Too often OH practitioners complain of feeling undervalued, while managers grumble they’re not getting value for money. Smarter and more effective use of technology can be one way to square this circle and put OH back where it belongs – at the heart of the organisation.
Occupational health practitioners are indispensable. Really? In times when money and resources are tight, aren’t they a bit of luxury?
Managers across all sectors are under pressure to find savings because of financial uncertainties. But we argue they should think twice before making cuts to their occupational health budgets. It is a false economy; indeed, by cutting OH they risk reducing their prospects of saving money.
To understand how this cost-benefit argument works, we first need to be clear about what we actually mean by “occupational health”. NHS Employers describes OH as teams that “work towards keeping staff physically and emotionally well at work”.
In the context of the NHS, it argues that OH is an “essential” element of being able to provide and deliver high-quality patient care, adding that: “A good quality occupational health service can help the NHS become more productive, reduce sickness absence and save money.”
This holds true as much outside as within the NHS, as the Health and Safety Executive makes clear in its document Healthy workplace, healthy workforce, better business delivery. “Committing resources to prevent people being made ill by work or being absent from the workplace for health reasons and placing emphasis on rehabilitation and getting people back to work can benefit both employers and employees,” it states.
Within the same document, the respected Professor Sayeed Khan, chief medical adviser to the manufacturers’ organisation EEF and a health and safety commissioner, adds: “Those companies who still put this issue in the ‘too difficult’ tray would do well to sit up and take note of the very real benefits they would reap from tackling the problem.”
So why, given all this evidence to the contrary, do occupational health practitioners still so often feel at the fringes of their organisation rather than at its beating heart?
Put simply, managers too often do not understand what occupational health does and therefore do not take advantage of their wide-ranging skills.
The result? Frustration on both sides. OH practitioners can feel undervalued while management grumbles that it is not getting value for money from its investment.
Technology: the Solution
One answer is a richer and more effective use of technology. As Martyn Lawson our Product & Technology Director highlighted in an article for the Occupational Health & Wellbeing magazine back in May. Occupational health departments now have a greater opportunity than ever to use data to expand their organisation’s knowledge about their staff – thanks to OPAS-G2 software for occupational health.
To recap, launched in partnership with IBM in May, the software offers users secure access from anywhere at any time, via desktop, mobile and tablet. It enables OH teams to work more efficiently, for example helping them to clear manager referrals more quickly and to monitor, analyse, interrogate and respond to health and sickness patterns more effectively.
This, of course, is extremely valuable in itself at a day-to-day operational level. But, arguably, having access to this sort of innovative technology can provide an even deeper benefit for an OH team – visibility within the organisation.
As operations director Bob Betts puts it: “OPAS-G2 is a system that can help to highlight the importance of the occupational health team to the wider organisation.”
The greater insights around people and health and wellbeing that can be accrued from using technology and data in this way, and the flexibility this sort of software offers, can help to illustrate the effectiveness of health and wellbeing interventions, and the important contribution OH teams are therefore making as a result.
Sales director Howard Watson adds: “Our first clients have been impressed by the demonstrations of OPAS-G2 because of the extra knowledge it gives them about their staff and the flexibility of the system.
“It will provide them with the time to give extra concentration on occupational health, help decisions about staff to be more informed and, consequently, to increase productivity,” he adds.
Employee health and wellbeing is always going to be a complex and multifaceted beast, and no one solution is ever going to be a panacea. But by using technology to work smarter, OH professionals are not just helping their employees, managers and bottom line, they are helping to put OH, very visibly, back where it belongs – at the heart of the organisation.
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