Early intervention

by Iain Hopkins21 Dec 2011

Early interventionAs the line between 'work' and 'life' becomes hazier with each passing year, a comment recently made to Human Capital by a contact in the legal profession bears repeating. The legal profession is notoriously high pressured; employees work long hours and client expectations are extremely high. This HC contact mentioned that in his firm, he could cite two recent examples where initiatives by the employer had potentially saved lives.

In the first instance, as part of standard executive health checks, a senior partner was undergoing standard checks, including blood pressure monitoring. Asked whether he had any history of blood pressure problems, the employee said no. Upon checking, the blood pressure result was so high that medics - despite protests from the employee - strongly recommended he go straight to hospital.

In the second instance, also as part of standard health check, a woman was found to have an abnormality on her breast; investigation revealed the early stages of breast cancer.

While in both cases it would be hoped the individuals concerned would have detected a problem and sought assistance, there is no way to tell. It's just possible that the actions of the employer saved lives.

It raises an important question: at what point should employers intervene when it comes to the health of their employees? Clearly it is not viable for all employees in all workplaces to undergo the rigorous health checks outlined above. Are there other proactive steps employers can take?

Lead a horse to water...
Firstly, the question of whether employers have any right to intervene at all. Brad McDougall, managing director of Springboard Health & Performance, says it is "a tricky one". "On face value many would argue that health is the responsibility of the individual. However, with research demonstrating that those in poor health are up to 42% less effective in their roles, 3.1 times more absent and eight times less satisfied at work, there is a clear incentive for employers to support employees to improve - and/or manage - their health."

This is supported by recruitment firm Peoplebank, which conducted its own internal research into how and to what extent its 200+ employees wanted company involvement in areas previously deemed 'private'.  One of the key findings suggested that even while looking for more work-life balance, employees weren't looking to distance themselves from the company. Rather, they were interested in Peoplebank becoming more engaged in their life and leisure activities.
"We've got a large Gen Y component in our workforce and clearly they want work to be part of their lifestyle," says Michelle Cooper, national people and performance manager at Peoplebank. "They don't want to come to work to just work. They want it to be part of what they do - it's not clock in, clock out and then live my life; it's realising that life is part of the time at work."

Although initially conceived as a way to provide greater insight into the work-life demands for its employees, Peoplebank has used its employee research as a launch pad for a range of initiatives covering off both the physical and psychological health of employees, as Cooper explains:

"When we look at the health and wellbeing of our people we try to understand firstly what the actual needs of our employees are; we seek to find that out via employee surveys around how we can better support them, both in terms of flexibility and in terms of benefits.

"A lot of what we find is flexibility-wise people want to stay healthy by going to the gym and would like flexibility to do that. What we do is let people know that firstly we want them to go to the gym, throughout work hours, and we make it ok for that to happen. They might step out at 3pm and then come back to work, because that works better for them."

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