Q: How do I start a Health at Work programme?

A: 1. What are you doing already to encourage Health at Work – and where are the gaps? You can get a free Health Report on your organisation if you join Vitality’s ‘Britain’s Healthiest Workplace’ scheme. This includes benchmarking information and practical suggestions to improve Health at Work.

2. Decide if you want to tackle the causes of ill-health at work or the symptoms – or both. Take stress-related illness. Do you want to identify and tackle the root causes of stress in your organisation - or are you content to focus on managing the symptoms, for instance by stress management initiatives? In a 2018 REBA survey, 72.8% of employees responding said a high- pressured work environment is the biggest threat to staff wellbeing, so this is a relevant question.

3. Take advantage of the range of free information available from charities like MIND - and arrange Mental Health First Aiders. The government is investing £15 million to support MHFA training from 2018 – 2021.

4. Pilot projects and aiming for ‘quick wins’ in areas employees have flagged up as important can help you identify what works best and provide potential in-house Health Champions for when you want to go further.

Q: How much will it cost to start a Health at Work initiative?

A: That’s very much up to you, with a range of options often available, from simple to more comprehensive. For example: 

  • To encourage cycling to work you could provide bike racks and lockers (low cost) and/or showers and a tax exempt cycle to work loan scheme (higher cost)
  • A basic employee assistance programme, providing confidential, outsourced phone-based information, support and counselling to staff with personal or work-related issues might cost less than £10 per employee per year – or up to £50 per employee for a comprehensive plan including face to face counselling. 

Q: How can I ensure my employees are engaged and take part?

A: It helps if staff ‘own’ or feel part of Health at Work initiatives. Start by finding out which health at work issues your staff are most concerned about and then take action to address these issues first. Involving staff in drafting a Health at Work policy is another option. 

Those who most need help with Health at Work may not be the first to seek it. When a London hospital introduced a health programme for its staff it found only 10% of participants were from the lowest pay bands. As a result, the hospital took time to talk with and listen to its lower paid staff and used what it found to develop a programme that many more people participated in. 

Q: How can I measure the success of the programme?

A: Which indicators are most appropriate for your organisation – like a reduction in sickness absence, an improvement in staff morale, improved staff well-being or an increase in productivity? Measure them before and after you start your programme. 

To ensure the results are reasonably reliable: 

  • Allow at last six months and preferably longer, to see if any improvements are permanent, and if this is more than just a Hawthorne effect (i.e. behaviour improving simply because someone is paying attention to people).
  • Check if any other significant changes have taken place that would affect employees (like new managers or changes in the organisation’s fortunes) that might also have influenced health at work. 

You can also seek external accreditation, against identified criteria, for example through the Workplace Wellbeing Charter. 

Q: What are the benefits of starting a health/wellness programme for my business?

A: Research reported by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health indicates that companies who provide good support services for their employees benefit from: 

  • better employee engagement
  • improved productivity
  • less sickness absence.

Q: What are our responsibilities as an employer?

A: You already have a responsibility for Health & Safety at work, in particular through the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and Working Time Regulations 1998. This responsibility includes a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it. If you have an Employee Assistance Programme it can help your defence against an employee’s stress claims in an Employment Tribunal, alongside any other initiatives you have taken. 

If you are too small an employer to have an HR Department to advise on employment law, then ACAS provides free support and advice for small businesses. 

Q: Who is in best placed to manage health at work schemes?

A: You can outsource Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs).

In-house it helps to have a specific person to manage your health at work scheme (probably in HR) - supported by a Health at Work Champion at Board and/or Executive Team level and then Health at Work Champions at different sites or in different departments.