Why poor quality data is a barrier to better workplace health and wellbeing

HR data specialists

The fact HR professionals too often have little faith in their people data can derail employee or organisational health and wellbeing initiatives, argues Damian Oldham. OH practitioners need to be working hand in hand with HR to effectively evidence, measure and interrogate what is and isn’t making a difference within their organisations.

It should come as no surprise to occupational health practitioners that workplace health and wellbeing was one of the most important HR trends for around a third of the industry professionals we interviewed at last summer’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development “Festival of Work”.

While sickness absence is costly for any organisation, we all know that presenteeism is also on the rise, which, left unchecked, can severely affect an individual’s productivity, career and long-term health.

About the author

Damian Oldham is divisional director at HR technology specialist Access Group

Delegates from the Festival of Work no doubt returned to their workplaces brimming with ideas for new initiatives that would support employees’ physical, mental and financial health in 2020.

Yet, before jumping in feet first and designing policies based on the latest trends, a word of warning – almost 60% of those we surveyed also said they had little or no confidence in their people data, while another 10% cited people data as their biggest workplace challenge.

Inconsistent, out-of-date data

Even though many organisations have made huge strides in recognising, and successfully tackling, the causes or poor mental and physical health, some continue to be held back by inconsistent, out-of-date and generally inaccurate people data.

We wouldn’t implement other business strategies without strong evidence – so why is HR so often unable to access the right information to ensure return on investment (ROI) on its health and wellbeing activities?

When decisions lack evidence, the danger is they will fail to gain traction with the workforce. For example, you might assume gym memberships or meditation will alleviate stress and improve overall health.

In fact, most employees would prefer flexible working to make their morning commute or the school run less stressful. On top of this, gym memberships and meditation can be costly, especially in a big organisation, but flexible working is free.

Right digital tools

HR professionals need the digital tools that will allow them to manage the “employee journey” within their organisation. This is the case whether we’re talking about using data from one-to-one sessions and appraisals, training and development objectives or health and wellbeing problems employees have faced, such as illness, absence or bereavement.

Working in HR today is all about adding value to business strategies. As custodians of people data, HR plays a key role in the strategic direction of the organisation, as well as ensuring it meets its employment law obligations.

Therefore the message for occupational health practitioners wanting to work effectively with HR has to be that, if health and wellbeing initiatives are to engage employees and deliver expected ROI, they must be firmly rooted in a single set of up-to-date data, available across a company-wide platform and comparable year-on-year.

This is as true of health and wellbeing as it is of any other HR policy.

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