I was delighted to present recently at the “Good Work for Good Health” symposium, organised by the Vocational Rehabilitation Association (VRA), Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) and Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM).
Empactis has always supported me in my activities as Chair of the Council for Work and Health (CWH). The Council now has nearly 40 organisational members, and through these it reaches more than a million individuals with a keen interest in aspects of work and health. Organisational members include those who represent employers, such as Make UK, TUC and ACAS, as well as national organisations such as NHS Employers and Public Health England. A broad spread of other professional bodies are also members, representing major health professions, ergonomists and safety professionals.
The Council was invited by the Government’s Work and Health Unit to research and develop a resource to tackle an issue identified in the “Improving Lives” ten-year strategy, first set out in a Green Paper in 2017. Improving Lives was a landmark publication which set out plans to transform employment prospects for those with long-term health conditions as well as disabilities.
The statistics paint a stark picture. Far too many people become sick, impacting their ability to work. 1.8 million UK workers take more than 4 weeks off a year, and many never return to work. In fact, more than 300,000 a year fall out of work and become dependent on benefits. Ill-health among working age people costs the economy more than £100 billion a year, estimates the DWP.
Research shows that many of these workers would benefit from simple work adjustments in the workplace to help accommodate their recovery. The “sick note” was changed to become a “fit note” several years ago – designed to enable GP’s to support their patients by identifying to employers suggested work adjustments that could help. However, only a very small percentage of fit notes are completed in this way and the CWH was asked to undertake work to help GPs in such efforts.
Developing the “Talking Work” work adjustments resource
I led a small CWH steering group that oversaw an experienced researcher, who trawled the world literature base and co-ordinated a highly consultative development process to develop a resource called “Talking Work” to help identification of work adjustments, which would be useful for GPs and employers alike.
We now have strong evidence that work is genuinely good for health, and simple work changes can make a huge difference. Yet many GPs have little or no training in having work and health conversations, making it challenging for them to make recommendations. Employers themselves are often not aware of what is possible. Part of the approach that Empactis takes is to help employers have good conversations with employees, providing them with tools to help them engage better, identify their needs, and manage them.
VRA recognises “Talking Work” project
The VRA announced the winners of its awards at the Symposium, and I was delighted to see the “Talking Work” project win the national award for best National Initiative in the research, innovation and education category. This was not an easy project and such recognition reinforces its value, as does the other very positive feedback it has received.
The “Talking Work” checklist and work modifications toolkit is freely available. It is hosted on the Council’s website and contains practical, well-based and simple advice about work adjustments.
Whilst the toolkit is designed to help in the completion of fit notes it also has links to many sources of practical advice, that employers and employees can access and use free, to help understand what work adjustments may help.
The award has not only recognised much effort but validated an important initiative and resource that will help significant numbers of workers, as it is utilised. After all, an early return to “good work” improves recovery, reduces risk of future recurrent illness and can reduce chances of long-term disability – that’s good for patients, their employers, and the health service alike.