2/2/2012

By Charlie Easmon, Founder, Your Excellent Health Service

With 140 million working days lost to sickness every year in the UK, it’s time that more businesses get smart and informed Occupational Health (OH) policies in place. Of the quarter of UK companies that do have a policy, many I speak to are unhappy with it. Good OH treats your company like a ship and gets on board. It works hard to understand the culture and needs of your business, and how the individuals fit together.

Physical and mental health problems need swift action; too often problems are left to linger. Companies from start-ups to multi-nationals need healthy and happy workforces — leading directly to increased profits.

Consider your employees’ lifestyles
We know that lifestyle choices like excessive drinking and smoking, along with obesity, can increase the risk of cancer by 42%. Drinking can be a key part of interaction, but make sure that any employees who regularly entertain clients do not feel pressured into heavy drinking. If it’s clear that problems exist in the workplace, there is a wide variety of advice that the NHS can offer, so make this generally available and accessible.

Also worth bearing in mind is the phenomenon of presenteeism. Shockingly, employees who attend work despite being unwell may be costing the company 5 times more than if they were simply absent.

Employees’ health conditions
Conditions such as asthma, epilepsy and diabetes are inescapable. Often they are handled badly, though. When a new employee joins, I recommend that they fill out a medical screening questionnaire and submit it to an independent professional. One company I worked with employed a man with Crohn’s Disease (a chronic inflammatory bowel disease). The management decided to invest in his care, and after conversations and interventions, his productivity increased.

Extend this level of thought to other health problems — after a Saturday morning football injury 6 weeks’ bed rest is sometimes advised. But an individual staying at home alone is not necessarily going to be happy. Consider other options for their welfare — how about offering them a taxi to work? Or flexible hours so they can avoid the rush hour?
Above all, though, never forget The Disability Discrimination Act for both new and existing employees.

Mental Welfare
Crucially, the atmosphere and culture of the workplace have a massive impact on people’s mental health. From the outset, stamp out any hint of bullying and harassment; they are obviously unacceptable. Enlightened employees have several options to take as preventative measures in this area. Firstly, job design. This can be modified to fit a person’s individual strengths and personality. Imagine you identify the tasks that need completing and the individual who will do the work. Then meet with HR and the employee and agree the steps that need taking to achieve the target. Maybe the traditional 9 to 5 working day is counterproductive for this individual? Put effort into understanding their circumstances and consider a less rigid structure.

To facilitate access to helpful resources for line managers, you could consider a course at The Centre for Mental Health. There’s a big problem country-wide with people not seeking help early enough, and this is really dangerous. We need to start thinking about mental health issues like a fire; no-one expects to wait for the fire brigade once the alarm’s been sounded, and we need to be taking urgent actions in this arena too.


Charlie Easmon is a highly-trained and experienced international medical doctor and entrepreneur. His fields of expertise include occupational health, travel medicine, mental health and aid and development. He is the founder of Harley Street medical practice Your Excellent Health Service.

He speaks and writes commandingly on a range of health-related subjects and is an innovative thinker. His belief that the private sector has an important role to play in setting standards for service providers is progressive and at times controversial and he is passionate about the role of education in improving national health and wellbeing.


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