Empowering line managers with quality data is key to improving employee health and wellbeing
For more on the importance of employee health data join Deborah Frost, chief executive at Personal Group, during REBA's Employee Wellbeing Congress on 16 September at 11:45. Her session is entitled: Creating your wellbeing dashboard – which strategic levers should you pull.
Poor line management interventions don’t just leave employees unsupported, but may have a negative impact. I have heard first hand from many employees, via several independent reviews, that they can easily feel frustrated and upset if they feel their manager doesn’t care about their health or wellbeing. I have learnt that giving managers simple tools to enable them to act positively and in a timely fashion can dramatically improve the levels of support they give. However, many managers struggle to know when to act, as well as what to do. This is when good data can make all the difference.
Too many organisations rely on information in HR systems that is incomplete, inaccurate and doesn’t give a true picture of need. Sickness absence information is often poorly collected, and rarely used in ways to help managers understand what they can do to offer better and more timely help for their staff. Good data helps managers spot the need and opportunity to help employees earlier, and evidence shows that early action is more effective. Absence is often a warning sign that help is required but to know that, absences must be recorded quickly and accurately. Early support can make a huge difference around certain types of absence – for example, providing physiotherapy advice for those with acute musculoskeletal problems.
Managers need tools and information at their fingertips to offer appropriate input and engage the right support services as early as possible. That could involve passing relevant information on to employees so they are aware of the help available, or bringing in other assistance or occupational health providers. However, most HR software systems were not designed to help them do this, let alone do it in real time. A faster response can demonstrate to an employee that their organisation (and their manager) cares. Any delay matters – it risks employees becoming disengaged, or compounding health issues.
Ensuring return to work procedures, such as return to work interviews, are carried out in a timely manner is just as vital. Our work at Empactis has shown that when organisations respond quickly when an illness occurs – as well as afterwards – it can pay dividends. Supporting managers in being able to discuss and offer simple work adjustments as early as possible after illness can hasten recovery, reduce future repeated absences and reduce the likelihood of long-term functional loss. All these are costly to both the affected individual and their employer.
Today, there is huge potential to power positive change and achieve new insights with digital technology. Technology can be used to improve both line management capability and capacity. Specialist software can help identify situations in which early support can be beneficial. It can provide simple advice to line managers detailing not just what to do and how best to deliver it, but also the rationale behind doing so to help build understanding.
Technology innovation is essential to improve health and wellbeing management. It will enable us to understand the real picture, help improve the management of staff health and capture and analyse the outcomes to ensure that all the support we offer is effective.
The author is Dr Steven Boorman, director of employee health at Empactis.
This article is featured in REBA’s Employee Wellbeing research 2020, in partnership with AXA PPP healthcare.