Steps to success

Kirstie Redford outlines the 10 key action points

1 Do your research

First you need to find out if the workforce needs to improve its health and, if so, where the problem areas are. Any measurement requires before and after data – so find out what your absence rates are, the age profile of your staff and the associated health risks.

Analyse short- and long-term absence data separately and look for trends. Is absence the result of genuine illness or because employees are unmotivated? Is absence worse in some departments or among specific positions or age groups?

Review existing health benefits. Find out if they are being used and, if you provide health insurance, find out how many claims are being made.
An unhealthy workforce can affect employee engagement, productivity levels and even customer service, so conduct audits in these areas. Use confidential employee surveys to gauge health levels. If you don’t have the resources or expertise to do this internally, there are suppliers who can do it for you. Also, make sure you are up to date with health and safety legislation and that you are fulfilling your duty of care as an employer.

2 Set targets

Be very clear about what you want to achieve. Are your aims simply around compliance or do you want to increase productivity, improve employee engagement or reduce absence costs? Set objectives, work out what return you want from your investment and write a mission statement. If you are clear about your targets from the start, this will help you to develop a strong business case for investment.

If you decide to use third-party providers further down the line, you can tell them exactly what you want from your investment and the returns you expect. This will put you in control and could stop you becoming bamboozled by all the products on offer.

3 Get buy-in from the finance director

Without backing from the finance director, your strategy will be short-lived, so use the data gathered to present a clear business case. Use your mission statement to explain how, what and why. Provide evidence of areas where the company is failing, present solutions and, if possible, do your sums to project return on investment.

Present the health strategy as being integral to other areas of the business strategy such as productivity, reward and, perhaps most importantly, company performance. Investment in employees’ health can be seen as a woolly ‘nice to have’ benefit – you have to communicate that it is ‘essential to have’.

4 Make changes internally

Internal initiatives don’t need to break the bank. For example, change the canteen menu to include healthier food options and ensure fruit instead of biscuits and pastries are provided in meetings. Make water accessible so staff stay hydrated throughout the day and put signs in lifts to encourage staff to use the stairs. Set up mentoring groups to help people stop smoking, lose weight or bring people together who share a health condition – these can provide informal health support.

If you already have an occupational health function, think about how to relaunch it so it is less about slips and trips and more about prevention and proactive health measures. There could be a wealth of expertise not being used to its full potential, which could lead a number of new initiatives.

5 Invest in third-party services

A host of services are available from third-party providers to help you improve the health of your workforce. From employee assistance programmes, which tend to focus on GP and counselling helplines, to online health assessments, health screenings to full private medical insurance and rehabilitation services, there are many providers offering a growing number of health services. Many providers also offer consultation services to help you identify problems, collate data and set targets.

The key is to be clear about what you want before approaching suppliers and to shop around to get a competitive deal.

6 Train line managers

You then need to get buy-in from the workforce, so make sure line managers understand why it is important to improve health so that they can communicate this to staff and help to motivate and encourage them.

From a legal perspective, managers should also understand the responsibility of the employer to mitigate health risks such as stress or other work-related illness.

Hold refresher health and safety seminars and introduce new workshops focusing on health problems identified in the organisation, explaining why they need to be rectified and how the initiatives intend to achieve this. Also explain the practicalities of any initiatives so that managers are equipped to answer any questions their teams may have.

7 Market the scheme to your staff

You cannot demand that staff make lifestyle changes, but you can encourage it. Health promotion is about providing the information and support staff need to make necessary changes, without forcing anyone’s hand.

Use the company intranet or newsletters to communicate initiatives, provide practical information and highlight personal gains that can be achieved. Bringing an element of competition into play can help to motivate staff. Set specific goals for teams or departments to improve their health and provide incentives for those making the most progress.

Employees need to know what support is available so make initiatives visible through posters, e-mail and intranet campaigns, and provide information workshops so that staff can find out more.

8 Find out how effective the scheme is

Measure take-up and conduct regular staff surveys to find out how initiatives are perceived. Also keep tracking data in target areas such as absence, productivity and employee engagement and compare levels to provide hard evidence of improvements.

Trying to prove the effect of improved health on the company’s bottom line is difficult to achieve. However, comparing data, such as absence costs, before and after initiatives have been introduced should give some indication of whether or not they are giving a return on investment.

9 Review and monitor progress

You will only see hard measurable gains in the long term, so be patient. Collate data on areas targeted for improvement on a regular basis to build a long-term picture of achievements and highlight areas that need more work.

10 Keep improving

Employee health cannot be improved by short-term measures, so initiatives should be ongoing. By constantly reviewing the strategy and measuring the impact of each initiative, you can keep building on positive areas and improve the long-term health of the workforce. 

Words of advice on health strategy

“Directors and employees should see a health strategy as a complete and coherent package. Health, productivity, reward and company performance should be integrated.”
Paul Kearns, director of PWL

“Every organisation has the ability to look inwards and improve the health of its workforce. However, HR has to be empowered and respected by senior manage-ment if it is to work. This may require a wider culture change.”
Barry Winbolt, head of training and consultancy, PPC Worldwide

“It is important to remember that you will not get everyone going to the gym and eating leafy things all day long and some people will not be interested at all. Improving health has to be a personal choice.”
Miriam Lawton, assistant chief executive, people and performance, Tameside Council

“It can be harder to get men interested in health initiatives as women tend to be more health aware. We’ve found that using web-based initiatives and tracking health improvements in league tables to promote a degree of competition has helped to get more men on board.”
Paul Litchfield, chief medical officer, BT

“Introducing a health strategy shouldn’t be just about reducing liability and keeping employers out of prison. Evidence is growing that improving employee health and wellbeing can be linked to productivity and even customer service levels. When building your business case, consider all angles.”
Penny de Valk, managing director at Ceridian HR Consultancy


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