The link between wellbeing and OH – how to commission an OH service

Which professional group is responsible for workplace wellbeing in your organisation? Is it HR, occupational health, health and safety or another group? What is clear, is this is often a crowded and somewhat unregulated marketplace. Almost anyone can be a wellbeing practitioner; whereas occupational health professionals come with accredited practice and an established body of codified knowledge.

The link between wellbeing and OH – how to commission an OH service

The Society Of Occupational Medicine (SOM) recently published The Value of Occupational Health to Workplace Wellbeing report, which outlines the link between wellbeing and occupational health (OH). It finds that OH practitioners cannot improve workplace health by themselves, and that other experts including: psychologists, ergonomists, physiologists, health and safety professionals and sports scientists, all need to support this aim.

In addition, OH professionals need to know the limits of their own knowledge and when to signpost to other professionals.

Line managers are also a key group required in delivering change. A worker’s relationship with his or her line manager is perhaps the most important relationship in the workplace. Research has indicated that good and supportive relationships between workers and their line managers are associated with better health and wellbeing outcomes. This includes helping a sustainable return to work following sickness absence due to common mental health problems.

Line managers also have a key influence on how work is performed, clarifying role expectations, delegating authority to make decisions and role modelling appropriate behaviours that set the tone for the social climate at work – thus potentially affecting job quality and social relations at work.

What wellbeing encompasses

Based on a series of systematic reviews for the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, there are five major areas that OH practitioners can target to protect and enhance wellbeing and health:

  1. Management capabilities;
  2. Improving job quality;
  3. Enhancing social relationships at work;
  4. Providing support for workers coping with health conditions and/or life stresses;
  5. Workplace health promotion.

Areas 1, 2 and 3 are target areas for primary, preventive control of risk factors. In the UK, it is legally mandated that organisations act to minimise any harm through examining practices in these areas. These three areas are also highlighted as critical factors for “good work” in the Thriving at Work report (2017). These areas promote and protect mental health and emerge as priorities for workers in consultation exercises.

Work-related stress

Managing work related stress is a key area; the UK Health and Safety Executive has produced a set of management standards – a four-stage, sequential process – to assist businesses:

  • Prepare the organisation: prepare a business case, secure senior management commitment, consult employees and/or employee representatives, set up a multi-stakeholder steering group, identify a project champion and day-to-day, develop a project plan, secure resources, develop a communication strategy, develop a stress policy.
  • Decide who might be harmed and how: use existing data, gather data through toolbox talks or focus groups, analyse the data, evaluate the risks, link problems to solutions using focus groups, develop locally appropriate solutions, develop action plans, communicate results, monitor and review solutions.
  • Deal with individual concerns: creating an environment where there is support for individuals from occupational safety and health, HR and line managers.
  • Review organisational policies and procedures: continuous monitoring and improvement, and develop competencies in managers.

How to commission OH services

SOM has produced a document on commissioning health services. Services can either be delivered “in-house” or procured from an external outsourced provider. There may also be a hybrid or multi-supplier model.

If OH services are to be provided by an external outsourced supplier you could consider the scale of your operation and likely demand for your service. This will then determine who can meet your requirements – from a sole trader to an international provider.

Procuring an OH service may require a competitive tender from accredited providers; a direct award or a negotiated tender. You can decide on the successful provider based on criteria such as:

  • quality accreditations
  • technology solutions
  • GDPR protocols
  • health professional qualifications
  • sector experience
  • geographical coverage
  • financial capability eg via a Companies House check for solvency
  • breadth of supply capacity and geographical coverage
  • experience, client referencing and benchmarking
  • value for money.

You should award the contract to the supplier that offers the optimum proposed solution against all of the evaluation criteria, which should be weighted appropriately.

The author is Nick Pahl, CEO at SOM.

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