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Award-winning strategies

first_imgWith its key achievements and award-winning success, what makes the Aegon UKoccupational health team stand out from the rest? Leadership, commitment andkey initiatives are a good starting point, by Nic Paton Too often health professionals, despite the best intentions, end up workingin grand isolation. But that is a luxury a good occupational health nurse – whowill often need to bring together many different strands of care – can illafford. Angela Dunlop, occupational health and safety adviser at Aegon UK, says:”You must have excellent communication skills and not be afraid of talkingto people. There are a lot of people out there with a lot of experience, in HRtoo, so don’t be afraid to use it.” Dunlop and her team know what they are talking about. In October the AegonUK occupational health department was shortlisted for the prestigious AonHealth Solutions Award for Managing Health at Work at the Personnel TodayAwards 2002, the only OH team to have been so. It has also won bronze in theScotland Health at Work awards, and is being considered for either a silver orgold award. The British Safety Council recently awarded Aegon a ‘sword of honour’ forits approach to health and safety, an award only given to 40 companiesworldwide each year. Aegon UK is the British subsidiary of Dutch insurer Aegon and the namebehind Scottish Equitable. It has assets of more than £43bn, making it one ofthe largest companies within its sector. Within the UK it employs some 4,500people. OH provision at the company has been available since 1998, provided througha contract with OH provider Corporate Health at a cost of £90,000 a year,including the cost of providing two full-time OH nurses. It is located withinthe HR department. Dunlop helped found the department and previously worked for OH companySalus, which provides occupational health provision for Lanarkshire HealthBoard. Initially the team only had Dunlop as a specialist OH practitioner, but inOctober it expanded to include another OHN, Janette Hoffmann. It iscomplemented by an OH support nurse, Joanne Cassidy, a health and safetyadviser Chris Clarke and overseen by Gareth Humphreys, group personnel manager.”The main challenge is that I am not sitting in an occupational healthdepartment, I am in personnel. So there is often tension around maintainingconfidentiality. It is about trying to get the right balance for the employeeand the employer,” says Dunlop. Having said that, relations with the management are ‘excellent’, she says.”The support we have had from Aegon UK’s senior management has been secondto none.” Focus on outcomes So, what is so special about Aegon UK? According to Dr John Cooper, head ofcorporate healthcare at Unilever, who judged the Personnel Today Aon Health SolutionsAward for Managing Health at Work, it is very much the fact that the departmentis not isolated. “The thing that stood out for me was that it is very much amulti-disciplinary effort. There was evidence of good leadership and it makesit work. It is one thing to have a good idea, but it will not work unless thereis leadership and commitment. “The team is also very business-oriented. They have made attempts tomeasure what they are doing. They are very much focused on outcomes,” hesays. Departmental initiatives include a monthly health promotion topic, forinstance on mental health awareness, family health or safe skin. A monthlystaff needs survey is also carried out, which has been central to formulatingthe department’s ongoing OH strategy. Alternative therapists are contracted in to offer osteopathy, reflexologyand aromatherapy, and have proved so popular that there are now waiting lists.Another element has been the implementation of an alcohol and substance misusepolicy. Staff benefits include private medical insurance, as well as permanenthealth insurance for those with long-term ill health. The company’s totalbenefits bill comes to £1.6m, an average cost of £408 per employee. Innovative rehabilitation But the main task facing the OH department has been to make it easier forlong-term absentees to return to work. Since 1998, 76 employers have used thedepartment’s innovative rehabilitation programme. Of these, 28 are now back atwork, 27 are receiving benefit from it and 21 are still off on long-term sickleave. This, says Aegon, represents a long-term absence figure of just 0.67 percent. Any employee who has been absent for four weeks or longer is automaticallyreferred to OH for an assessment. Medical, social or work-related factors areexplored in this assessment and ways of returning-to-work are discussed. Anindividual return-to-work programme is also designed. “Through liaison with the employee, their medical practitioners andtheir managers, action can be taken to ensure the employee’s health is notadversely affected by work,” explains Dunlop. Other elements of the programme include gradually building up the time anemployee can spend back at work and, where necessary, retraining them intoanother position. Both approaches have been found to be very effective inhelping employees who have been absent for a significant period of time. Staff will maintain regular contact with the OH department during anyrehabilitation programme, and progress reports are sent to the HR departmentand their GP. “A major contributory factor in the success of the programmeis regular communication with all relevant parties to work in partnership, aswell as the ability to adapt to changes when needed,” Dunlop said in thedepartment’s entry to the award. Absence figures overall have reduced to 4.3 days per employee per year, downfrom six days in 1998, with the added benefit of the company spending lessmoney on temporary staff to cover absences. Staff turnover is currently 12.32 per cent, significantly better than itsrivals in the sector, at 17-19 per cent. In the past year (from March 2001 toMarch 2002) the turnover rate fell from 14 per cent to the current 12 per cent.The company also points to improved productivity since the absence and turnoverrates fell, and improved morale. Success stories Dunlop is particularly proud of her success in turning around the long-termsickness absence rate at a nearby rival organisation, GRE, which was taken overby Aegon. After the takeover, Dunlop was called in to instigate a healthpromotion programme and suggested the company tackle long-term absence. “I met with employees and looked at why they were off sick and what wecould do to get them back to work. It had just not been managed properlybefore,” she says. A total of 90 per cent of the long-term absentees are now back at work andthe company’s executors have said they want to bring in their own nurse. Another key area of the department’s work is stress management. “We seea lot of stress cases but not all is work-related. Most employees live inEdinburgh, which is now really expensive, so many have financial worries too.This means there are various different kinds of stress,” says Dunlop. “There is the odd case of bullying and harassment, but no more thananywhere else. Because the average age of our employees is mostly late 20s toearly 30s, they tend to be quite a sporty bunch, so we do see a number ofmusculoskeletal injuries, pulled muscles and that sort of thing,” shesays. A health needs survey of staff in 2000 – conducted as part of thedepartment’s three-year health promotion strategy – found that two-thirds ofrespondents felt their life was very or quite stressful, with time pressures atwork and money worries the two most common problems. A third of people tookwork home with them, 64 per cent worked long hours to get through their workand 60 per cent felt they were always trying to catch up. More than half – 57 per cent – found getting enough physical exercise in atypical week difficult, but more than a third took exercise at least threetimes a week. One of the key achievements any good OH department must have is trust –trust among employees that you are going to maintain confidentiality and lookafter them, and trust from management that you are going to work successfullyfor the company. “You have to build up that trust. Employees must know you are not goingto go back and tell their employer everything. It is about getting the consent ofthe employee to divulge appropriate information. “You get a feel for what you can or cannot tell them, and a lot of thetime it will be something they have already told their line manageranyway,” explains Dunlop. Open communication A key facet of this approach is the department’s attitude to working withother health professionals and management. Dunlop says she tries very hard tokeep communication channels open as widely as possible and will often be foundto be working closely with local GPs, consultants, psychiatrists and the HRteam. “Our main advantage has been working within the company, not separateto it. We are the link people, we bring everyone together,” she says. As to the future, Dunlop envisages there will be more work on stress, as thecompany is working its way through a number of redundancies. Other initiativesinclude a review of the absence management programme and the alcohol and drugmisuse strategy. “We are going to have to look very closely at stress. I would like todo a survey specifically on stress during February,” she says, adding thatshe will then do another one in February 2004 to provide a comparison. And the close working relationship with health colleagues will alsocontinue. In some cases, consultants and GPs are now actively advising Aegonemployees to approach the OH department if they have an appropriate problem. “GPs and local health practitioners are more supportive of allowingtheir patients to return to work sooner than anticipated, safe in the knowledgethey will be closely monitored for adverse effects and appropriate action takenpromptly. This has the added advantage of an increase in the likelihood of thereturn to work being successful,” said Dunlop in her Awards entry. “So often you see good activities, but they are not able to show youany results,” explains Unilever’s Dr Cooper, summing up what made theAegon department stand out. “This was a more business-like approach to OH.It is very easy for a nurse or doctor to go to a manager and present a proposal.But too often that proposal is not measured or linked to outcomes.” The team– Angela Dunlop, occupational healthand safety adviser– Gareth Humphreys, group personnel manager– Joanne Cassidy, occupational health support nurse– Chris Clarke, health and safety adviser– Janette Hoffmann, occupational health and safety administrator Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos. Award-winning strategiesOn 2 Jan 2003 in Musculoskeletal disorders, Personnel Todaylast_img read more