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Health and Wellbeing at Work: Day one round-up

“Don’t wait,” said the chair of the consultancy Tyler Grange, on implementing a four-day week -

The HR magazine team has been chairing the Best Place to Work seminar stream at this year’s Health and Wellbeing at Work show, which began yesterday (12 March), at Birmingham’s NEC.

Here’s what we learned on day one.

Ask the right questions

When deciding how to spend on employee wellbeing, we tend to focus on the outcomes we want to achieve, said Jo Yarker, an occupational psychology professor and managing partner for the research and consultancy organisation Affinity Health at Work. “But the outcome is only part of the story,” she argued.

Speaking to a packed seminar theatre, Yarker explained that it is worth taking a broader view by conducting a mapping exercise. Leaders planning a wellbeing strategy, she said, should ask themselves: 'What are the root causes of the problem we are trying to solve, and does what we already have in place bring us closer to solving it?

'What are people using to solve the problem, and why? What evidence do I have that the tools we have are working?'

C-suite buy-in is key, but to get the best results, HR should feel empowered to ask the right questions, as well as to get involved in research, Yarker suggested.

She added: “Good, evidence-based interventions won’t work if we don’t create the environment for success.” This includes factoring in existing resources, selling the benefits, motivating staff and carefully considering all aspects of the implementation.

Read more: Three ways to avoid 'wellbeing washing' in the workplace

Successful wellbeing programmes require a people-led approach

Emma Jackson and Leo Capernaros, health and wellbeing leaders at the waste management firm Biffa, reflected on their colleague-centric approach to engaging frontline operatives, a predominantly male workforce of truck drivers, many of whom have low digital literacy.

Jackson, Biffa’s health and wellbeing advisor, explained how the firm’s Energy programme had improved employee engagement over two years by focusing on the topic areas of emotions, nutrition, exercise, rest, goals and ‘you’. While the first year embedded the programme’s broader aims, the second year focused on how to deliver more positivity about each focus area.

The Biffa team used gamification, 92 mental health first-aiders and a highly tailored, data-led approach to engage staff and improve wellbeing among its operatives.

Capernaros, Biffa’s head of health and wellbeing, detailed the key focuses for his department in the years to come. He likened wellbeing strategy to a cruise ship: “It needs to be visible,” he said, while having plenty going on below deck, to drive effective, person-led wellbeing."

Read more: Indeed lists top 10 employers for work wellbeing in the UK

“Don’t wait; change how you work”

Simon Ursell, chair of the landscape planning consultancy Tyler Grange, detailed the dos and don’ts of implementing a four-day week and encouraged leaders to challenge the way they’ve always done things.

Ursell claimed that introducing a four-day week has made his workforce 36% more productive, and has also decreased absenteeism by 66%. Ursell's workforce reported being 28% more alert and 14% happier.

Having a four-day week has also made recruitment easier, according to Ursell, and has increased retention, though Ursell noted that for him, retention isn’t necessarily a measure of organisational success; he supports an approach that sees businesses actively funding employee development that may assist in them leaving the business and improving their overall wellbeing.

Drawing his talk to a close, he urged attendees to make the most of first mover advantage by implementing a four-day week before competitor businesses. Waiting to see how other businesses do it before yours will negatively impact your work, Ursell suggested.

“Don’t wait,” he said, “change how you work.”


Rapid access to care can be essential

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust set up a new service providing rapid access to mental health support for staff within the five NHS trusts across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The service aims to contact anyone who is referred within three days and give an initial assessment in two weeks.

Muzaffer Kaser, a consultant psychiatrist who heads up the service, explained that rapid access to care is hugely important in occupational health.

He said: "We need to get support rapidly to people because they likely already have a delay in people coming forward when they need help. They may have difficulties accessing occupational health or their GP, so if we keep adding delays, people's mental health can deteriorate further by the time they get help."

The service has had persistently high demand since it was established. Approximately 4% of staff accessed the service, and more than 1,000 referrals were made in the last two years. The vast majority (84%) of people who used the service said that it helped them cope better with the demands of their job.

Kaser added: "This service is all about flexible support rather than rigid pathways. Options can include psychiatric review, psychotherapy with clinical psychologist or support from an occupational health nurse. In complex cases, it might be a combination of a number of types of support."