Improving workforce health

Justin Varney

Ahead of speaking at NHS Employers health and wellbeing mental health conference Dr Justin Varney, national lead for adult health and wellbeing, Public Health England (PHE), has written a blog about the evidence of improving workforce health and the work PHE have been doing around health in the workplace.

Sadly, when we talk about improving workforce health it's in the margins of the board, senior management meetings or an add on in an appraisal or supervision meeting. Workforce health interventions are often implemented in times of plenty but are the first thing to be cut back when times are tight, and there is an element of the fad diet when it comes to interventions rather than evidence based practice. Yet the evidence clearly shows that staff health and wellbeing is one of the fundamental pillars of productivity, recruitment and retention and delivering high quality and safe services.

There is also a significant and growing body of evidence for what works to improve the health of employees, creates a step change in culture that addresses health inequalities in the workplace.

PHE has worked with Business in the Community to develop a suite of employer toolkits on topics ranging from mental health issues, suicide prevention, musculoskeletal to sleep and recovery issues in the workplace. The toolkits pull together the evidence and best practice from different sectors and sizes of business into practical and pragmatic roadmaps for action. In developing the toolkits, we have pulled together all the free resources that are out there, demonstrating that every organisation can make a good start with limited investment. Across every toolkit is a common thread that leadership and organisational culture are fundamental to making a step change that co-produces solutions with employees, and which is embedded with good people management.

The review by the what works centre for wellbeing on good work, wellbeing and performance focusing specifically on findings from a group of NHS trusts demonstrates that organisations that made extensive use of good people-management practices are:

  • over twice as likely to have staff with the highest levels of job satisfaction compared to NHS trusts that made least use of these practices
  • over three times more likely to have staff with the highest levels of engagement
  • over four times more likely to have the most satisfied patients
  • over three times more likely to have the lowest levels of sickness absence.

So why is it when we have this kind of evidence on the impact of investing in good, safe and healthy workplaces that we find it so hard? In the organisations where I see step change happening, there is leadership that has the vision and ambition to improve. These leaders work with people at every level to encourage them to step up, own the issue and co-produce the solution.

My hope is that with the commitments in the Five Year Forward View, the NHS Commissioning for Quality and Innovation (CQUIN) on workforce health, and the government ambitions set out in Improving Working Lives, there will be a step change and the public sector, especially the NHS, will move to the front of the pack and become an exemplar for providing good jobs, safe workplaces and improving and enhancing the health of their staff today and in the future.

Why Register?

Great reasons to register with NHS Employers

  • A personalised website
    Manage your profile and select topics of interest to you
  • Access your dashboard
    Bookmark useful content to help you quickly find what you're looking for
  • Get involved
    Contribute to our Talking Points discussions, comment on and rate our webpages
  • Keep up to date
    Receive the latest newsletters and media summaries

Log In