The most effective OH strategies are based on a proactive approach which prioritises prevention, the mitigation of risk and building resilience, rather than relying on fire-fighting.

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With only half of employees returning to work after a three-month absence employers must identify warning signs around an individual’s wellbeing before it is too late – not least when it comes to mental health. While mental health problems currently account for 39 per cent of employee absences, we estimate this figure is expected to soar to 70 per cent within the next decade.

Working closely together, OH providers and employers can promote mental health awareness – particularly among high risk groups – and create a positive culture where there is no stigma around mental health problems. The emphasis must be on building resilience among the workforce, so employees can recognise for themselves when they need to seek out help and, crucially, there are no barriers to them doing so.

Training managers to identify health and wellbeing problems in their teams and having a robust strategy for early intervention are key. So too is monitoring and reviewing processes, and analysing available information. Through doing this it might be possible to identify trends, such as a high number of absences in specific teams, and problems can be rectified before they get to the point of no return.

Having an OH strategy that brings mental health into the everyday and pre-emptively focuses on health and wellbeing all year round is a new approach for an industry which has traditionally focused on getting employees back to work.

HR tools such as Employee Assistance Programmes are also evolving. EAPs have become an integral part of the proactive approach to managing mental health problems in the workplace.

Take the new BHSF EAP for example, which has been modelled around the need to build resilience among the workforce – a change we believe resonates with today’s employees. Our 24-hour helpline offers confidential access to a telephone counselling service 365 days a year, providing support on a host of mental health issues and emotional problems such as stress, debt and anxiety. Picking up the phone to a counsellor is one of the first steps on the road to self-help, so the EAP has an important part to play in combating mental health problems.

Our research shows employees who engage in face-to-face counselling through the BHSF EAP report an average of 9.7 fewer hours of absence per month due to personal problems, and a 24% reduction in absence. The BHSF EAP makes perfect sense for both employers and employees.

However, simply offering an EAP is not enough, and employers must consider how best to engage individuals so they find it as easy as possible to take advantage of the services available. At the heart of this is the issue of access and how to ensure employees get value from OH and HR initiatives and benefits. Healthcare apps, such as BHSF Connect, are solving this problem.

Connect was the first web app to wrap wellbeing benefits such as a GP helpline, EAP, and fitness support around a lifestyle discounts platform. By far its biggest advantage is that it puts key services and benefits into the hands of employees so they can be speedily accessed at any time.

Through tapping the app, users can set up a one-to-one conversation with a GP or lawyer, or they can access information about local medical services, while discounted gym memberships also help to motivate employees to stay fit and well.

There will inevitably be times when employees take sickness leave. OH providers and employers can work together to ensure people return to work as quickly as possible, through the implementation of an effective sickness absence management process.

While it can be difficult for employers to negotiate this process, the objectivity of an OH provider can be a game changer – from assessing fitness to attend a disciplinary hearing or back to work meeting, to workplace assessments and recommendations to prevent the recurrence of problems.

According to the Department for Work & Pensions, more than 130 million days are lost to sickness absence every year and working-age ill health costs the economy £100 billion a year.

The fundamental importance of a consultative, proactive OH strategy cannot therefore be overestimated. By embracing this approach and working effectively together, OH providers and employers can reduce the cost burden on businesses and create a positive, productive workplace culture.

www.bhsf.co.uk

BHSF is speaking at Reward Live at 12.35 on Wednesday 11 May, at Edgbaston Cricket Ground, Birmingham. To find out more, CLICK HERE

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