What can businesses do to support the health and wellbeing of their employees? That’s the question we asked our panelists for the latest Great Business Debate event, held in association with Macmillan Cancer Support and E.ON and chaired by Louise Aston, Wellbeing Director at Business in the Community (BITC).
Speaking to a live audience of business leaders, opinion formers and NBCUniversal employees, our panelists were:
- Josh Hardie, Deputy Director General (Policy and Campaigns), CBI
- Dr Fran Woodard, Executive Director of Policy and Impact, Macmillan Cancer Support
- Fiona Stark, Corporate Affairs Director, E.ON
- Dame Carol Black, Government advisor on Health and Work
We heard from Josh Hardie about the business imperative for action, while Dr Fran Woodard encouraged businesses to seek partnerships with third sector organisations to support their health and wellbeing efforts. Fiona Stark spoke about the why health and wellbeing matters to energy company E.ON and some of the great things they are doing to improve health and wellbeing in their business. Finally Dame Carol Black argued that the core principles of providing ‘good work’ and ‘good workplaces’ must be at the heart of business efforts to improve workplace wellbeing.
Scroll down to read a full summary of what our panelists had to say or listen to the audio:
Josh Hardie (CBI Deputy Director General) began by emphasising why health and wellbeing matters to business. First, costing the economy over £30bn a year, there’s a clear financial starting point for action, he argued. Although slightly harder to measure, happy and healthy employees are also more productive, he said. And in a changing world, employers have to take a more proactive approach to make a difference.
Josh went on to set out the three ways that employers can make a major difference to employee health and wellbeing: first, primary prevention – engaging the workforce to raise awareness and influence employee behaviour; next early intervention – making sure that managers and employees are equipped with the knowledge and support to handle health conditions as swiftly as possible. Finally, rehabilitation – making sure employees get a smooth return to work. Read Josh’s blog »».
Dr Fran Woodard (Executive Director of Policy and Impact, Macmillan Cancer Support) went next, arguing that with an aging workforce and growing numbers of people living with long term conditions, proactivity in setting up company policy, training and support for managers supporting people living with long term conditions is just as important as prevention.
Using cancer as an example, Fran explained that there are over 750,000 people of working age living with cancer in the UK. Many may be left with the impact of their cancer or treatment whether physical or emotional and can struggle with support or advice returning to their jobs. Fran explained that while the vast majority feel it’s important to go back to work, people affected by cancer are still more likely to be unemployed.
That’s why Macmillan Cancer Support have established their Macmillan at Work programme, she said, designed to help employers support staff and tackle these issues. Fran ended with a plea to employers to seek out the support of third sector organisations – companies don’t need to be experts, she said, and organisations like Macmillan Cancer Support have programmes in place to help business. Read Fran’s blog »».
Speaking next, Fiona Stark (Corporate Affairs Director, E.ON) shared the experience of energy company E.ON. The company had run a wellbeing campaign, Happy, Healthy and Here, which summed up the company’s approach, she said. ‘Happy’, because people spend approximately 64% of their waking time in the workplace and happy employees are more productive and more likely to provide better customer service. ‘Healthy’, because people are a company’s best asset and it makes business sense to look after them, pointing to the huge costs of attracting, retaining and rehabilitating staff. And finally ‘Here’ – if people aren’t at work, there is an obvious cost to business and they also can’t help customers.
Mental health is the highest cause of long term absence at E.ON, Fiona explained, going on to talk about some of the steps that E.ON have taken to address this among their 10,000 employees. This included their innovative ‘Head Shed’ roadshows, designed to raise awareness and visibility of mental health at work.
Fiona finished by encouraging challenge from the audience and asking to hear what more businesses like E.ON can do to support their staff. More from E.ON »».
Finally, expert Government adviser Dame Carol Black addressed the audience. Lots of companies are doing great things, she said, but too often they are uncoordinated and need to be better embedded in everything the business does.
Dame Carol went on to outline the two principles she felt would make a difference to employee health and wellbeing. First that businesses are thinking about what makes ‘good work’ – making sure that employees feel empowered and listened to at work. Second – that businesses are creating ‘good workplaces’. This means making sure the bosses are visibly engaged and that employee wellbeing is championed at board level. All managers need to be trained, she said, to recognise when someone is not themselves and to know how to respond.
In the following audience Q&A a number of themes emerged including tackling the stigma of mental health, the importance of training employees, particularly line managers, to recognise when people are in distress at work and the wider role that businesses play in supporting the wellbeing of their communities. Watch the video »» (available until 4th May).