Who influenced you in your early days?
When I came across organisational behaviour philosopher Charles Handy, and read his books including “Understanding organisations”, that was it – they were a revelation and I was hooked. Suddenly, I began to think about organisations as dynamic entities, with dominant structures, functions, and cultures that could influence health and wellness.
What other influences have been important?
While heading up the OH service at Sainsbury’s, I embarked on an MSc in Organisational Behaviour at Birkbeck College in London. This was the start of what turned out to be a 10-year academic journey, during which I met and worked with many wonderful practitioners from different specialisms, including occupational psychology, human resources and coaching.
I loved the academic rigour and requirement for critical thinking that Birkbeck demanded, and this inevitably influenced my professional practice in OH. I discovered the importance of looking at issues from different perspectives. For example, I avidly read about power relations in organisations as conceptualised by philosophers like Karl Marx and Michel Foucault. While psychology is first and foremost a science, it has also been hugely influenced by philosophy.
- 2006-2010: Occupational health manager, Cigna Healthcare.
- 1995-2006: Head of occupational health, Sainsbury’s Supermarkets
- 1993-1995: Deputy manager – nursing services, Marks & Spencer
- 1985-1993: Occupational health adviser, Marks & Spencer
- 1983-1985: Staff nurse, Charing Cross Hospital, London
- 2012: MSc Coaching Psychology (Distinction)
- 2011: Certificate of Competence in Occupational Testing (Level A and B)
- 2009: BSc (Hons) Psychology (First-Class Honours)
- 2004: MSc Organisational Behaviour
- 1996: Postgraduate Diploma in Occupational Health
- 1986: Occupational Health Nursing Certificate
- 1983: Registered nurse
Publications Jo Berriman trains and presents regularly, and has written publications relating to different aspects of OH, well- being, and coaching in organisations.
- Well-being and Performance CIPD. Subscription publication (2007) s.4, c1-9.
- Can Coaching Combat Stress at Work? Occupational Health (2007); vol. 59 (1) pp.27-29.
- Supermarket Baker’s Asthma: How Accurate is Routine Health Surveillance? Occupational & Environmental Medicine (2005); vol. 62, pp.395-399.
- The Changing Distribution of Occupational Asthma: Work-Related Respiratory Symptoms and Specific Sensitisation in Supermarket Bakery Workers. European Journal of Respiratory Medicine (2005); vol. 25 (2), pp.303-308.
- A Special Courage: Dealing with the Paddington Rail Crash. Occupational Medicine (2001); vol. 51(2), pp.93-99.
- 2013: “Me, Myself and I: An interpretative phenomenological exploration of coachees’ perceptions of self”, 4th European Coaching Psychology conference.
- 2008: Wellbeing at Work: What does it actually mean? RCN SOHN Conference. Wellbeing at Work. EA-OHP Conference.
- Getting your head around mental health disorders. Health at Work Summit.
- Past: Member of the Royal College of Nursing OH Manager’s Forum.
- Present: Chair: Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing development group. Membership: Royal College of Nursing; British Psychological Society; Special Group of Coaching Psychology.
Being a glutton for punishment, I went on to do an undergraduate psychology degree at the Open University and graduated with first-class honours. I have always been most interested in understanding what makes people tick, and was curious about how I could use my love of psychology to enrich my professional OH practice, but also how I might use the latter to develop my career overall. And so my final (for now) academic adventure was to complete an MSc in Coaching Psychology in 2012.
What are the goals and priorities in your current role?
I specialise in the management of health and wellness at work, providing consultancy services to diverse clients, groups and teams. My role involves working with clients to help them to develop and manage all the different non-insured elements of their health and wellness strategy. In doing so, I am able to use my combined OH, coaching and consulting skills. I lead, manage and deliver multiple complex projects at a time, often working to tight deadlines. I also provide clinical case management for income protection and ill-health early-retirement cases.
Consultancy is fast moving and demanding but it can also be hugely rewarding when you help clients solve difficult problems, and ultimately employees benefit from your intervention. I get to work in a variety of organisational settings at strategic, leadership and operational levels, and I have the opportunity of working cross-functionally with other consultant colleagues. You definitely learn something new every day.
My key areas of expertise and interest include: how to optimise OH service support; improving performance at work; health, wellbeing and lifestyle coaching; stress management and personal resilience; and rehabilitation and return to work.
What motivates you today?
Ultimately, throughout my career, the importance of ongoing learning and making sense of the world around us has underpinned everything that I have done. This includes both my own self-development and assisting others to make a difference in their lives.
I have always tried to facilitate learning by applying evidence-based theory to my practice. Nowhere is the power of learning more keenly felt than in coaching sessions when they are going well. You and the coachee are completely at one with each other, the person is actively processing information and either you or they say something that leads to them having a bit of a breakthrough. For obvious reasons, coaches describe these times as “golden moments” because they can be truly transformational.
What advice would you offer those new to OH or early in their careers?
I would give any new starter in OH two fundamental bits of advice. First, I would encourage you to learn how to write a great OH report that actually expresses an opinion. In my view, not doing so is a dereliction of duty and ultimately erodes your professional credibility as a practitioner.
Second, I would urge you to remain up to date and use evidence to improve your practice at all times. However, be flexible in your thinking because “evidence” can take many forms. For example, much to the surprise of those involved, as part of a post-sickness absence rehabilitation programme, I once specifically recommended that an employee with bipolar disorder undertook a psychometric test – the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.
The results were spectacular. Both she and her manager used the findings to help them to understand each other better, and to see that her behaviour preferences were actually often personality driven just like everyone else. Instead of becoming solely defined by her illness (with the attendant stigma surrounding it), she was able to explain and rationalise some of her behaviour in a more “normal” way and this had the effect of improving the dynamic in the office.
Of course, this approach might not always be suitable, but on this particular occasion, my experience enabled me to draw on evidence from different specialisms to help achieve a successful outcome.