By Lindsey Dugdill, Professor of Public Health & Margaret Coffey, Reader in Public Health, School of Health Sciences, University of Salford
Employers have a duty of care to their employees and in the vast majority of cases are willing to invest in programmes to promote employee health. However, there is often a limited understanding of the nature of effective programmes, which can lead to both time and money being wasted on poorly planned and executed health promotion initiatives.
This research report, commissioned by the City of London Corporation, sought to answer the following question: “What constitutes best practice in workplace health and what are organisations currently doing about it?”
As the commissioned research team, we – Cavill Associates Ltd and the University of Salford - analysed current evidence of best practice in the international literature and compared this with qualitative interview data from 20 large organisations (250+ employees) operating within the Square Mile. These firms represented the financial, legal, and professional services sectors.
We found that most of the City firms that we interviewed have well-developed occupational health and employee assistance packages in place; provide ergonomic workstation assessments (including fast-track physiotherapy in some cases); and offer a range of lifestyle-type interventions, for example focusing on physical activity, healthy eating etc. Though these programmes are largely individually focused, some interviewees also have integrated approaches to promoting health and wellbeing, operating across the organisation, and delivered by health and wellbeing teams.
Mental health was identified as an area of workplace health that most companies interviewed want to develop further - currently, provision for addressing mental health issues is largely at an individually-focused level. However, there are some exemplar organisations which are attempting to address this; for example by putting in place an employee network of ‘mental health champions’.
The research found that the following types of programmes are considered to be most effective at improving employee health:
- Health promotion/wellness programmes - multi-component programmes covering a range of lifestyle issues (e.g. physical activity, diet, smoking cessation etc.), designed in participation with staff, and supported by senior management;.
- Mental health programmes - cognitive behaviour therapy and moderate short-term interventions targeted at people with an existing diagnosis of depression;
- Back pain and musculoskeletal health - exercise, ergonomic workstation assessment and early intervention through fast-track physiotherapy can all be worth investing in;
- Organisational approaches - holistic embedded organisational approaches to workplace health improvement such as flexible working practices and embedded management culture for health and wellbeing.
The research also provides a number of practical suggestions for companies looking to promote best practice in employee health and wellbeing. These include:
- ‘Needs assessment’ to identify staff needs;
- Integrated approaches to health and wellbeing across organisations, built on staff needs that tackle health problems at the source rather than dealing with the outcomes of poor health;
- Systematic evaluation of all approaches to workplace health promotion so that the evidence base and business case can be improved.
The research report ‘Promoting Best Practice in Employee Health and Wellbeing in the City of London’ is available to download from the City of London’s research webpage.