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Keep thriving wellbeing conference: the highlights

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The British Safety Council’s second annual wellbeing conference, Keep Thriving was held virtually on 9 February as part of its Being Well Together programme and in partnership with sister charity, Mates in Mind.


The day was chaired by Stephen Cooke, Head of Policy and Communications at British Safety Council. Safety Management attended to report on the highlights.

Delivering the Keynote Address was Dr Steve Forman, Principal Medical Adviser at HSE. Dr Forman provides occupational medical expertise to HSE and stakeholders and, although his talk was titled, Workplace wellbeing: a blueprint for a better future, he stressed that there was no single solution for all companies when it comes to wellbeing: “Every company’s different and has different health risks and needs. A fruit bar [is no good] if employees are exposed to carcinogens.”

Health risk assessments are vital when it comes to tacking all facets of wellbeing, he said: “Think about the prevent, support, promote model.” Dr Forman said employers needed to think holistically, particularly in our changing world of work: “We are all human, we’re not based in one realm and we’re not workplace beings or home beings. Those things overlap even on a daily basis.” HSE looks at effects of work on health, but he said it was also important to understand ‘how health impacts on work’: “Wellbeing forms part of that. To get a productive and happy workforce, you need to look at those different aspects.”

HSE looks at effects of work on health, but he said it is also important to understand ‘how health impacts on work’. Photograph: shutterstock

The next session, The science of wellbeing was delivered by Oli Patrick, Co-Founder of corporate wellbeing agency, Future Practice. Patrick is a physiologist working between the fields of medicine and wellbeing and he has specialised in measuring wellbeing and health.

It was while working in the field of employee health checks that he realised too much attention was being spent on where and when things go wrong. “We look to see if arteries are blocked, which are just the leaves of the branches. We don’t look at the physiology to see why the thing is happening in the first place.”

Oli Patrick: "The gut is the engine room of our immunity. Those people who [look after their] diet… will support their underlying physiology better.”

He said that wellbeing is the ‘sum of our actions’: “Genes do contribute to certain conditions, but their contribution is diminishing.” He divided wellbeing into five areas: movement, nourishment, recovery, mindset and environment.

When it came to nourishment, practical tips he offered included avoiding over processed food and eating a couple of portions of fermented food or drink per week, such as kombucha or kimchi. “The gut is the engine room of our immunity. Those people who [look after their] diet… will support their underlying physiology better.”

The winner of the Wellbeing Initiative Award at the 2021 International Safety Awards was construction company, PiLON Ltd and there to present on the work was Business Development Manager, Joanne De Sousa. She delved into the details of their work, including a poster campaign which showed the message on all construction work sites that ‘it’s ok not to be ok’ together with QR codes which directed to a wellbeing resources web page.

The company also ran a mental health seminar to start conversations on mental health. Since the initiative, she says: “We’ve had better performance, lower sick leave, but more importantly, we’ve increased awareness of employees’ mental health, which has led to a more compassionate workforce. Employees are appreciative, and it’s genuine and heartfelt.”

Joanne De Sousa: “We’ve had better performance, lower sick leave, but more importantly, we’ve increased awareness of employees’ mental health, which has led to a more compassionate workforce."

Next, Jeremy Milton, UK Financial Wellbeing Leader at Mercer and David Wreford, a partner also at Mercer Marsh Benefits went beyond simple financial advice in their session, Financial wellbeing in the workplace to look at new ways of thinking about pay and its power to create culture change. “Is performance culture driving the right outcomes?” asked Wreford, who suggested that considering how collaboration can be rewarded could “lead to more collective and business positive outcomes”.

On flexible working, Wreford said we can expect more of it. ‘There will be more autonomy in addition to having predictable and secure contracts.” Milton said they are seeing an increase in debts mounting among lower earning employees and the next two years, due to inflation and rising energy bills would see ‘continuous struggle’. “Those with savings are increasingly getting used up. Companies [should] help employees become better equipped to help themselves.”

Jeremy Milton, UK Financial Wellbeing Leader at Mercer and David Wreford, a partner also at Mercer Marsh Benefits went beyond simple financial advice in their session.

HSE and wellbeing culture change – Shifting the dial was the title of the session delivered by Quentin Emery, RyderMarsh’s Principal Consultant in wellbeing. He gave examples of companies that have benefited from taking wellbeing seriously, such as US management consultancy, Gallup which found that engaged employees were less likely to be diagnosed with a new disease. “Safety, quality of work and good employee retention come with engaged staff.”

Stephen Bevan, Head of HR and research development at the Institute of Employment Studies, provided fresh perspectives in his presentation Good work & good health - What the evidence tells us. He said evaluation of engagement should also include outcomes. “Ask, how did people feel rather than how many dialled in?”

As a judge on the global healthy workplace awards he has seen how organisations with good intentions on wellbeing may lose out due to ‘divided attention’ and doing too many things, which can mean they ‘lose focus.’ “Get under the skin of causes. The quality of management is an important part of this, but [too often] we go straight to resolve problems and are surprised when a problem comes back.”

Stephen Bevan: "Too often we go straight to resolve problems and are surprised when a problem comes back.”

The final session with Irfaan Arif, Director of Develop Minds asked us to think how inclusion links to organisational culture and psychological safety. Arif presented some insightful research including a study on racial bias in football. The study found how physical attributes were more likely to be praised by a TV commentator if the player was black, whereas lighter skinned players were more likely to be referred to as ‘intelligent’ and ‘hard working’.

He said the bias is “century old” and a legacy of prior views but it showed startlingly how “bias [still] seeps into the way we make decisions.” He spoke of ‘micro inequities’ that could leave a person “exhausted” such as being talked over or not included in meetings. On the positive side, ‘micro affirmations’, such as acknowledging or praising another’s work, can have a “huge impact on a person’s belonging and sense of safety.”

Irfaan Arif: Micro affirmations’, such as acknowledging or praising another’s work, can have a huge impact on a person’s belonging.

Stephen Cooke closed the day by thanking the speakers, who he said helped to explore different facets of wellbeing in and outside of work. “I hope you agree that they’ve given great insight into the breadth and range of issues involved and provided us with some really practical ideas and solutions that we can make use of in our own places.” He urged participants to jot down something they might do differently following the day.

Anyone who would like to revisit the sessions, or who missed any of the conference, can watch the recordings here: bit.ly/34J8B5M 

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