Screening could keep public bodies in the pink

18 Sep 15

Ill-health among employees can be a costly drain on organisations, so action to improve staff wellbeing could prove a wise investment

Traditionally, corporate healthcare has been delivered as a perk for senior managers, with elements sometimes included as part of the benefits package offered to others – typically help with eye tests and dental care.

But as with a nation’s population, good health across an organisation benefits everyone. Employers that show an interest and provide support for staff health can create a healthier community, with lower rates of absence and reduced disruption, more energy and a shared sense of wellbeing and success.

Given the higher levels of absence seen in the public sector, and all the related costs, public bodies need to get a firmer grip on wellbeing and how culture and attitudes can be changed.

Better information will always help. Rather than running generic employee health programmes it’s important to get the facts straight and not assume that wellbeing just means diet and fitness. By using simple health checks for everyone you can get a picture of what’s needed in each division or location and tailor the response. Stress might be the major issue in head office, but in other areas of the organisation it might be obesity or musculoskeletal problems.

In June, Hertfordshire County Council began making health screening available to 8,500 employees as a low-cost, salary sacrifice option, delivered by an external partner, Bluecrest Wellness. Checks are wide-ranging, aimed at picking up on any early signs of issues that could affect health for the future. These include the basics such as body/mass index, cholesterol and blood pressure as well as musculoskeletal health and psychological wellbeing plus critical checks for different forms of cancer.

Council staff are based at four main sites in the county, as well as in the local community in libraries and residential homes. Screening days have so far been held at each of the main sites during the summer, as a means of ‘launching’ the offer, with more planned – but the aim is to be able to offer checks as and when staff want them, when they have any concerns about their health, so they do not to have to wait for the next planned event. Health screens can be made available for staff within 15 minutes’ drive of home or work, at local venues such as hotels and health clinics. With the agreement of a line manager, employees are able to use work time to attend the screening appointment.

Anonymised data from the screening services will allow the council to understand more about the changing health risks and general wellbeing of the workforce over time. It will be possible to track the impact of health initiatives over the longer-term and see what has been most effective in terms of return on investment – providing powerful data for justifying ongoing investment into wellbeing programmes.

We all have a strong sense that wellbeing is really important for productivity and performance, but how do we know? Quantifying the impact of health initiatives provides a powerful basis for continuing and developing the good work that’s being done. And that means more than just tracking absence figures. The problem of presenteeism – where people come into work but are less productive due to ill health – can be much bigger.

The Centre for Mental Health has estimated that the average annual cost to employers due to presenteeism associated with mental health problems is around £605 per employee, or £15.1 billion a year, almost twice the costs associated with absenteeism.

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