Professor Dame Carol Black on the need for wellbeing interventions, measurement and inclusivity

With a lifetime career in medicine and healthcare, Professor Dame Carol Black is a leading voice of reason, persuasion, and expertise in public policy on health at work.

Dame Carol speaks ahead of her Keynote Presentation at the latest Safer Highways Online Mental Health Summit.

Employee wellbeing has undergone a seismic shift since 2008 when Dame Carol published Working for a healthier tomorrow, her review of the health of the UK’s working population.

“Most organisations now understand that having a physically and mentally healthy workforce is linked to engagement and therefore productivity,” says Dame Carol.

Prof. Dame Carol Black

However, while research shows that the majority of workforces now have some form of wellbeing strategy, there are still challenges to overcome.

“Employers often lack understanding about their risk profile. They don’t know what percentage of their workforce suffers from anxiety because of financial problems, which employees may be affected by lack of sleep, or how many middle-aged female employees might be experiencing menopause symptoms, for example,” she explains.

Offering generic services, such as nutrition advice or employee assistance programmes, without, as Dame Carol says, “knowing the numbers” can limit the effectiveness of a wellbeing strategy.

Drawing up a health and wellbeing risk profile, she adds, “allows employers to put in targeted interventions that can then be measured.” This more scientific approach to employees’ health and wellbeing will help to raise it further up the corporate agenda. “Companies have a system for measuring financial capability, for example, but don’t apply the same rules to collecting baseline data around health and wellbeing.”

As well as enabling individual employers to develop more effective health and wellbeing strategies, Dame Carol believes that targeted strategies and detailed measurement will also benefit the wider workforce. “We could start to build up a database of evidence. Employers could share the action they have taken in response to certain problems and issues, and what the results were.”

She identifies changing work patterns and employment models, such as the shift towards gig working explored in Matthew Taylor’s 2017 report Good work: the Taylor review of modern working practices, as another challenge.

“There needs to be an inclusive approach. Organisations tend to think they don’t have responsibility for [non-permanent staff and gig workers] because they can go off and work for another employer. However, if businesses change that mindset and see it as beneficial to build up a pool of workers who are productive, fit, healthy and could therefore contribute more to their organisation, it would be a positive move for themselves and the individuals.”

Probably the biggest immediate challenge to wellbeing at work will be the long-term impact of the Covid-19 crisis, which could precipitate permanent change to workplaces and employment practices.

However, Dame Carol is confident that health and wellbeing will continue to be a priority. “I feel positive that employers’ focus on wellbeing, particularly around mental health, won’t be lost. It also paves the way for more trusting and compassionate relationships, and even more positive working cultures.”

Professor Dame Carol Black is the Keynote Speaker at this year’s Thriving at Work Survey Report Launch into the provision of support around tackling workplace mental health amongst those who work on the public highway.

Other speakers on the day will include Simon Blake, CEO of Mental Health First Aid England, Bill Hill - CEO of the Lighthouse Charity, Karl Simons - Chief Health, Safety and Securities Officer at Thames Water,

Click here to register

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