Occupational health can bring significant expertise to bear on a wide range of workplace health and wellbeing challenges. But, like anything, an organisation’s OH provision is only as good as how it is managed and supported. Charles Alberts outlines 10 ways for employers to optimise their OH provision.
The common denominator for employers using occupational health programmes is that they help prevent employees from being absent for health reasons by enabling intervention and then offering support to help them to recovery.
About the author
Charles Alberts is head of health management at Aon
Generally, employers tend to use occupational health to be responsible and compliant, while also reducing costs. Indeed, our recent 2018 Benefits and Trends survey found that 96% of employers agreed that they had a responsibility to influence employee health, yet only 65% accessed occupational health services
Yet, if OH is used proactively, it can help to enhance employee wellbeing while preventing health issues from occurring in the first place.
At the same time, occupational health can protect employees from harm in the workplace, in turn avoiding litigation and improving corporate image.
Correctly targeting spend
Occupational health, it is clear, can be a win-win for both employers and employees. Employers gain for all the reasons outlined above while, by having access to OH, employees, naturally, are more likely to have improved health and have greater protection against work-related illness, while working maintains their earnings and quality of life.
Nevertheless, maximising or optimising your occupational health spend is not always straightforward. How do you know if what you doing is the right or correctly targeted, or that you are spending money in the right places or the right way?
To that end, here are what we believe are 10 ways to maximise your OH programme.
- Invest time and energy to understand what your company and employees need. Armed with this, you can find the best provider to align with, understand and support your strategy.
- Although costs of OH providers differ, so do, for instance, service levels, processes, clinical availability, capability and outcomes. Therefore, rather than focusing on cost, make your partnership decision based on the value that will be delivered to your organisation’s specific needs.
- Build a close relationship with your OH provider. This sounds obvious, but taking the time to understand all its service offerings and how to use its expertise to support your business and, in particular, employee health issues is likely to pay off in the longer term.
- Engage with employees who are referred to OH, to dispel any common misconceptions. Employees may worry that, by referring them to OH, you are trying to get rid of them or somehow to catch them out. Instead, use the opportunity to demonstrate a caring and supportive approach.
- Use OH proactively. In other words, refer employees for an assessment while they are still at work, with the aim of keeping them at work, rather than weeks (or months) after they have signed off.
- Provide training to line managers so they understand what OH is and how to get the most out of it. Line managers may also have misconceptions, for example perhaps that an OH provider is not objective or will make recommendations that are impractical to accommodate.
- The old adage “you get out what you put in” applies. Carefully craft referrals, make sure all relevant supporting information is included and be clear on what you would like the provider to answer.
- Involve your OH provider or team in your health and wellbeing strategy, particularly combining its data with yours to inform wellbeing practices. This will help avoid unhelpful costs or programmes.
- Invite your OH provider to join meetings with other health-related providers. For example, bring them into discussions with your Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) in order to encourage collaboration that improves patient pathways by sharing trends and discussing new ways to tackle health risks.
- Use OH as a preventative measure to protect employees against workplace hazards. Also be aware of contemporary hazards such as work-related stress, which has risen in prominence and is not confined to any particular industry or market.
At its core, occupational health advises employers on the impact that work has on employee health and the impact employee health has on their ability to work.
With this knowledge, employers can monitor and manage health risks and provide rehabilitation and return to work strategies – including adjustments for people with health problems or disabilities.
Ultimately, OH helps to protect people’s health at work through creating healthier workplaces, minimising sickness absence and improving performance. Following these 10 tips will help to ensure that this expertise can be best targeted, focused and utilised.