It has been argued for some time now that health professionals need to think about the functional capacity of their patients as well as their medical issues. This would involve considering what the patient is able to do in terms of work, and helping them to manage their illness so that they can return to work as soon as is possible. Return to work should be considered an outcome for successful treatment.
Another side of this coin is what the workplace can do to support health. Many very large companies offer benefits such as health insurance or gym membership as a perk to employees but now such extras are becoming seen as part of the business plan due to their economic benefits to the organisation. Encouraging health at work may lead to lower rates of absenteeism and lower long-term sickness absence, leading to greater profitability for the company.
Businesses in the North East of England are encouraged to think about workplace health through the North East Better Health at Work award, and can achieve either a Bronze, Silver or Gold award, dependent on the level of health engagement. This work has been commissioned jointly by public health directors across the region, and has proved very popular with local businesses, who benefit from a ‘health needs assessment’ which is carried out on the premises, involving employees to determine what the current needs are in terms of health support, and training of a health advocate within each organisation. Following the health needs assessment, businesses spend their own resources in improving access to health activities and healthy choices at work.
Initial results have shown improvements in sickness absence and associated savings for the company, although further analysis including a comprehensive audit of the 300 companies signed up to the scheme is yet to be carried out. Whilst many companies are keen to provide more health initiatives to their employees, this scheme allows a mechanism for public health teams to work with companies and provide help and advice on how to get started.