Employee health - the rationale for corporate investment

Kevin Thomson

Kevin Thomson

Head of HealthFirst

Employee health - the rationale for corporate investment

House of Commons roundtable event, Feb 8th 2017

Kevin Thomson was recently asked to participate in, and contribute an essay to, a new report that was launched at the House of Commons by Dame Carol Black, Mike Beresford MP and Unum. The essay is part of a series focusing on what more needs to be done to support working people with health problems to stay in, and thrive, at work:

Organisations often talk about their employees being their'number one asset'.

As such there are clear commercial imperatives for enabling employees to remain active and well. 

Indeed employment experts agree that investing in the health of your employees is not only the right thing to do, but has many tangible business benefits. 

Improving employee health contributes to enhanced organisational productivity through lower absenteeism and increased levels of motivation, output and engagement. 

By creating a working environment that supports employee health, employers help staff to feel happy, competent and satisfied, and more committed to their individual roles and collective corporate purpose.

As Kevin Thomson, Head of HealthFirst at BMI Healthcare, remarks:

The evidence is compelling for taking action to nurture employee's health at work. Doing so not only benefits employees and makes organisation better places to work, the evidence also shows that people who achieve good levels of health are able to demonstrate a wider range of skills that will also benefit their employer

More than employee engagement

To help minimise both absenteeism and presenteeism (working while either physically or emotionally unwell), thereby maximising business performance, businesses should think about implementing targeted healthcare strategies. 

In doing so, it is important to distinguish between employee health and engagement. While the two are closely linked, improving health requires a more rounded approach than an average employee engagement programme, with a deeper focus on enabling employees to maximise their personal resources by creating good work-life integration. 

Health and engagement should also be developed equally: where there is high engagement but low levels of health, there is a risk of burn-out over time. 

Conversely, where there are good levels of health but low engagement, employees are likely to feel disconnected from an organisation's vision, mission and overall strategic direction.

Preventative, proactive, productive

Healthcare strategies will obviously vary from one organisation to another. 

A preventative model allows businesses to offer advice and treatment to their employees before small, minor problems become serious issues. 

It covers everything from health assessments and health education events to flu clinics, vaccinations and advice on lifestyle changes. 

By investing in these preventative services, businesses can spot, diagnose and treat employee health problems early.

However, as part of an overall healthcare strategy this model should also ensure that, if required, employees also have fast and convenient access to a range of referral based pathways. 

These could range from occupational health, GP consultations, physiotherapy and psychology as well as outpatient and in-patient healthcare services. Such service provision means employees who do need further support will be back to full health sooner rather than later.

Contributors to 'What next for health at work?'

  • Professor Dame Carol Black, Expert Adviser on Health and Work to Public Health England and the National Health Service England
  • Liz Walker, Director of Human Resources and Dr Chris Schenk, Chief Medical Officer, Unum
  • Stephen Bevan, Head of HR Research Development, Institute for Employment Studies
  • Dr Steve Boorman CBE, Director Employee Health, Empactis
  • Jenny Edwards CBE, Chief Executive, Mental Health Foundation
  • Dr Richard Heron, Vice-President Health and Chief Medical Officer, BP plc. President, Faculty of Occupational Medicine
  • Professor Sayeed Khan, Chief Medical Adviser and Terry Woolmer, Head of Health and Safety Policy, EEF
  • Dr James Kingsland OBE, President, National Association of Primary Care
  • Kevin Thomson, Head of HealthFirst, BMI Healthcare
  • Audrey Williams, Partner, Fox Williams LLP
  • Professor Anthony Woolf, Chairman, Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance

Empowering employees for mutual success

It's naïve to assume that health and active living is a uniform concern or focus among all employees.

However, this highlights a key issue, the fact that employee health is something that employers should care about.

This includes the basics of health and safety in terms of protecting employees from risk and poor working conditions. 

But it goes far beyond that, employers should not just help employees avoid ill-health, but should support their achievement in good health; empowering their employees to improve their health behaviour both at home and in the workplace.

When developing these support services, employers should ensure their approach centres on the benefit to their employees. 

Indeed, organisations shouldn't always seek a monetary return on their investment. Rather, they should focus on assessing the subjective value of their investment. 

This may provide a more rounded approach to the development of key initiatives within organisations.

By delivering a positive healthy working environment that encourages regular physical activity, healthy eating, work-life integration and healthcare support, businesses will empower their employees and their own organisation.

Organisations will then minimise healthrelated disruptions to their own business and help maintain a healthy, satisfied and effective workforce.

Developing a culture of health

Finally, the culture of an organisation plays an important role in workplace satisfaction and companies are increasingly investing in the development of their workplace culture. 

Encouraging and enabling a healthy lifestyle is a key part of this. One positive measure is to ensure that all levels of the organisation are involved creating and maintaining the 'mechanism' to ensure good levels of both job and life satisfaction. 

In particular, business leaders have an obligation to ensure that they live and breathe the positive values they look to portray, offering trust, respect and autonomy to their work colleagues. 

In return employees who feel valued by the organisation, will provide high levels of enthusiasm, creativity, put in more discretional effort as well as become a brand advocates. 

As Kevin Thomson, Head of HealthFirst at BMI Healthcare states:

There are few enlightened companies who continually focus on developing a culture of health throughout the organisation, where the employee is considered as important as its customers.
In these organisations, there is a simple belief that, if employees are 'healthy and happy' and buy into the brand strategy of the organisation then they in turn will put in maximum effort.

HealthFirst is dedicated to providing corporate healthcare services including health assessments, physiotherapy and private GP appointments, to organisations across the UK.