Katherine Hogg: A guide to health & wellbeing at work

At Bond Dickinson, HR have taken the role of spearheading the drive for health and wellbeing at work. Katherine Hogg details the methods in place to ensure wellbeing targets are met within the organisation. 

Whenever I go to a networking event or read an article, Health and Wellbeing seems to be the go to topic. The subject that everyone is talking about is a positive part of the HR professional’s role and everyone can identify with it. The only thing is that health and wellbeing as a discipline encompasses a huge array of different themes, which can range from focussed interventions to whole company health awareness campaigns. If you are new to it, knowing where to start can be confusing.

My first question would be why should we focus on it and what are the benefits for employees and employers? The first obvious reason is that is can reduce sickness absence and as we know, when this is reduced it can positively affect the bottom line. But going beyond that a good programme can also help with presenteeism. Just because your employees are sitting at their desks doesn’t mean they are producing the work you require. Some interventions can help with increased concentration and engagement issues which in turn lead to a better work life balance and ultimately can increase productivity and improve performance. It can also enhance an organisation’s reputation and standing with employees, stakeholders and the wider community.

So what is it exactly? A lot of organisations have been focussing on health and wellbeing for years without the tagline. They have given access to Employee Assistance Programmes, Occupational Health provision and health related employee benefits without taking it a step further. This in itself will reduce absence. You may already be doing more than you realise. Each organisation will decide how far they want to go and what their budget can afford. Some organisations provide flu jabs, allow easy access to physical activity and raise awareness of health issues and each of these things will help towards creating a healthy workplace. The direct cost of sickness absence to the UK economy is around £14billion per year and physical activity programmes at work have been found to reduce absenteeism by up to 20%. But even further than this they can also be instruments designed to show your employees that you are a supportive employer and help create a culture where the health and wellbeing of your staff is paramount to your values. A more engaged workforce will also impact on job satisfaction and help reduce turnover.

So now you know what you want to do, who should be responsible for health and wellbeing at work? A popular opinion is that HR should be responsible. Some firms have their facilities team drive their initiatives and whilst it sits well in both disciplines, to me it shouldn’t be one or the other. At Bond Dickinson, whilst we have taken the route of HR spearheading the drive, we try to link up with other disciplines to provide a cohesive offering, for instance Facilities provide our annual flu jabs and cover off the Health & Safety requirements. One step further than that is that the employees themselves should be responsible for their own health and wellbeing. One route to engaging the workforce is with individuals who volunteer to act as advocates across the firm to get the word out in a more meaningful way. Speaking to people directly to get buy-in will always beat dry information on internal channels or hard copy information. Bond Dickinson has Health Advocates who enable a two way conversation, ensuring any initiative we are working on is filtered out to the business whilst also acting as an essential feedback tool to help us keep our provision relevant.

At Bond Dickinson we were already doing the necessary Occupational Health and EAP interventions and have also provided flu jabs for quite a while. We wanted to pull it all together under one banner and start a programme of activity to try to enhance on our culture of valuing our people. We have had some really successful campaigns over the last couple of years. Last summer we rolled out a ‘work out at work’ session to each office, designed to encourage our predominantly desk based employees that they should be moving around more. Rather than a gym class in the office it was more of an opportunity to show what good back health looks like. This was to tackle the ever increasing muskulo-skeletal issues that are part and parcel of a white collar workforce. This was linked into our Summer Health programme, which included activities on summer skin health and also inter-office sports activities. We are currently deep into ‘March On’, a walking challenge designed to increase the number of steps taken by employees. Using pedometers given out by the firm, we have incorporated a competitive edge whilst incentivising with prizes. Looking forward, mental health awareness is a key issue on our agenda and whilst it was featured in last year’s programme, we will be supporting Mental Health Awareness week again this May, in conjunction with our Diversity and Inclusion group, to ensure our employees know that we can and will support them. Last year’s events included mindfulness sessions and the introduction of CBT referral service. This year we are looking at a programme of events to support employee’s resilience.
Like I said at the beginning, health and wellbeing can be incredibly positive but employees can be cynical, and you need to decide what is right for your organisation. Staff surveys or feedback to inform your provision will help you give your staff what they are looking for without throwing money on something that is irrelevant and unnecessary. Crunching the numbers and getting data to put together a business case may be a good place to start but even if you are challenged by a lack of budget, starting a lunchtime walking group will not have a cost but will still be a step in the right direction.

About Katherine Hogg

Katherine Hogg works for national law firm Bond Dickinson LLP providing HR advice, support and guidance across the firm. She has worked in HR for 20 years and has gained valuable experience across both the public and private sector. Katherine has been responsible for delivering the Health and Wellbeing programme for Bond Dickinson since 2015.

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