Health at work is lame, evidence presented by the ‘Dame’ – Carol Black


Dame Carol Black said it in her own words ‘ do not ignore the fact mental health and physical activity are intimately interwoven’. This was at Tuesday’s seminar in Manchester with Nuffield Health and Vitality. They launched their partnership where she spoke passionately on the importance, not enforcement, of the health and wellbeing function in business.


James Murray MD of Vitality and Nuffield; Healthy workplace opened the event and spoke about the metrics of the Vitality platform to monitoring health and wellbeing, whilst Shaun Subel, the Director of Strategy at Vitality Health, gave an overview of analytics and insights into the ROI and business case for H&W.

I have a lot of experience in health in the workplace but Carol’s presentation was powerful. In my eyes Carol is the guru of health in the workplace after writing her paper on the subject nearly 10 years ago – we need to keep driving the business case for Health and wellbeing forward.

That report is the driving force behind the momentum health and wellness has gained over the last few years in the acknowledgement of the new way we work and the implications of how we have removed movement from our lives being one of the issues. And that movement, outdoor exposure and resulting chemical changes from exercise is becoming a key force in managing not just our physical health but managing mental health conditions too.

Indeed such is the correlation between mental and physical health, and the resulting benefits of exposure to natural environments whilst exercising, the notion of everyday movement is a key milestone in the way we approach patient centred care. How do we meaningfully impact on modifiable behaviours to mitigate the risk of conditions, mental and physical, which we have the lifestyle tools to provide solutions. And by addressing these factors Employers can control, to some extent, the impact on their business from ill health.

In essence the bottom line of this scenario is how do we reduce GP visits and entry points into the National Health Service to treat conditions that potentially can be prevented with proactive initiatives concerning public health. Based on a 50 year working life, 35% of our total waking hours (on the basis of 8 hours sleep) is at work. Therefore work is pivotal in its influence to provide opportunities to manage our health.


Think depression, diabetes, obesity, MSK, and how we can offset often chaotic and fast paced lives with the need to balance and limit exposure to pressure through exercise, the social benefits of collective exercise, valued employees, time away from the desk, limits on technology use and that all important past time ‘just being outside’. Green is the new clean…clean up our lives. Back to basics – call it what you want, that walk holds far more value than just the benefits of exercise.

Another great statement from Carol was around the feelings of staff who feel they are valued, invested in and cared about by their Employer and line manager. That vibe if you like, a hard to measure by-product of feeling valued is of huge benefit to HR. Talent recruitment and staff retention. A health and wellbeing policy and programme that’s consistent, relevant and engaging is the tool to create this feeling. Incentives key to employee involvement.


Fact: valued employees are more loyal. When I feel valued and I recognise the company benefits available to me it sticks with me. I work harder for the business. I want to feel I deserve that value by proving my worth. In essence as humans we reciprocate – we essentially respond to a gesture or action with a corresponding one. In a work context this is usually high quality work and a dedication to the duties of the role.

Health and wellbeing opportunities in business stimulate reciprocation. The workforce will generally respond. Not only that but ‘word of mouth’ marketing by employees – keen to tell their family and social networks about their company benefits which is a self-propelled brand promotion exercise. Free!

But much more than that H&W is that pro-active mechanism that minimises business risk and ill health in an ageing workforce by recognising the plethora of information we have on the state of play and designing interventions to impact those statistics positiviely.

We are living longer. Our retirement age is older. MSK still poses a serious risk in our ‘sit down do nothing culture’. For example when we sit we exert 40% more pressure on our spine than standing. When we are slouching its over double the pressure at 90% more force than standing on the spine.


If that isn’t a reason to move more I don’t know what is. Then there is mental health, that dark shadow at the back of the room costing the economy the largest amount of money ££££ in terms of duration of absences and returning to work.

Carol likes the word outcomes. Maybe originating from her clinical background but the term is highly relevant in health and wellbeing formulation and strategy. I like it. Input = deliverables / initiatives (behaviour change principles), output (results of intervention e.g. attendances / engagement levels), and outcome (reduced injuries / improved productivity / reduced absenteeism rates).


The metrics we use to analyse these health behaviours are getting better – technology playing a huge part in monitoring our behaviours to track present actions and encourage corrective actions.

But still underpinning all this is the boardroom. The steer of culture, the engine room of processes and the decision maker that effects the workforce. A clear belief in the value of H&W at this level and the corresponding investment will help harness the experience and knowledge of an ageing workforce, with the balance to manage and sustain ‘in work’ strategies. The future of business is bright.

I work for the NCSEM – as part of Move More Sheffield  – to achieve the City wide vision to get Sheffield the most active City in the UK by 2020 and also consult with B.Braun Medical on Employee Health and Wellbeing

Andrew Picken

Health and Wellbeing Consultant

National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine (Sheffield)





Twitter: @AJPConsultant

Facebook: manbeast28 / Healthinbusiness28

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