Sharing best practice with a new occupational health group

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A new group is bringing OH workers together with the aim of furthering their knowledge of workplace health. Stephen Haynes explains the objectives.

In June 2013, I, Stephen Haynes, a former Towers Watson consultant and director at Best Doctors, founded the Workplace Health & Wellbeing Movement. It is a group that brings together people from across the industry, from employers to providers. Its mission is to further people’s knowledge across the entire sector. Here, I explain the objectives.

What is the movement?

Okay, I admit “movement” is a little dramatic, but I have a certain theatrical background – my wife is a professional musician and I studied film in a past life. We are a networking group with the intention of sharing knowledge and experience across all areas of health and wellbeing at work.

However, I still feel “movement” better sets the scene for what we are about, rather than just a networking group. As an industry, by which I mean anyone who works in and services workplace health and well-being (from public health bodies to OH providers to HR professionals through to employee-benefit consultants), we have a tremendous amount of knowledge and ­experience, but we don’t always get to share and learn from our peers in other sectors. There are some good social media groups and numerous professional events around the country, but nothing addressing the need to bring things together. The movement helps us take a more joined-up ­approach to health, wellbeing and engagement in the workplace.

How did it come about?

I set up the movement for two reasons. First, to bring people from varying skills and backgrounds together to discover mutual opportunities, share learnings and brainstorm specific challenges. Second, to continuously further knowledge.

To quote American life coach Tony Robbins, when it comes down to it, business is really only about two things: innovation and marketing. While this underestimates the value of end-service delivery, I do agree with him, and innovation comes from constantly learning and understanding how to i­mplement our knowledge. Marketing is the framework that helps ensure we get it done right.

Health, wellbeing and engagement at work are in a bizarre place at the moment. Here are a few of the stats we are bombarded with every day: we have an ageing workforce with a deteriorating health profile; almost half the working population has a chronic condition representing around two-thirds of the total spend on healthcare; 75% of spend goes in managing preventable conditions; employers are seeing double-digit increases on health-insured benefits every year; most employers record absence, but many fail to consistently manage it; we love “wellness”, but still struggle to see return; we’ve seen a 40% rise in stress-related illnesses; and many employers stress management is a top business priority for the coming year.

How broad is the thinking within the movement?

In my consulting days, I spent a lot of time looking at the links between workplace health and workplace engagement. Just take the more obvious analogy of the drivers of short-term absence – arguably, engagement plays a greater role in whether or not staff take the odd sick day, compared with health concerns. While the link today is more commonly acknowledged – Business in the Community (BitC) has a good model for effective integration of wellbeing and engagement – the two are still rarely aligned within ­organisations. I believe this will change and this will be a common theme within the movement.

quotemarksThe industry is simply not crossed-skilled enough to recognise and advise on the broader issues.”

But putting the workplace to one side for a moment – what I believe is really important right now is how people actually engage with health and wellbeing. This method of engagement is what I believe will drive the future development of workplace health programmes.

Consider the rapid growth in health tech alone. Every day, more than 1 million health apps are downloaded by people around the world – there are almost 50,000 to choose from. This health-tech revolution is also changing the nature of the buyer – no longer are we just seeing the “worried well” or “health engaged” engaging, but the large majority that sit on the fence are joining in as tech makes health more accessible and easier to engage. We have tackled health tech in the movement already, but it will be a key focus of future sessions as we strive to ­understand, adapt and stay ahead in the workplace.

What is the target for the movement?

Workplace health and wellbeing will not become effective until we begin to join the dots and improve consistency. I hope that through the movement, the group will further the knowledge and experience within the industry.

As an industry, we are pretty impressive. If you take everything on offer, we cover practically every health and wellbeing issue an employer could face – however, we still deliver solutions in silos rather than in an integrated way.

Employers are getting smarter at managing the health, wellbeing and engagement of the workforce. However, this is still a slow burn and as an industry, we are simply not crossed-skilled enough to recognise and advise on the broader issues. It is still common to see short-term thinking among employers to address wider problems, but equally, as an industry we must improve our skills across sectors. We’ve also muddied the water for employers – there is almost too much choice now, so it comes as no surprise to see improved communication of health benefits at the top of many employers’ priorities.

Let us also not forget the growth in wellness solutions – which to some extent has been fuelled by providers building them in as added-value services. Providers have struggled to communicate the value of wellbeing programmes to employers. I regularly see employers considering wellness initiatives, but they either struggle to see the fit in their overall business strategy or buy into them without positioning them as part of a wider wellness strategy and therefore not capitalising on the return they could deliver. This is frustrating because I firmly believe, done right, “wellness” does deliver return on investment – and much sooner than we think.

Why is it important to look at workplace health holistically?

For starters, it’s owing to the sheer breadth of services that are out there. Government support is tremendous and critical – quite rightly it wants to get the most productive years out of the workforce – if we are not working, we are dependent on others.

There are numerous great initiatives – but how much do employers know about them? How well will they be used and how will they fit with existing or future health benefits?

I argue that 80% of current effort and spend in workplace health goes on 20% of the workforce. Let’s be honest, our approach to workplace health is broken, but not through anyone’s fault, it is just the way we have approached things historically.

quotemarks I argue that 80% of current effort and spend in workplace health goes on 20% of the workforce.”

While everything on offer – from private healthcare to OH to employee assistance programmes – plays a role in improving the health, wellbeing and engagement of the workplace, only cohesively do we optimise value and understand the real impact each element plays.

Who is involved in the movement?

When I started the movement in June 2013, we had three members in the first week. Six weeks later and two events in, there are around 80 members and we are still growing. Our members include HR professionals, OH practitioners, workplace health managers, health and safety professionals, and employee benefit specialists right through to independent healthcare practitioners. People who join are looking to network, to learn from others and share their experiences.

I regularly receive enquiries from people asking for groups outside London and, more recently, from the US. While we are not quite global yet, we’ve just set up our second chapter in South Yorkshire. This group will be chaired by Peter Barnard, an HR specialist and award winner for his work on the Grimsby College workplace health programme.

Outside larger cities, the commuting ­dynamic is very different. London is great as it is a central hub for many, whereas Barnard’s group covers people from as far north as Leeds, to Sheffield and Grimsby in the east. So we will be addressing this to improve accessibility to the movement.

How does it operate?

I had come across Meetup.com a few months ago and attended a number of meetings – from holistic health groups to networks for startups. There weren’t any groups around workplace health so Meetup provided a great platform to facilitate our movement. There are more than 130,000 Meetup groups in almost 200 countries.We generally host regular evening meet-ups (typically mid-week from 6-8pm).

What are the plans for the future?

My ambition is to expand the movement globally and share knowledge with peers all around the world. There is so much we can learn from our local peers, let alone those in other countries.

Our earlier meetings have primarily been informal networking gatherings, but going forward we will be bringing in thought-leaders to share their experiences and host formal events. As the movement continues to expand, we will also begin sharing findings across the group’s members – ideally, we will be able to share topics with everyone, regardless of whether or not they were able to ­attend their local group, or even if they’re from outside the country.

How can people get involved?

Anyone involved in, or looking to move into workplace health, can join through the Meetup page.

We are also looking for sponsors to host future events. If anyone would like to explore this further, they can connect with me via LinkedIn.

Stephen Haynes has worked in the workplace health sector for more than 20 years. He is a former Towers Watson consultant and director at Best Doctors and recently founded Navigator Health, integrating workplace health and wellbeing programmes for employers. Tel: + 44 (0)7415 315027. Email: shaynes@navigatorhealth.co.uk.

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