How to make the NHS a model for staff health and wellbeing
Professor Mike West
31 July 2012
As Danny Boyle said after his much praised Olympics Opening Ceremony, “Everyone is aware of how important the NHS is to everybody in this country.” But over 10 million working days are lost each year in the NHS because members of staff are unwell, equivalent to 14,500 staff. So the news, released last week, that days lost to absenteeism in the NHS came down by 390,000 last year is welcome. In 2009, the final report of the Boorman Review (to which The Work Foundation contributed) identified the scale of the problem and suggested strategies for change. Partly as a result of the review, NHS trusts have been working hard to bring down absenteeism. While the private sector records an average of 6.4 days absenteeism per employee a year, this figure is around more than 10 days per NHS employee - though the gap between the sectors is narrowing.
Good news but the NHS should be a model for managing the health, wellbeing and absenteeism of staff and showing the private sector how it is done. The organisations that make up the NHS are focused on improving the wellbeing and health of the population. As with any organisation, it is important that there is integrity between what it does and how it does it. Where NHS organisations fail to manage staff health and wellbeing effectively, there is a sort of fault line in the organisation. NHS staff should be helped to ensure they manage some of the obvious threats to their health such as smoking, obesity and alcohol abuse. But they also need to be helped to understand the factors that determine human wellbeing most powerfully and to put this into practice in their own lives. And they must provide the outstanding models of management our research has shown are necessary for staff commitment, engagement and wellbeing. Then they can be models of good health management for patients and the rest of the community, and save the NHS money via lower absenteeism.
Michael West is Professor of Organisational Psychology at Lancaster University Management School and a Senior Research Fellow at The Work Foundation.