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Carol Black: Integrate HR and occupational health

Organisations should work harder to fully integrate their HR, occupational health (OH) and health and safety strategies, according to wellbeing expert Dame Carol Black.

Black, who is expert adviser on health and work for the Department of Health and principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, was speaking at the HR Directors Business Summit in Birmingham.

She said businesses need to bring the traditionally separate strands of HR, OH and health and safety together in order to become more proactive around employee wellbeing. “Bring together health promotion and prevention,” she said.

“Occupational health has been quite old-fashioned,” she explained. “[It needs to move] towards being proactive from being reactive. It needs a paradigm shift from being in the back office to being frontline support. Wellbeing goals must be aligned to business goals.”

Black added that “good work and workplaces” are an essential enabler of employee wellbeing, alongside engagement, empowering leadership and supportive managers.

“If I only had money to invest in one thing, I would invest it in training line managers,” she said. “The idea that training managers for people management is something soft and fluffy is not right.”

“Empowering staff within the right environment” is key, Black added, meaning HR needs to tie together engagement and wellbeing.

“If you aren't happy and well at work, you won’t eat the fresh fruit, you will buy the Mars Bar,” she said. “There’s no point just putting fruit out and providing a bicycle scheme. That’s not wellbeing at work.

“The sequence is good work and good workplaces first. Get that right and it will lead to employee wellbeing and engagement. That leads to increased productivity and improvement of your product.”