One of the main thrusts of Dame Carol Black’s review of the health of Britain’s working-age population, Working for a Healthier Tomorrow, is that employers should use the workplace to promote healthier lifestyles.
Occupational health nurses and doctors will play a part in this, although there are concerns that health promotion is not necessarily the best use of their skills – and their numbers are also limited. While the Black Report is calling for more collaboration between OH and other health promoters, it is not yet clear who these other health promoters will be, or how such collaborations will work.
A major challenge will be training other practitioners in health promotion, and ensuring they are qualified to deliver standards of the right quality.
As part of the Working for a Healthier Tomorrow review, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was commissioned to consider both the wider business case and the economic case for employers investing in wellness programmes. The PwC report Building the Case for Wellness looks at what makes a wellness programme work, the need to meet specific employee 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 (through 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.
Clarity on wellness
The report found that many employers lack a clear definition of workplace wellness, have a poor understanding of how to incentivise employee 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.
Overall, the picture is one of improving business performance after any kind of wellness intervention. Forty five out of 55 cases reported a reduction in days lost through sickness absence, 18 case study organisations reported a positive impact on staff turnover, and 14 cases cited 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 employees’ needs, motivation and knowledge, and continuous support is needed. This may mean that ‘wellness champion’ volunteers (staff trained in the issues outlined above) will have a part to play.
Training for such staff is now becoming available. The Royal Institute of Public Health (RIPH), an independent body that protects and promotes public health through education, training and policy development, is offering training programmes to ‘workplace health trainers’. A new qualification – ‘Understanding Health Improvement’ – was launched in November last year.
“Different organisations are using this qualification in different ways,” says Nicki Alvey, development manager at the RIPH. “This is not a clinical post, but a way of using volunteers at all levels to become champions of healthy living. Some have trained staff in relatively junior roles. Others, bearing in mind what Dame Carol Black has said about the importance of involving line managers, are now looking at training more senior staff.”
The training takes eight to 10 hours, usually delivered in a one-day workshop with some preparation beforehand, and focuses on the behaviour change needed to make healthier lifestyle choices, the factors that go to make a healthy lifestyle, and being informed about what options are open to staff. Local knowledge about classes and clubs is useful, as well as some understanding of the psychological barriers to getting and staying fit. The RIPH sees these employees as an add-on to OH. If they are presented with complex questions about health, they will refer staff to OH professionals.
The qualification is available through a growing number of RIPH-approved training providers. Click here for further information.
A new wellness qualification is also being launched by workplace health consultancy WellKom Corporate Services in collaboration with the organisation that represents the professional interests of HR staff working across the public sector, the Public Sector People Managers’ Association (PPMA).
These would include qualifications in ‘personal wellness management’ and ‘leadership wellness management’. Once qualified, employees would act as ‘wellness champions’, and would be able to help promote the practices of wellness management to their colleagues.
Once again, these employees could be drawn from all organisational levels, and could be line managers themselves.
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.
The qualifications are due to be launched in September, after consultation with a panel of employers including Asda, Kent County Council and the Nationwide Building Society.
Last month, WellKom also launched an online ‘wellness community’ to help employees take control of their own wellbeing. This includes a web-based learning resource that gives them access to interactive materials designed to help them assess and improve their health and wellbeing, and 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 of promoting wellbeing being seen as an altruistic add-on are over. And the Holy Grail here would be to get wellbeing indicators into company reports.
For more information about WellKom’s Wellness Community and forthcoming qualifications, contact Genevieve Nortje at firstname.lastname@example.org