Knowledge - What To Do
Commitment to the Health↔Work culture.
Decide what information needs to be available to everyone.
Arrange things so everyone knows where to find the knowledge they need, and are able to access it easily, quickly and repeatedly: think about making it available in printed and/or electronic format. You could also make posters.
Ensure the organisation and all in it have worked out (1) an approach to minimise health complaints (collectively through making the jobs good) and (2) to rapidly and effectively help colleagues who are struggling to work because of their health complaint (with temporary support and accommodation). That is, be proactive not reactive.
Find out if you've got the message across.
Action 1. Getting Ready
TIP: Use the Health↔Work Questionnaire to find out whether you, your workers and line managers understand the fundamental relationship between health and work. If the level is low, then you should ensure everyone gets access to ‘The Knowledge’ as many times as necessary to get the full message. In larger organisations, use the results from this measure to quantify and justify any resources you need to get the message across.
All workplaces need to be safe, and there is ample guidance to the various Regulations. In addition to safety, complying with the Regulations helps to make work more comfortable. You should highlight how well the workplace complies with the Regulations. It shows you care and gives the workforce confidence that you aim to provide them with good jobs.
The things that make work good for health go beyond safety: it’s about reasonable and supportive management.
This Toolbox is not centred on avoiding harm (though by providing good jobs you can expect a healthier workforce). Rather, it takes a positive stance on helping workers work with health problems.
You need to ensure everyone in your management chain is fully informed, with shared beliefs and shared values – everyone committed to ensuring that the organisation provides good jobs and a supportive workplace.
Everyone in the workplace is responsible for health and safety. There is a dual responsibility shared between workers, their line managers, and senior management. The ideal goal is always to foster a team approach to health and wellbeing throughout all workplaces.
CHECK: Find out whether there is a visible commitment to the Health↔Work culture, the necessary resources have been allocated, and there is a plan to regularly focus on common health problems.
Action 2. Information for Everyone
It is not practical for everyone to know everything about common health problems. We need to concentrate on the key concepts and practical steps. That is the goal of this toolbox. It also serves as a resource to come back to when needed.
TIP: The minimum information involves five key principles:
FIRST PRINCIPLE: Work is usually good for our health and wellbeing
We all get common health problems at times - feeling stressed, anxiety, depression, back pain, neck pain, minor injuries, etc. They can occur whatever job we have. Mostly we can cope and carry on at work and that’s generally the best way to recover. Ask yourself, do you think that you or other people need to be somehow 'protected' from work when you have symptoms of common health problems, or is work usually the best place to get on with recovering?
SECOND PRINCIPLE: Most work is not dangerous
So long as it complies with the Health & Safety Regulations, most modern work is not truly dangerous. It may have some unpleasant or uncomfortable aspects, but work is not usually a major cause of common health problems. Despite this, they account for most long-term sickness absence. Clearly we have not been doing the right things to maintain health at work and prevent work loss.
THIRD PRINCIPLE: Work may become difficult when we have a health complaint or injury
Common health problems are work-relevant because the symptoms can interfere with your ability to do your usual job, although they do not always do this. You need to know that helping someone to stay at work or to get back quickly is the best policy. The longer someone is off work the harder it is for them to get back, and the more it costs.
FOURTH PRINCIPLE: Some people struggle to stay at work or get back quickly
That’s because they face obstacles, not because they have a more serious health problem. Good management at the workplace is crucial for overcoming the obstacles. Providing a supportive workplace that allows temporary changes to job tasks is the best course of action.
FIFTH PRINCIPLE: Good jobs reduce the burden of health complaints at work
Providing good jobs that are as comfortable as possible and accommodate workers in a supportive workplace when they have health complaints is the way to reduce the burden at work. It is not that difficult to do, and will have tangible benefits. The starting point is to ensure your entire workforce is onside with the Health↔Work message.
CHECK: Can everyone in the workplace describe the 5 key principles, and where to get more information when it is needed?
EVERYONE Needs to Understand How to Manage Health at Work
We all get health problems, and a lot of the time they are not medical issues. When it comes to common health problems, healthcare professionals can do just so much. Certainly some people need reassurance from healthcare professionals and help with relief of symptoms. That, though, does not help them with work.
What happens in and around the workplace determines whether people cope or succumb. Provide good jobs and workers will cope better and work their way through many episodes of ill-health or injury. Despite this, some will inevitably struggle to cope. This is the time to support the individual: accommodating workers with common health problems means they either don’t go off sick or can soon return.
A useful way to understand how the workplace can affect health behaviours is to think in terms of obstacles. The obstacles work at two levels – the group and the individual. A good job is one that is free of the things that get in the way of the work being comfortable and satisfying: things such as unhelpful policies, poor communications, major hassles, injustices, etc. A supportive workplace is one that recognises and tackles things that make it difficult for an individual to cope with their health problem at work: things like lack of modified work, inflexibility, social stigma.
TIP: The Toolbox shows you how identify the obstacles and eliminate them. It’s not terribly complex or time consuming. In fact, it’s rather straightforward - it just needs to be managed. Making it happen depends on everyone doing what’s needed when it’s needed – and avoiding anything that could block the process.
EVERYONE Needs to Know About Obstacles and How Best to Tackle Them
Obstacles occur in three main domains:
Person: the things that people believe and how they react
Workplace: things that make the job unpleasant or unsupportive
Context: inflexible policies and processes
TIP: The idea of overcoming obstacles stresses ability rather than disability, and shifts the emphasis to actions that facilitate work participation. In this sense, obstacles can be transformed into opportunities. People usually need help to overcome or navigate round obstacles. Problem-solving approaches by the key players working together are what help people cope with their health problems at work.
EVERYONE Need to Understand Myths are Obstacles, and Why it's Important to Identify and Address Myths
There are all manner of myths around the relationship between work and health. These myths are major obstacles to any attempt to make good jobs and supportive workplaces. If we are to move to a CAN-DO culture that recognises the value of work to health, the myths must be dispelled.
It is essential to change everyone’s knowledge base – replace the myths with helpful information
Common workplace myths:
Most health problems can be caused by work
They are often made worse by work
Sickness absence is necessary
Can’t return to work until 100% fit
Return to work will carry further risk or prejudice a claim
TIP: Bust the myths in your workplace! This will help everyone recognise that the Toolbox is worth using.
Action 3. Give Everyone Access to Information and the Toolbox
Ensuring everyone in your organisation understands that the ‘obstacles’ idea is crucial to effective action.
TIP: The Work & Health and Health & Work leaflets explain it in simple terms – ensure everybody can access them.
All line managers and senior managers should read the Work & Health leaflet
If line managers have the right knowledge, they will be confident and empowered to develop a positive culture around work and health. You’ll find some helpful tools for doing that by reading the leaflet. download a copy
All staff, workers, and employees should read the Health & Work leaflet
If your workers believe that work is good for health, and that they can do something about it they will be more receptive to you helping them stay at work with a health problem, or get back quickly if they need time off. download a copy
A key idea to get across is that work is generally good for our health and well-being. Of course, that does depend on the nature of the work – it is good jobs that are good for people.
CHECK: Can everyone get access to these leaflets, and do they have any questions that need to be answered or issues to be discussed.
Action 4. Ensure There is a Proactive Approach
What to do for your line managers and managers
If managers are to help people with health problems at work, they need to know some basic information. They don’t need medical knowledge, but they do need to understand the relationship between common health problems and work. That way they will gain the confidence to know that they can do a lot to help their colleagues recover at work - safely and to everyone’s benefit. It’s about working with their colleague to find ways of staying at work or getting back quickly from absence. It’s also about making the jobs in their department good jobs.
TIP: Line managers can facilitate, or sabotage, provision of good jobs for their staff. It doesn’t matter what level of seniority, this always holds true. Which do you do? Ask yourself: “are you a facilitator or a saboteur”?
What to do for your workers
Usually, the people who stay in work with common health problems, or who return to work quickly, have a positive attitude to work and health. Instilling this positive attitude to minor health problems is important – but it is also important to support people to get that attitude.
People with the right kind of attitude:
Tend to like their work and want to stay in work – creating good jobs can help here
Look to make improvements rather than focusing on the difficulties in improving things
Tend to like to solve problems and persevere in their attempts to do so – supporting workers to solve their own problems helps create good jobs and a supportive workplace
Realise that common health problems don’t go on forever, and realise they can proactively reduce their chances of experiencing common health problems
Seek out positive support from others – to build their own optimism, being round people who see the positives and the things that can be done can help
CHECK: Have you taken a proactive approach, or are you waiting for problems to arise before knowing what to do?
Action 5. Find out if you’ve got the message across
Start With a Basic Approach
You could ask a few questions, before and after you’ve given people access to knowledge. Here is one way:
Thinking about health complaints like stress, depression, back pain, and minor injuries:
Do you think they should stop people from working and that the best way to manage them is long-term sick leave?
Do you think we can do things in this organisation to reduce them happening, and when they do to help people to cope at work and recover more quickly?
Use a Systematic Approach
You can also use the simple Health↔Work Questionnaire to find out how well you, your line managers, or your workers understand the Health↔Work message. This may be especially useful if you are a larger organisation and want more detailed information about specific departments or a larger number of people. Try checking before and after you’ve given them access to the Knowledge.
Ongoing Actions - Keeping All Players On-side in an Improved Workplace Culture
Helping workers with common health problems is about more than just healthcare or safety, it’s about providing good jobs and a supportive workplace. The beneficial effects of work on physical and mental health outweigh the risks of work and the harm of prolonged sickness absence. Making a difference is possible – and everyone benefits.
Achieving it demands a fundamental shift in how we think about common health problems – in the workplace, in health care, and in society.
It is crucial that everyone uses the same ideas about work health, shares common goals and works together. That needs good communication: this is what good managers do well. They can promote good jobs and a supportive workplace, using the Toolbox.
Make it clear to everybody that the Health↔Work message is part of working in your organisation.
The scientific evidence is clear: ensure your workplace subscribes to the Health↔Work culture.
Review the sustainability of management support, at least every year or two.