occupational health

Return to work interview: 5 strategies to improve your empathy skills

Continuing our focus on the return to work interview, this blog will look at the topic of empathy, how it is different to sympathy and why it is so important in the workplace.

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Empathy and sympathy intertwine constantly in our day-to-day lives, yet they each have a very different outcome. The dictionary definition of empathy is‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’. Sympathy is defined as‘feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune’. Sympathy tends to be the default emotional reaction, to show you are sorry for how somebody is feeling. Empathy requires more thought and a deeper understanding of exactly what the other person has gone through. It puts you in their shoes and shows that you have ‘heard’ them and that you are supportive of them. 

Health and wellbeing professionals often use empathy as a tool to open up difficult or sensitive conversations. It empowers the person as they realise you are ‘walking alongside’ them, not just pitying them. An employee returning to work after a period of long-term sickness absence will need a positive and constructive return to work interview.  If, as a manager, you can use empathy to show that you understand what they have been through and that you understand their concerns about returning to work, you will have a more positive outcome in supporting and integrating that employee back into the workplace.

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Referring your employee to an Occupational Health provider will have been the first step to getting an understanding of how the employee’s health will affect them back at work. Following that, and in preparation for the return to work interview, here are our 5 tips to improve your empathy skills:

  1. Do your homework. As with all return to work interviews preparation is paramount. This will demonstrate you are fully focussed on supporting the employee. Use your occupational health report, familiarise yourself with the history of the sickness absence and recommendations. What is the long-term impact for the employee? Do you understand fully the implications of any adjustments required? Is there a plan in place to get the adjustments implemented? Have you researched all the guidance that has been suggested by your occupational health report?

    Does the employee’s case qualify for Access To Work support?

  2. Walk in their shoes. Showing empathy means taking someone’s feelings into consideration and understanding their journey, even if you disagree with the route / treatment / approach they have taken. Before the interview, put yourself in their shoes and think about what changes/challenges they are facing. Imagine how it must be for them. 

  3. Practise makes perfect. Be aware through your day-to-day life, of how you use empathy and sympathy and notice the different responses to each.

    Here are some examples of empathy: 

    It is hard, you must be worried / exhausted / frustrated.

    Sometimes these things don’t really make sense.

    I can hear in your voice that _________ has been really difficult for you.

    I would be asking the same questions if I were in your situation.

    This kind of thing is never easy.

    I am on your side / I will be with you through this.

    That must be infuriating / so frustrating for you.

  4. Listen carefully. Find a private, quiet space without any distractions. If it’s more comfortable this could be away from the office. Put phones and laptops away. Listen with your whole body: be still, smile and nod reassuringly, maintain eye contact and be aware of your hand movements and gestures. Keep the range of your movements to a minimum so the full focus of your attention is on them. Ask open questions and listen carefully to their responses, use the 2 ears – 1 mouth rule: repeat back key information and use empathy in your responses. 

  5. Take notes. Make sure the employee is happy for you to take notes at the beginning of the meeting and offer to send them a copy. Write down what needs actioning, reviewing or researching and follow-up the action points taking any worries or concerns into consideration. 

    Do you have any other advice or tips to share? How have you used your empathy skills to support and welcome an employee back after a period of long-term sickness absence?

World Mental Health Day 2018 - The importance of resilience in the workplace

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This week has seen mental health awareness back in the headlines, with the unveiling of World Mental Health Day 2018. The focus has been on young people and their mental health in our changing world, and the messages will have no doubt struck a cord through every headline and media channel worldwide.

Ironically, as I’m sat with my head down, embedded in my social media and ‘catching up’ on the lives of my friends and family, I have been struck by the breadth of the conversation about mental health, from young to old. It’s true, it IS vitally important that we get in early and coach young people to handle the pressures that will inevitably come. But what about those of us for whom ‘early’ intervention is too late… we are already adults, and according to MIND, 1 in 4 of us is likely to suffer a mental health issue every year.

Furthermore, we spend at least 1/3 of our life at work, it stands to reason that the work environment has a huge part to play in our mental well-being. Interestingly, no matter how old you are the story is the same, it’s about resilience, the magical ability to get knocked down and pick yourself up. The ability to survive or even thrive under pressure, to change course, to remain positive and take failure as an incentive to try and try again. 

As a manager or HR in charge of the health and wellbeing of employees, this is an area that can easily be overlooked. It can feel like there is not enough money for the ‘essentials’ let alone the icing on the cake! Yet it is never ‘too little too late’, the environment you cultivate can have an immediate effect on employee wellbeing, keep them mentally safe AND have an immediate effect on the bottom line.  

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It could be as simple as signposting to occupational health or other relevant services or taking steps to assure employees that vulnerability may feel like a weakness but to others, it looks like courage and is a brave step to make. 

As we move boldly (and less blindly) into a new era, it’s becoming clear that resiliency is a tool for survival, rather than just for success. Through our many clients at Cordell Health the same 5 resiliency factors come up time and time again…none of them are big budget and they all deliver the end result of a happier, more empowered, healthier and more productive workforce. You are, after all, only as good as your employees at the end of the day! 

Foster a sense of community

People thrive on friendships and good social interaction. People who have positive relationships in the workplace are more likely to enjoy coming to work and be productive when they get there.  

Get moving

Physical health is fundamental to our mental health, and creating a pleasant working environment and promoting healthy behaviour can bring many benefits.

Build a psychologically healthy environment

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Make the workplace a pleasant and happy environment through recognition, reward, job security and a management style and culture that promotes mutual trust and respect. If a manager has a positive mindset and a positive attitude to work it will rub off on others. 

Promote learning and development 

Developing new skills enhances a person’s capabilities and is empowering and helps their sense of wellbeing too.

Seek help 

Sometimes people require specialist support with physical or mental health issues and may need to be referred on for more support. It could also be that your business needs support tackling some of the issues it faces. For example from

  • Occupational Health

  • Employee Assistance Programs

  • Human resources

  • Counselling

  • Physiotherapy

  • Ask employees to come forward and seek support if they feel they need it

How does your business go about boosting employee resilience and have you noticed an uplift since putting strategies in place?

Managing the return to work interview after an employee’s mental health illness.

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Following on in our series about the return to work interview, we focus this week on strategies to manage the process, following the absence of an employee with mental health illness. 

In many ways, this can be more of a challenge to management and HR than any other return to work interview. The improved attitude to mental health care over the last few years has certainly helped bring these issues to the table, yet there is still work to be done to reduce the stigma about mental health and keep up the communication at all levels. Source. This can create a challenging in encouraging an employee open up about what help they need and should be handled with sensitivity and care. 

The aim of the return to work interview in this instance is to create an honest and open dialogue that will lead to a system of support and understanding between employers and employees. The first step is often the hardest, but by reaching out to the employee on a regular basis during their time off, it should be a natural progression to discuss how the business might facilitate a return to work that ‘works’ for them. 

When they are ready, you might hold the return to work interview in an informal yet private location or they may be happy to come into the workplace. 

The first thing to discuss is confidentiality, this is one of the biggest concerns employees have about disclosure during and after a mental health illness. How it is handled is entirely at the discretion of the employee, they may like colleagues to be informed on their behalf, they might prefer totally confidentiality or be happy to share the story themselves. There is no right or wrong and the WRAP is the perfect tool to assess this…. 

This brings us neatly on to what is arguably the most important tool in a managers’ return to work kit, the WRAP ‘Wellness, Recovery, Action Plan’. This positive collaborative management tool is an informal contract between the employee and employer that details the support the employee needs to enable them to recover and stay in work and what the employer will do to facilitate that. 

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No two experiences of mental health illness are the same and the WRAP enables a person centred approach. This not only opens up the conversation but also gives the person control over their recovery and helps them feel confident that they will receive the support they need.  It might include questions such as ‘Can you describe any of your triggers for mental ill health and early warning signs that we might notice’, or ‘If your health deteriorates, or we feel we have noticed early warning signs of distress, what should we do? Who can we contact?’.

There might be points on the WRAP that a manager will consequently need to monitor, such as that the person isn’t working too many long hours, that they are taking their lunch break or supporting with a flexible approach to hours and workload. This will be an evolving process and used as a basis for ongoing discussion, the WRAP can be continually amended as the employee settles back into work and wellbeing. 

There is a good template on page 25 of the guide: ‘Managing and supporting mental health at work: disclosure tools for managers’ on the cipd website.

The final important point that a line manager handling a return to work interview should be aware of, is their ‘frame of reference’. This is the unique set of values and judgements that we all hold that affect the way we see the world and the people in it.  It affects every decision we make. For a return to work interview, a manager should leave their own ‘frame of reference’ at the door and try and see the situation from the employees perspective. This will enable them to truly listen and respond to the needs of the person in the room, without any preconceived outcome or solution in mind. 

For further information https://mhfaengland.org or https://www.mind.org.uk

Do you use WRAP in your workplace?  How have you found it as a management tool in terms of your employees’ responsiveness to it, after a period of absence with mental ill health? 

10 tips for managing the return to work interview after an employee has been off with stress.

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According to the Health and Safety Executive, in 2016, 37% of all cases of work-related ill health were due to stress (and related issues of anxiety or depression). Each case resulted in an average 24 working days lost, the implication of which can have a huge effect on any business, large or small. 

High staff turnover is expensive, so it makes business sense to reduce the chances of employees leaving as a result of work-related stress.  The key to preventing an employee leaving is often good communication and understanding their issues and frustration. 

Our last blog discussed the importance of considering issues from different perspectives and this can really help in these situations.  A return to work interview handled with particular care and thought is essential if you want to retain such employees.   

Here are our top ten tips at Cordell Health for managing the return to work interview with an employee who has been off with stress. 

1. Consider the interview an opportunity to ensure the employee’s issues are fully explored.

2. Be open and supportive; make the conversation as informal as possible. 

3. Be objective and leave your own feelings and opinions outside the room. Listen carefully and show an interest in what they have to say, even if you feel that the employee is being unfair. 

4. Try to fully understand the cause of their stress from their perspective, so you can work with them to reduce possible triggers and barriers to returning to work where possible. 

5. Using the HSE management standards for work-related stress as a framework for discussion is useful:

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  • Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment
  • Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work
  • Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
  • Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
  • Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation

The HSE has published a detailed questionnaire that has some really good return to work discussion points, ideal for a period of absence with stress. 

6. Discuss any medical advice given by a GP or occupational health professional and be honest about the changes that can be made by the business and the reasons for the recommendations that can’t be accommodated.  

7. It is important not to create unrealistic expectations or to fail to deliver on promises that might further increase the employees’ stress.

8. Use the interview to reinforce the employees’ importance to the business and let them know all about what has been going on in their absence. 

9. Agree how their progress back at work will be monitored, and set achievable goals that consider areas such as workload, regular breaks and impact on work-life balance.

10. Follow up the meeting with regular communication; frequent informal chats work well and may lead your employee to feel more likely to open up and share areas of concern or problems that arise. 

For more advice on supporting an employee with stress Fit For Work and the HSE have some really good strategies and tips. 

Have you had to manage an employee’s return to work interview after a period of absence with stress? Were there any strategies you used to help them feel at ease and support them in the road to recovery and keep them in employment?

The lasting value of effective leadership in occupational health.

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We are often asked by clients to justify the cost of our services in terms of return on investment or a tangible growth from the bottom line. Some aspects of occupational health allow for this, with analysis before and after the occupational health intervention. But many aspects don’t, because you are dealing with people, and business and no two are ever the same. There is no one set magic formula that will deliver on the task in hand.  Each case has its own value of what success looks like, and our role in occupational health is to help identify and deliver on that.

But value, to us as a profession, runs far deeper than that.  We wrote last week about the ways in which a business, such as occupational health, that has no set ‘product’, needs to consider that its value (to clients, individuals, to itself and the wider society) comes from its people. This is why recruitment and training in addition to the right leadership and management are SO important in our sector. We need a motivated workforce, with the right level of knowledge and skills, as well as the right set of values. 

The Oxford Dictionary defines values as, “ Principles or standards of behaviour; one's judgement of what is important in life”.

The organisation needs a culture that centres around and hopefully shares the same ‘values’ as its employees.  What is it that is important in life? For us in Cordell Health, and hopefully many in the wider occupational health workforce, it doesn’t always have to come from financial reward, but from BEING valued, the sense of which comes through being treated with dignity and respect. It is this self-perceived value that will drive and sustain motivation and results and success. 

Dignity and respect come from good leadership, described by Jim Collins in his 2001 book, Good to Great, as being a  “Level 5 Leader” characterised by: 

  • Personal humility; gives credit to others for success (“we have a great team”), and takes personal responsibility for failure
  • Professional will; having integrity, and resolve to do what is best for the organisation - getting the “right people on the bus, and the wrong ones off
  • Influences culture not by edict, but by example (so developing trust)

So it is, that the impact of the value we deliver in occupational health services can spread far and wide. Starting at the top, with a good choice of leaders and a good team:

  1. Managers promote the values of dignity and respect through good leadership. 
  2. A motivated team is built, with a shared value (working towards the common goal) and an understanding of their own value within the business.
  3. The value is passed on to clients and leveraged in the respectful treatment of employees and the skills and advice given on individual cases, such as those with health conditions or disabilities. ALL employees feel valued. All employees are motivated. 
  4. Society at large benefits from a culture where people are valued and consequentially there is a happier and healthier workforce. People are more productive, business is better, the cost of ill health is down and profits are up. 
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Through engagement with HR, managers and the senior leadership, we can add value to their organisations, and society in general, by encouraging cultures where all feel valued. The overall effect is positive for the bottom line and has a lasting effect running far deeper than the office walls. 

Delivering value in occupational health practice through effective leadership

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Dr Robin Cordell MBA FRCP FFOM

The value of what a business can deliver is important in every sector. It affects how much you can charge and vitally, how much you can make in return. For some sectors, it’s a monetary equation where costs of supply and demand are linked with a return on investment. For other sectors, the value is not always tangible, there isn’t a ‘product’ to buy and sell. These sectors, of which occupational health is one, are governed by the perspective of the people the services are delivered to, and the value of what they receive in return. 

At Cordell Health, we work hard to deliver ‘value’ to our clients, the individual employers that we see, the owners of our business and also importantly, the wider society that we can support.

For our clients, we offer value by understanding their needs with a timely communication of facts, which are not only evidence-based but also contextually relevant for the business. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and it’s not just about delivering assessments and reports to agreed performance indicators. We provide evidence-based advice that can make a visible difference to the ‘bottom line’ when dealing with the issues resulting from the impact of ‘work on health’ or ‘health on work’. 

For employees the value comes from a conversation, treating individuals fairly, impartially and courteously. We set a structured and efficient framework so we can ensure they are listened to and that those difficult issues or potential “elephants in the room”, can explore them through an honest conversation. We can then provide advice on how they may be able to improve their health.

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Our owners see value through profit, sought through careful consideration of all the elements of the value chain (first described by Michael Porter in his 1985 book on competitive advantage).  Having efficient processes, the right resources and a product of the required quality and price drives the profit.

In our business model, this allows us to reinvest in our own social enterprise and create a framework to support those businesses and employees who couldn’t otherwise afford access to our expertise. The more we grow, the more we can give and the value chain means we can we can fulfil our social mission and deliver value more broadly in society too. 

Our ‘product’ is people; they are the ones who deliver value to clients, their employees and our owners. Undoubtedly, they are our most important asset and it is essential that we recruit people with the right skills. These can be honed through training to best meet the needs of the paying client, and retained by motivating them to stay. 

This is where effective leadership skills at a management level are critical. Without those, no business can truly deliver value. We insist our leaders understand the industry within which we operate, its competitive forces, business processes and have effective management skills. Only then can they provide the high-level communications we require to support our staff, our clients and the right business decisions being made.

Through leveraging efficient management and effective leadership we are able to engage with our clients at any level, from HR to senior leadership teams. This feeds down to the skills of our people and the value they provide to our client's organisations, and society in general, by encouraging cultures where all feel valued, including those with health conditions and disabilities. 

We’d be interested to hear how you feel occupational health adds value to your business and how you measure its success if it’s not through ROI? 

A Manager’s guide to understanding Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and ADHD in the workplace.

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Having a diverse workforce has numerous benefits.  Many companies and managers see these benefits and are recruiting people from all walks of life.  But for some, there is a fear of the unknown and a lack of awareness of the impact or changes that would need to be made in the workplace in order to bring a person with a mental or physical difference into the team. 

In this week’s blog, we explore the four most common conditions, referred to in the context of neurodiversity, and suggest adjustments employers might consider to support these employees and maximise their contribution to the organisation. The aim is to mobilise the benefits those who have neurodiverse conditions can bring to work safely, without disadvantage compared to other employees.  Adjustments may cost little or nothing; having an open mind and a desire for innovation and positive change are the key to realising the business opportunities neurodiversity can bring.

Autism

What is it? Autism is a developmental disability characterised by rigid thinking, challenges with social interaction and communication, as well as restrictive and repetitive behaviours.

Strengths: Problem solving, analytical thinking, logical, sustained focus and capacity for lengthy periods of concentration. Can have great technical ability and attention to detail for in-depth tasks. Punctual, reliable, dedicated and loyal.

Challenges: The level of challenge is different for each person, but the need for strict rigidity in routines and tasks, as well as the avoidance of change, often needs managing. Obsessive behaviours and poor social skills can cause friction with colleagues who don’t understand the disability. 

Solutions: An agreed detailed training plan, as well as a structure to the working day, will assist.  Access to a mentor to provide support through the social and self-esteem challenges those with autism commonly face.  Education for other members of staff in how to work with those with autism will help.  Consider redesigning a job to play to their strengths.

Dyslexia

What is it? Dyslexia is defined by the British Dyslexic Association (BDA) as a lifelong specific learning difficulty that mainly affects the development of literacy and language-related skills.  It is characterised by difficulties with processing words, rapidly naming, and working memory. A person with dyslexia’s skill in reading and writing will often not match their intelligence.

Strengths: Creative thought, insight and coming from a different perspective in problem-solving – “thinking outside of the box”.  Those with dyslexia can have an exceptional ability for pattern or trend spotting, whilst also being able “to see the big picture”. May well be “visual thinkers”, grasp opportunities, and good at problem solving and non-verbal communication. 

Challenges: Spelling and handwriting, short-term memory function, timekeeping and attention span. May have self-esteem and anxiety issues. 

Solutions: Awareness training for colleagues and managers, and training for the dyslexic employee to recognise and address areas for development. Mind-mapping software, dictation tools, and other resources to help those with dyslexia function at work and optimise their performance. Different coloured text or paper can make reading easier and a variety of communication styles (visual, audio) may help on an individual basis. 

Dyspraxia 

What is it? Dyspraxia is a developmental disorder characterised by coordination problems. This may have been first noticed as delayed or lower ability in fine or gross motor skills (for example playing sports).

Strengths: Insightful and good at creative ‘‘big picture’’ thinking, pattern-spotting and reasoning. Resourceful and determined problem solvers.

Challenges: Hand-eye co-ordination, spatial awareness, sensitivity to noise, touch, smell and taste. There can be reading, writing and speech difficulties, and short-term memory, organisation or planning challenges. 

Solutions: A positive and encouraging work environment with disability awareness training for all employees. Technology to aid memory, voice recognition software, reminders or electronic diary to aid memory. Regular work breaks. Support of a coach in work to aid their organisational abilities. 

ADHD

What is it? Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a disorder of brain function that is characterised by the person being inattentive, hyperactive or impulsive. 

Strengths: The constant desire for stimulation and information means those with ADHD often excel under pressure, can handle uncertainty and are often skilled at multitasking and taking calculated risks.  They may be insightful and good at creative thinking and problem-solving. 

Challenges: Maybe “absent-minded”, easily distracted, impatient, impulsive. May seem distracted, distressed, restless or disorganised. Time management can be a challenge and there may be social awkwardness or have problems of self-esteem, depending on the severity of ADHD.

Solutions: Helpful and empathetic management, and perhaps a mentor to support with coping strategies and to help prioritise and organise goals, priorities and “to do” lists. Clear communication and technology to aid memory.  Regular breaks and time for physical activity during the day. 

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For any individual, and especially in the context of neurodiverse conditions, it is important for managers and HR advisors to understand that there is no “one size fits all” solution.  Each person will face their own challenges and our advice is to keep an open mind, maintain an honest dialogue, and to accept people for who they are. By working with employees to find the best path for them, and to discuss and understand the coping strategies they already have in place, employers will be able to reap the rewards of a successful and productive workforce whose strength lies in its diversity.  

Advice on disability awareness training may be found at Cordell Health

Further information on supporting those with disabilities in the workplace, in order to realise the potential through their abilities, may be found on the Remploy website.

Why we need more professionals in occupational health!

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The Council for Work and Health have revealed that the occupational health sector is understaffed in their report: ‘Planning The Future: implications for occupational health, planning and delivery’. In this publication, they reveal that demographic trends and lifestyle changes have led to a greater need for more occupational health services and how the whole sector is in urgent need of recruitment. 

The report has been written for anyone from senior policymakers, to employers and managers. It supports the need for occupational health to diversify and demonstrate to business the benefits and return on investment that comes with quality occupational health support. 

Concern has arisen after the number of professionals training for careers in occupational health has fallen. It’s felt that the increasingly complex needs of the nations’ workforce, with increasing requirements for mental health care as well as the increasing prevalence of long-term chronic conditions and the particular challenges of ‘lifestyle diseases’ caused by obesity present a challenge to medical professionals. It is also recognised that the speciality of occupational health is not well known or publicised and that the rewards this career brings with it not publicly acknowledged. 

Whilst NHS resources are good, they are stretched, and therefore occupational health should become part of both mainstream healthcare and every business strategy. Calling on external providers to meet a need or keep a workforce healthy should become the norm. Every business has the power to help change the way health and wellbeing are thought about in the workplace. 

There is an absolute and urgent need to attract and train high calibre occupational health professionals by developing clear and attractive career pathways. The report demonstrates that we need an ‘occupational health workforce with a distributed range of knowledge, skills and competencies’, to cope with the changes to the nation's workforce. 

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Recruitment is an ongoing hot topic here at Cordell Health. We constantly strive to make sure our team is recruited from differing backgrounds so that each individual team member brings something new to the table. We support all of our clinicians in further specialisation in fields of their choice which will add value to our clients’ companies.

Nikki Cordell says ‘working in occupational health is one of the most rewarding careers you can have. The diversity of the role and the opportunity to work in both the public and private sector at Cordell Health means no two days are the same.  The impact you can have on an individual and their future can be life-changing. We are always looking to support training in the field of occupational health and when the right person wants to join the team, we are happy to explore job opportunities within the business. ’

If you have a background in health or health administration and are interested in discussing a potential career in occupational health in these exciting times, or just want to experience this speciality, please get in touch with the team at Cordell Health.  We would also be interested in hearing from you if you already work in occupational health and are looking to explore different and potentially challenging opportunities in a different type of occupational health business. 

Cordell Health leads the agenda in Wellbeing at Work

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Here at Cordell Health, wellbeing at work is always a hot topic of conversation.  We are ever so slightly obsessed with what more can be done to assist productivity for businesses and improve life for their employees.

Last week (6th March 2018), we were excited that one of our Directors, Dr Robin Cordell, in his capacity as a Director of the Council for Work and Health, chaired the national policy session at the Health and Wellbeing @Work conference at the NEC in Birmingham. 

Top level speakers, positioned to make a real difference in the future policy making of our nation's health and work, came together to discuss and share information and strategy on a variety of key issues. Among the many topics were the International and Public Health England’s perspectives towards health and work and the NHS England strategy for improving the health of the NHS workforce.

One of the most interesting presentations was Paul Farmer CBE, Chief Executive of Mind and co-author of the Stevenson/Framer review of mental health and employers. He spoke about the key findings of the Gov.uk thriving at work review which reports that the UK workforce is facing a mental health challenge that is a lot bigger than we thought and that employers are losing billions of pounds because employees are less productive, less effective, or off sick.

The review demonstrates that investing in the support of mental health at work is good for business and productivity. The most important recommendation is that all employers, regardless of size or industry, should adopt six “mental health core standards” that lay basic foundations for an approach to workplace mental health.

These are:

  1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan.
  2. Develop mental health awareness among employees.
  3. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling.
  4. Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work-life balance and opportunities for development.
  5. Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors.
  6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

At Cordell Health, we regularly inform our clients that change starts at the top. It is the empowered, effective and supportive leadership that can drive the motivation for an organisation to implement these ‘six mental health core standards’.

Our view was backed up in the final session of the day in which a panel chaired by Dr Robin Cordell debated the advantages and disadvantages of providing financial incentives for employers to support health at work and to provide incentives for employees to engage in initiatives to support their own health. The panel found that it is the senior leadership of the organisation that set the right culture for health and encourage the behaviours of employers and employees that promote health at work.

Exciting times ahead. We are certainly looking forward to supporting many more businesses as they become more health and wellbeing aware and step onto the road to change.

6 Ways Occupational Health Can Help Your Business Boom

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The value of occupational health in a business is often judged by a return on investment.  Is the cost per head going to deliver the profit we need? It’s the way most businesses need to think in order to survive. Yet, a true picture of success does not always lie purely in the financial benefit, but also in the far broader and deeper reaching value (culturally, socially, emotionally) that a good occupational health program can provide.

There’s no denying that employee health and wellbeing contribute to successful business performance.  When supported by occupational health to encompass the work environment, culture and interpersonal relationships, the resulting productivity really can make a business boom.

There is no ‘one size fits all’. Every company has its own culture and challenges and it takes analysis and comprehensive risk assessment to design a bespoke service for maximum effect. Here we have identified the 6 most common issues faced by many businesses and identified how the implementation of occupational health service might help.

1. Reduce Sickness Absence

This is one of the most common issues and with sickness absence estimated to cost UK businesses £28.8 billion each year (PWC Research. The Rising Cost of Absence 2013. CBI. London. 2013.) it’s no wonder!  Work-related ill health and health problems related to unhealthy lifestyle respond well to a specific needs and risks assessment that improves employees’ general health and performance at work. The benefit is both direct and indirect with significantly reduced sick leave and improved performance/ productivity at work.

It might mean implementing staff health assessments, optional immunisation programs or targeting a specific training issue (such as lifting techniques). Also, welfare counselling or an overall health and well-being drive to improve employee sleep health, diet and exercise regimes.

2. Reduce Presenteeism

Presenteeism is when employees are at work but with reduced levels of productivity. It might be that they have come into work when they are unwell/ overtired/ suffering from a mental health issue or as a symptom of the workplace culture. Whilst it is unlikely to be completely avoidable, by evaluating the top preventable causes of productivity loss, cultural or individual changes can be implemented that improve productivity as well as overall wellbeing.

3. Health and Safety

Occupational health can significantly contribute to the overall health and safety systems in an organization. to ensuring compliance with regulations/ policy for health and safety.  Research by the Health and Safety Executive has shown that a sense of ‘physical security’ including safe working practices, adequacy of equipment and pleasantness of work environment is important for employees. Health and safety interventions are often focused on the prevention of injury and may not consider the health benefits or impact of any intervention.   Working with occupational health can help ensure that interventions leverage health benefits as well as meet safety requirements. Ultimately investment in prevention is always a better for a business’ reputation, as well as for financial and cultural benefit.

4. Reduce Employment Costs

Employment costs are high and improved wellbeing and good occupational health support can help develop a supportive work culture, which retains existing employees and attracts talented employees to the business.

Research (Aviva. The Sixth Health of the Workplace Report) shows that when looking for work employees were more likely to choose an employer who took health and wellbeing seriously (66%) and felt they would have a duty to work harder because of it (43%). In addition, occupational health can reduce employment costs through support with early return to work programs for employees who are sick absent and appropriate adjustments for those who have a disability.

5. Encourage Diversity

A diverse workforce is stronger and more creative, the more elements of society it represents, the more views and resources it has to draw on and the better the business’ competitive edge. Not only that, but disabled people provide a loyal and committed workforce.  Occupational health can add value by offering support through disability awareness training, educating employers, on the benefits of diversity and the positive impact it can deliver and how workplace adjustments can support those with a disability in work.

6.  Management Training

Line managers are the gatekeepers to employees’ happiness or stress and by supporting, educating and training them in how to manage sickness absence appropriately, business will often see productivity boom.

Training might include Mental Health First Aid, understanding the role of occupational health in supporting employees with long-term health problems and understanding how much the workplace can have a negative or positive impact on the long-term health and wellbeing of employees.  Improving communication, adjusting roles and appraising employees to encourage performance may have a massive effect on positive mental health, employee wellbeing, job satisfaction.  Ultimately this can have a knock-on effect on improved performance and a reduction in sickness and presenteeism rates.

To find out more about occupational health and wellbeing in the workplace contact Cordell Health or have a look at the wellbeing section of the Business in the Community website.

Why looking after employees sleep health is good for business

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Last night I had a rare, but welcome, night of great sleep. I maxed out the full 8 hours and woke up feeling full of beans ready to kick start the day. I have probably achieved more in 4 hours this morning than I achieve in a whole day when I’m not properly rested.

The amount of sleep our nation gets has been in decline over a number of years, according to the NHS, 1 in 3 people suffer from Insomnia. There are a million reasons we’re all struggling to sleep, from technology and our inability to switch off, to the increasingly blurred lines between work and home life too.

It’s those increasingly blurred lines that have got the attention of the Government and with research by RAND Europe revealing that the cost of lost sleep to the UK is estimated at £40 billion a year, they are encouraging businesses to take more notice.

Whether or not the problem causing the lack of sleep comes from the workplace, the impact on an individuals ability to perform and the impact on the business remains the same. For employees to achieve their potential and make our businesses stronger, we need to understand that sleep is as important as good diet and exercise, and without enough of it, we simply do not do our best.  

Line managers play an important role. The impact of sleep deprivation often occurs over a long period of time, which means that employees often don’t notice they’re missing out. The first challenge is for line managers to learn to recognise the symptoms of sleep deprivation. Identified here by the Public Health England Sleep and Recovery Toolkit.

  • Decreased communication
  • Performance deterioration
  • Poor concentration/ easily distracted
  • Poor cognitive assimilation and memory
  • Poor mood/ inappropriate behaviour
  • Greater risk-taking behaviour
  • Inability to make necessary adjustments
  • Increased intake of caffeine/ energy drinks
  • Increased sickness/ sickness absence.

The next step is to take action and consider if the time is right to review the organisations’ whole approach to health and wellbeing so that it includes sleep.  The advice and support of a specialist occupational health service such as Cordell Health can help as they will monitor and assess workers health, safety and performance across the whole company. They will also be able to suggest and help implement positive changes that will result in more engaged, healthy and productive employees.  This will help those already affected and importantly put preventative measures and cultural changes in place.

Starting the conversation about lack of sleep with employees can be challenging as it is such a personal issue and can be hard to discuss. The self-assessment tools at Sleepio and NHS Choices are a great first step to opening the lines of communication and offer some good advice.

There are 8 recommendations identified by Public Health England to help employees recuperate:

  • Help employees to understand the impact of excessive screen time on their mental wellbeing, work/life balance and sleep
  • Encourage them to have screen breaks including a break from social media and news channels throughout the day.
  • Hydration aids recovery, so make drinking water available throughout the workplace.
  • Encourage exposure to natural light, sunshine helps the body recover natural rhythms disrupted by poor sleep or lack of sleep.
  • Walking meetings, outside lunches and breaks from work that involves stepping out of the workplace can all be promoted.
  • Ensure staff have a quiet space away from their desks to eat lunch and consider providing spaces for staff to relax during the working day or night.
  • Break out spaces, sofa areas and relaxation pods are used by some employers to promote rest and recovery.
  • Ensure staff take their full holiday entitlement. Time off work is not ‘nice to have’ but an essential element of work/life balance.

As well as this, there are some brilliant apps that employees can be encouraged to download that will help them get a better understanding of their sleep patterns and the triggers involved. These will not only help promote self-care but can be followed up with an open door policy in the workplace and support with signposting to where employees can get help if they need it.

  • SleepBot uses a motion tracker in a smartphone to monitor movement and can keep track of sleep cycles and record sound levels. There are detailed tables that break down your sleep history by date etc. It also has a nice little section where you can make a note of your mood or something that disturbed you (noise or a thought) in the night. 
  • The iMoodJournal tracks mood, sleep, medication and energy levels through the phone.
  • There is a sleep tracker within the clock function of the iPhone (ios10) that can monitor how you sleep as well as be set to remind you when it’s time to go to bed and gently wake you at the optimum time in the morning.
  • Fitbit can monitor sleep as well as encourage fitness. It provides easy to read graphics that show sleep cycles and restless period through the night.

Hopefully, this will help you to think about the importance of reviewing employees sleep health and wellbeing in your workplace. Have you noticed any of the warning signs of in your team? How do you think you will approach it with them?

The value of Occupational Health

What is Occupational Health? 

Occupational Health covers all aspects of the health of employees in the workplace. It can be preventative, supportive or reactive depending on the needs of the employee and the employer.

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Occupational health professionals come from a number of different healthcare backgrounds including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and technicians. They can each provide specialist expertise, depending on their background and qualifications, to assist a business in looking after the health of its staff.

How can Occupational Health add value to my business?

By law, employers have a duty of care to make sure employees are looked after at work. Occupational Health can assist with this in a number of ways from assessing people’s fitness for safety critical roles, providing advice and screening for health surveillance, educating employees and most importantly, timely advice on supporting people with health problems in work or back to work.

The way people work and are managed at work can have a big effect on their health. The Government is encouraging employers to create healthy workplaces and help manage the cost to the economy of work-related ill health, which is currently estimated at £100bn a year.  Healthy, happy employees are more productive and tend to stay with their employer for longer, reducing the hidden costs of presenteeism and staff turnover.

Which side is Occupational Health on – the employer who pays the bills or the employee?

The answer to this is neither. A good occupational health professional will be objective and spend time with both the business and the employee.  They will need to understand the business’ needs, the constraints of the role and any concerns raised.

The employee will also have a confidential medical or consultation with the occupational health professional, and make sure they fully understand the situation based on the employees' difficulties or needs.

Must a business take the advice of an occupational health professional?

The business should review the advice and consider what is best for the business and the individual. If the recommendations are difficult to implement or they feel are not in the organisations’ best interest, they should take some time to discuss this with the occupational health professional.

They don’t have to follow the advice given and are free to consider other sources of information and have more contact with the employee if necessary.

Money should never be a barrier to implementing changes suggested by Occupational Health. The Government offers grants through its Access To Work scheme, to provide funds to help employers make reasonable adjustments to support employees with medical issues stay in work or get back to work.

Why can’t the business just rely on a fit note or letter from a GP?

Occupational Health is a specialist area of medicine that takes years of training and practise, in the same way, that a doctor might specialise in Surgery or Dentistry, they might also specialise in Occupational Medicine. As a specialist, they have extensive knowledge about different health conditions and their impact on work. This is something that a GP or a hospital doctor might know very little about and may find it difficult to understand the individual’s health problems from a work perspective.  

Interested in more information?

If you want to know more about the value of Occupational Health for the business please contact Kathryn at Cordell Health for a chat or download Occupational health: the value proposition from the society of Occupational Medicine here.