We had an impressive line up of speakers for our health promotion in the workplace event earlier today. This included Dame Carol Black, Dr. Margaret Samuel and Prof. Cary Cooper. Humbly, I also had the opportunity to share some of our work in the area. Chaired by our managing director, Stephen Bevan, the aim was to discuss some of the current issues in the light of the recent publication of the public health white paper and the designation of ‘health at work’ as one of the five Department of Health's public health Responsibility Deal networks. Such developments should see health promotion in the workplace becoming an area of growing priority in coming years.
To start off the presentations, Dame Carol Black provided an overview of some of her priority areas as a result of her 2008 review of the working age population and the current changes to the public health system. Dame Carol highlighted how the ageing population and the extension of the working life will make the health and wellbeing at work agenda even more important. She then went on to spotlight some of the actions taking place at the policy level to continue to address health at work and the role of the public health responsibility deal for health in the workplace. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds for employers.
We had an impressive example of health promotion in the workplace from Dr Margaret Samuel of EDF Energy. Her presentation highlighted the initiatives they have put in place to improve health and support individuals with mental health issues in the workplace. Dr Samuel, along with other speakers, emphasised the important role that line managers play in designing jobs and recognising stress in the workplace, and highlighted a number of other important areas, including work-life balance, catching problems early so that minor changes or ‘nudges’ can rebalance the equilibrium, and helping employees with resilience.
I took the opportunity to share our work from our recent Body and Soul report. The public health white paper recognised the important link between physical and mental health, which is what our report focused on. This is an area I hope will continue to gain momentum as the changes to the public health system are implemented.
The presentations finished with Prof. Cary Cooper who shared his work from the Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing programme, which provides strong scientific and cost-effectiveness evidence about policies aimed at improving mental health and capital. Prof. Cooper also highlighted the important role line managers play along with the ‘occasional’ lack of reward and recognition employees receive and how this can impact health. He also pointed out the strength of the research supporting flexible working and the cost-effectiveness of the ‘right to request’ flexible working.
Various common themes appeared throughout the presentations: the cost of health conditions, presenteeism, absenteeism, line managers, job design and flexible working, and resilience. It was agreed that the business case for investing in health in the workplace has been made and that it is now up to employers to make the investment and contribute to improving the health of the working-age population. With the growth of chronic health conditions, including mental health conditions, forecast over the next twenty years, prevention and health promotion is and will remain an important area of focus for policymakers, employers and health professionals alike.
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