HealthatWorkImageAnn McCracken, Managing Director AMC2 and a Vice President of the International Management Association (ISMAUK), will be chairing the Health @ Work Summit on the 20th June 2013.

The 2013 Health @ Work Summit has the title – Understand how to deliver a healthier workforce to improve your bottom line.  For some time now there have been articles in the press and social media about the importance of wellbeing and, more recently, comments on the Return on Investment of such programmes. What I am wondering is … has there been a step change in thinking? Is there a movement to value staff at all levels in the workplace?  By encouraging a healthier, happier and resilient workforce there will be more engagement, commitment and desire to support initiatives which have been introduced with serious consideration of all concerned.

I believe that “how to deliver a healthier workforce to improve the bottom line” is a great start. A number of apparently successful case studies have and will be presented at the Health @ Work Summit, but it is the perceptions of the managers and staff which are not always measured that can either make or break such initiatives.

At the moment, a friend of mine is awaiting to hear if he will be one of the 25% to be made redundant from an organisation which has vital UK security contracts. All the staff are highly technically qualified but still, 25% will go to make the organisation profitable. As the consultation process grinds on, the staff are feeling vulnerable, the level of trust is low, and of course morale is rock bottom. Stress resilience has never been more relevant.  In particular, trying to keep a positive outlook is challenging, despite the fact that it is essential to keep the body and mind in a fit and healthy state, ready for whatever their fate is.

I believe that to develop a healthier workforce requires less aggression, more trust and challenging discussions if people are not being fair and giving their best for the remuneration offered. When I work with organisations and their staff I often hear such statements as:  “the bosses don’t care”, “I’m just a number”, “HR are all for the Management and very unapproachable” or “I won’t tell HR anything because I don’t trust them”. How sad!  When I reported this to the HR Manager the comment I got was “well they would say that wouldn’t they!”

There is a clear lack of trust on both sides, some of which may be caused by aggressive unions and employees making challenging demands but, in my experience,  the vast majority of workers just want to do a good job, get paid and feel good about the organisation and themselves.

In our Corporate Diagnostic Assessment Tool, as well as covering the 6 HSE Risk factors and whether stress is home or work based, we also ask reputational questions. We find it is often the Middle Managers who have not got a good word to say about their organisation. These people are pressurised from above to carry out (sometimes unpopular) initiatives, but also feel the pain of their employees as the initiatives bite.

The recession has had a serious effect on morale as wages have not reflected the rise in costs, but we seem to have this opinion that nothing must change. We may buy the same things in cheaper outlets, or keep an eye out for sale bargains, but young people and teenagers still must have the latest mobile phone, designer gear, the latest game app and whatever is ‘in’. Car sales may be slowing down but perhaps the peak has passed and targets need to be more achievable for sales personnel. Unachievable targets create anxiety and desperation. Our profit driven, consumer society may need to take a long hard look at what we are doing to our health, wellbeing and the sanity of our workforce.

To deliver a healthier workforce we need to look to the causes of workplace ill health which HSE statistics tell us are stress, anxiety and depression. More accidents are caused when people are experiencing the ill health effects of stress. Stress not only causes mental health issues, but also a wide variety of physical, behavioural and emotional issues, all of which can take employees away from the workplace. As most HR functions have been devolved to the Managers, it falls on this group to develop the skills to help themselves cope – Self Awareness, Stress Awareness, Mental Health Awareness, Stress Resilience, Advanced Communication Skills. Managers will then be approachable so that they can gain the trust of the employees, who will feel they can discuss issues (both work and personal if they wish) in the knowledge that the manager will listen intelligently, and signpost them to the options put in place by Occupational Health, HR and the Training department. The organisation is taking a proactive approach to wellbeing by identifying staff issues before they become absent due to ill health, potentially leading to chronic absence which is very costly.

This is where the Return on Investment in People Managers who want to support their staff will occur. I make a distinction between People Managers who want to support staff and Technical Managers, many of whom have no interest in managing staff but are brilliant at getting a job done alongside competent colleagues.

Not everyone has the emotional intelligence, adaptability, empathy and influencing skills to be a People Manager, but their technical skill set, decisiveness and motivation entitles them to be rewarded appropriately.

Using our on line tools, we support and train Managers to bridge the gap between knowledge and management competences, ensuring they have various options to work with staff, all of whom have different communication styles and individual needs. The result is respect, trust and healthy outcomes using existing Employee Assistance Programmes, wellbeing initiatives specific to the organisation and a lot of common sense! This is how to encourage the workforce to improve the bottom line.