Research shows that much can be done to reduce levels of presenteeism and manage the wellbeing of employees with chronic illness, and that increased attendance does not necessarily equate with increased productivity. Organisations often manage this poorly because managers are unaware of the extent of the problem and have neither the knowledge nor expertise to manage it effectively. This is an opportunity for OH practitioners to raise their profile and offer advice, as well as educate and, where appropriate, train managers on how to implement most of the major research recommendations discussed in this report.
OH practitioners can also train managers to handle initial conversations with employees who they feel may be struggling with a condition, or to manage a return-to-work interview. Following a systematic analysis, OH can work collaboratively with other areas within the organisation, such as facilities or IT, to address underlying causes.OH can advise managers on adjustments for employees and ensure that they receive the necessary support as early as possible. OH can advise HR and managers on appropriate attendance/absence management policies and ensure they are in line with the overall wellbeing strategy.
Employees play a crucial role in this process, not only because it is vital to gain their perception of the problem, but also because effective self-management is a key ingredient of success. However, for this to work, employees must disclose their conditions either to OH or managers. Organisations must "provide a culture that respects the rights and responsibilities of both employees and employers and implements strategies for improving communication, trust and cooperation". (Wynne-Jones, 2011), One way to achieve this is to ensure that "wellbeing" and "diversity" policies are enshrined in the business ethos and not dry, lifeless tomes gathering dust on a shelf.
Research is invaluable for best practice as it not only highlights weaknesses but can also recommend possible solutions. It is up to each organisation to decide how they can best utilise this advice, which may often require creative thinking and collaborative working, with OH input a key component of success. Occupational health practitioners should embrace these opportunities and make a real difference in the way envisaged by Dame Carol Black (2008).
Jane Downey MSc (Org Psychiatry and Psychology), RGN, SCPHN (OH) is a wellbeing and occupational health consultant at Wellbeingworks4business.
Information originally in The Occupational Health Magazine