IPH presented evidence on health & wellbeing measures to reduce workplace sickness absence to the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Finance and Personnel on 26 March.
L-R Dr Joanna Purdy, Dr Elizabeth Mitchell and Teresa Keating
It was highlighted that systematic, coordinated and comprehensive approaches, which include employee involvement, are essential for promoting health and wellbeing within the workplace.
Creating an environment where people actively choose to walk and cycle as part of everyday life can have significant benefits. Employers can do their part to support this. Real improvements to personal health and wellbeing and the wider environment can be achieved when active travel is integrated into transport planning, and ultimately will have a positive impact on the economy.
With respect to healthy eating in the workplace there is a need for a coordinated, holistic approach supported by senior management. The implementation of healthy eating has been shown to be more effective when delivered in conjunction with other health promoting activities such as physical activity programmes, links with external agencies, and consultation and engagement with the main parties involved in the process.
Most employers recognise that poor mental health is now, by some margin, the single most important cause of sickness absence in the workforce. This highlights the importance of having proactive positive mental health programmes in the workplace.
IPH made the following recommendations:
- Pedestrian and cyclist safety should be a key focus of infrastructural investment. The work of a broad range of government and other agencies will be required to promote and maintain a safe environment for active travel to work.
- In addition to the Cycle to Work scheme, further uptake of active travel to work should be facilitated by the increased availability of secure, weather-protected cycle parking facilities at workplaces, schools and public transport hubs; and by access to changing facilities and showers in the workplace
- The principles and learning of whole-school approaches to healthy eating should be adapted for workplaces
- Two practical measures to support staff in eating more healthily in the workplace should be implemented across NICS and HSC, the adoption of the procurement guidelines for catering managers and the rolling out of the Caloriewise scheme in staff restaurants.
- Public sector employers should ensure that they have comprehensive programmes in place to promote mental health and wellbeing and support employees with mental health problems.