According to cancer support charity, Macmillan, HR staff in a large company will see more new cancer diagnoses each year than the average GP. More than 700,000 people of working age are living with a cancer diagnosis in the UK, and many of these will continue to work during or after treatment. This could be because they need to for financial reasons, or perhaps they want to retain a ‘normal’ life wherever possible. Or perhaps they simply enjoy their work.
If an employee has received a cancer diagnosis, there is a lot of support available to help them continue working. They may wish to work through and after treatment, if it is appropriate considering their line of work. Macmillan offer excellent advice on all aspects of working through and after cancer treatment. We’d like to share some of their advice and explain how occupational health plays an important part in enabling people to continue working for as long as they wish.
A cancer diagnosis comes with many uncertainties and employees may not know how it will affect their work in the short term or in the future. Health professionals may be able to give some advice in advance but with some treatments, the employee won’t know what to expect until they start.
There are many variables, such as:
Many people do carry on working or return to work with support from their employer. By law, an employer must consider making reasonable adjustments to help individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer. You may wish to have a designated person within your workplace who can advise the employee or their managers; such as an occupational health adviser. There are also various organisations that offer support.
If your workplace has an occupational health adviser then an occupational health referral would be appropriate. If your workplace doesn’t have an in-house occupational health department, there are many providers that can offer an ad-hoc service to provide advice to the employee and employer on appropriate support at work. Occupational health advisers are professionals specialising in workplace health issues. In addition to medical expertise, they’ll have an understanding of the requirements of the job roles. This means they can advise you on matters such as:
It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Individuals will need some time off work for tests, appointments and treatments, and they might also need time away to adjust to their feelings.
Some people stop working during treatment and for some time after, while others carry on working, perhaps with reduced hours or other temporary changes to their job. Work can be important for giving individuals a sense of routine and may also be a vital source of friendships and social life.
An occupational health specialist can be a great support during this time. If you’d like to find out more about how occupational health can support people with cancer at work, please feel free to call me at any time.read more
Menopause awareness has been gaining traction recently, and rightly so; women of menopausal age are now the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace. In fact, some 4.3 million women aged 45-60 are currently employed in the UK. While some of these will be blissfully unaffected, many will experience an impact on their work and home life.
The average age for menopause in the UK is 51, however symptoms can begin many years before. With women working later in life than ever before, organisations need to offer better support to this group in order to retain talent and stay ahead of the competition.
Each person’s experience will be different but we know that one in four women will suffer severe symptoms. We should not underestimate the effect that this will have on the individual and also on their work colleagues. Indeed, it’s been estimated that around 10% of women stop work altogether due to menopausal symptoms.
Thankfully, we’re now seeing an increasing number of employers implementing the right awareness and support measures, and the Government Report on Menopause established that employers need to take this issue seriously. In a recent study of over 5,000 people, 1 in 10 respondents said their organisation had issued a menopause policy or guidance, which just a few years ago would have been extremely rare. So as an employer, what does this mean for you? And what can you do to help this valuable part of your workforce?
Studies have shown that menopause symptoms can have a significant impact on attendance and performance at work. In fact, around half of women surveyed say they find work difficult due to these symptoms. The main symptoms that women feel affect them at work are:
Some women have found themselves accused of underperforming, or even misdiagnosed as mentally ill. A study commissioned by the British Association of Women in Policing found that some female police officers felt less able to function normally at work due to tiredness and insomnia associated with the menopause.
Menopausal symptoms can be significant enough that women decide to leave their jobs early or hold back from promotions at work.
On the other hand, widespread lack of awareness means that many women don’t actually recognise that their symptoms are due to the menopause (or perimenopause – the period leading up to the menopause), and therefore don’t talk about it or ask for help.
The good news is that when the menopause is handled correctly in the workplace and women feel comfortable talking through concerns with colleagues and managers, related absenteeism and performance issues can be reduced.
Of course, employers are responsible for the health and safety of all their employees, but it also makes good business sense to support the needs of an age-diverse workforce. Higher retention rates, improved performance and better morale all stem from a holistic approach to employee health and wellbeing.
A workplace wellbeing policy which recognises the menopause is a good place to start, and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine introduced new guidelines on menopause and the workplace in 2016. These offer practical advice to support women, their colleagues and managers in tackling the occupational aspects of menopausal symptoms.
The guidelines include recommendations about working conditions for menopausal women, such as:
The guidelines also make recommendations for women whose symptoms are affecting them at work, such as:
An occupational health specialist can be a great support if you are looking to develop awareness and support measures in your organisation. If you have an employee experiencing difficulties with menopausal symptoms in the workplace, or would like to talk through how to develop your own policy, please feel free to call me at any time.read more
Three out of five employees have experienced a mental health issue in the last year either because of work or related to work, while 31 per cent have been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition. Yet despite these alarming figures from Business in the Community/Mercer research, stress, anxiety and depression still remain taboo subjects in many workplaces, with only one in ten employees saying they felt able to talk about mental health issues with their line manager.
Dealing with an employee who you suspect has a mental health issue isn’t easy. Managers have to strike the right balance between being caring and supportive to their people, while at the same time making sure business needs continue to be met. Often, they have had no formal training in how to appropriately support employees and are worried about how to broach the subject without making the situation worse. Managers who work in smaller businesses without an HR function can feel particularly vulnerable and unsure of where to turn to find best practice.
So as a manager, what do you need to be aware of and what can you do to make sure employees who are struggling with mental health issues get the right kind of help?
Improve your knowledge
Given the prevalence of mental health issues, it makes sense for managers to improve their knowledge of the common conditions. As an occupational health specialist, employees often tell me that “their manager doesn’t understand” or has just told them to “stop worrying” or “pull themselves together”. It’s not about becoming an expert overnight – but about being aware of some of the symptoms, and developing a basic understanding of what employees may be going through, so that you can approach the situation more sensitively. Knowing a bit about sources of external information and support will also help you signpost people to the right kind of help if and when they need it.
Recognise the signs
We all experience stress at work from time to time, but if the pressure is prolonged and there is no let-up, there is a danger people will buckle under the strain or tip over into anxiety or depression. The key is for you as a manager to spot the signs at an early stage, so that you can offer support and take action to reduce any stress, where possible, before the situation deteriorates. If an employee is suffering with stress, they may be more irritable, moody and quick to anger than normal. They may start to make mistakes, miss important details or struggle to make decisions. Someone who is suffering from anxiety will probably appear unsettled and will worry about things that wouldn’t normally bother them. They may be experiencing physical symptoms such as a racing heart or panic attacks. With depression, people become withdrawn, demotivated and can struggle to look after themselves and complete normal daily tasks. They often have trouble sleeping and as a result, come into work exhausted. As a manager, you are in a good position to spot these symptoms, because you are likely to know what an employee’s normal behaviour and performance looks like and will quite quickly see if something is different.
Start a dialogue
Managers are often reluctant to talk to an employee about their mental health, because they are concerned they may be seen as interfering or straying onto personal territory. They worry that if they open the door, the person may become upset and that they won’t know how to deal with it. The conversation may well feel uncomfortable – but it’s important to get issues out in the open. Only the individual themselves can tell you how they are feeling and what they need, whether that’s a bit of leeway for a few weeks while they sort out a personal situation that is causing them stress, or a serious issue that requires professional help. Recognise that people may be reluctant to open up because they don’t want to admit they have a problem, or because they fear it will have a negative impact on their job or career. Try starting the conversation by asking people how they are coping with work in general and mentioning that you are worried they may be experiencing stress. Make it clear the conversation is coming from a place of concern and that you want to support them – not punish them because their performance has decreased..
Make simple adjustments
Sometimes, quite small changes to people’s role or responsibilities can make a big difference to their ability to get through a difficult time. It’s about taking a common sense approach and looking at what simple adjustments you can make that will help them, and which are also reasonable from a business point of view. Typical adjustments might include reducing someone’s working hours on a temporary basis, or allowing them to work more flexibly or occasionally from home. In some instances, you might want to reduce their workload, extend deadlines or set less challenging targets. Taking the opportunity to improve communication in general is also important. Often, people become stressed at work because they are unsure of what is expected of them, have been given tasks they are not properly equipped to carry out or are not receiving positive feedback about their efforts. As a manager, try to think creatively about what you can do to alleviate the problem and stop the situation deteriorating any further.
Know when to seek external help
If the common sense approach isn’t working – or you can see that someone needs more help than you can give them – you need to seek external support. Be wary of getting too embroiled in the details and becoming the employee’s sole source of support. This is not only emotionally draining and time-consuming for you, but also gets in the way of the individual getting the professional help they need. The key is to be supportive, but keep it business-like – otherwise managing that person’s performance going forward can become difficult. An occupational health specialist can be a great support in this situation. They will be able to provide a confidential ear for the employee and signpost them to the right kind of support, while also advising you about the medical aspects of the condition, how it is likely to develop and what kind of adjustments might help. If your business doesn’t have access to an Occupational Health Advisor or Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), you can suggest the individual goes to their GP or look at some of the self-help resources that are widely available.
MIND have a great website with free resources for line managers and HR professionals to help manage mental health at work, including how to promote wellbeing and tackle the cause of work-related mental health problems, as well as how to support staff who are experiencing a mental health problem. Mental health resources for managers.
If you have an employee experiencing difficulties or would just like to talk through how to manage stress in your workplace, please feel free to call me at any time.read more
It is well documented that a sedentary lifestyle and sitting still for long periods during the day can have an adverse effect on health. The effects can include heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer; and prolonged static postures can contribute to backache, depression and muscle degeneration. Our bodies are designed to stand and move for long periods of time. Even when standing still, we automatically shift our weight and move around while standing, which helps exercise the muscles, and prevents the repetitive stress and muscle degeneration caused by sitting for long periods.
There are lots of debates currently about the benefits of standing desks, or sit/stand desks which allow the individual to alter the height of the desk so that some of the time can be spent sitting, some time spent standing. For people with certain musculo-skeletal conditions, such as back pain or neck pain, this would improve comfort and offer them the flexibility to alter their working position to maintain the best comfort levels. Both sitting and standing desks have their advantages and disadvantages. A standing desk wouldn’t necessarily suit everyone as all individuals are different, and some people find sitting desks more comfortable and some find standing desks more comfortable.
The important point to note is that it isn’t just ‘sitting’ that causes health problems, it is the absence of movement, so that would be whether you sat for long periods of time or stood for long periods of time. Therefore, regardless of the type of desk it is important that individuals factor in some movement time into their working day. Instead of making financial commitments to change all desks to standing desks, encouraging more movement built into the working day.
An expert consensus statement commissioned by Public Health England and the Active Working Community gives guidelines for employers on how best to help workers avoid long periods of sedentary work. They advise employees to build up to standing for between two to four hours during the working day. This time should also include ‘light walking’ and incidental movement such as walking to the photocopier, going to talk to a colleague. The important point is to break up periods of sitting regularly throughout the day. To encourage this, there are simple low cost strategies that people could adopt, which include using a timer to remind them to move, arrange standing or walking meetings, or book meeting rooms which involve a longer walk to get to.
A good solution to the expense of providing everyone with sit/stand desks that are height adjustable, or with just standing desks, would be to offer a number of standing desks, or height adjustable desks, which could be used for short periods of time during the working day by different people. This gives flexibility for changes in working posture for a number of people without the expense of changing all the equipment for everyone. For those with back conditions or musculo-skeletal conditions that are aggravated by sitting, a height adjustable desk would be a sensible option to consider. There are also desk raisers that can be used to raise the level of the keyboard and screen on the existing desk, which may well be a cheaper suitable alternative that can be used for other other employees if necessary in the future.read more
Sleep is an essential part of feeling well and feeling happy, but almost everyone experiences problems sleeping at some part of their life. Lack of sleep robs you of needed rest. Paying attention to good sleep hygiene is the most important thing you can do to maintain good sleep. The term sleep hygiene refers to a series of habits and rituals that can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
There are many medications which are used to treat insomnia, but these tend to be only effective in the short-term. Ongoing use of sleeping pills may lead to dependence and interfere with developing good sleep habits independent of medication, thereby prolonging sleep difficulties.
The following list of sleep hygiene tips can be used to promote sleep:
For further advice on sleep or other occupational health and wellbeing needs, contact us today for an informal chat.read more
A new report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research looked at the cost of long-term absence for a typical business of more than 500 employees. It estimates the cost of absences over six months to be £4.17 billion to private sector businesses in the UK. Mental health conditions account for a large proportion of this, with 1 in 4 people are estimated as experiencing mental health problems at some time in their life, causing over 70 million working days lost per year, and a cost of £1.17 billion per year.
The research showed that businesses who step in early to provide support at an early stage of a health problem, rather than waiting until it gets more serious, reduced the duration and length of the sickness absence. Actively using early intervention services such as vocational rehabilitation can reduce the average length of absence by 17% for all conditions and 18% in mental health conditions. This equates to turning an absence of seven months into six.
Vocational rehabilitation is using the workplace to aid recovery. In terms of mental health conditions, a gradual reintroduction to the workplace at a pace that is manageable for the employee, and with possibly adjusted duties, is likely to improve their general recovery as well as confidence. It is a win-win situation. The employee feels valued and is able to contribute to the workplace during their recovery, and the employer will have some output and productivity from the employee who would otherwise not be at work.
Occupational health advisors are well placed to identify vocational rehabilitation plans. They will have a good knowledge of the health condition, understand the health as well as psychosocial aspects and or/barriers involved in helping an employee back to work, and understands the demands of the business and what adjustments are possible and can be accommodated. Occupational health assessments should be conducted as early in the process as possible, ideally no longer than one month after the initial absence, to ensure that the appropriate support can be identified and put into place as soon as the employee is well enough to be able to come back to work in some capacity. For further advice on helping your employees back to work and reducing length of absences at your workplace, please call us now.read more
So now you know why, all that is left is for you to do is get up from your desk, take a walk round the block, or up and down the stairs, and keep active. Taking a 30 minute walk at lunchtime is great for giving your mind and body a break, allowing you to be more productive in the afternoon. Pick up the phone for other wellbeing or occupational health advice that could help your employees boost productivity at work.read more
The WHO (World Health Organisation) has ranked physical inactivity as the fourth main risk factor for causes of death, after high blood pressure, smoking and high blood glucose. Sedentary behaviour has also been associated with many serious health conditions including high blood pressure, depression, diabetes and musculoskeletal conditions and therefore increases the risk of ill health. As many people spend much of their working day sitting in the office, the workplace can be considered as a root cause of the “sitting disease”.
It is important to understand that a sedentary person is different from an inactive person. An inactive person is someone who does not meet the recommended guidance of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week. Therefore regardless of how much exercise an individual does, even active individuals are at risk of ill health if they are sedentary for long periods of time.
The risks of sedentary behaviour can be considerable. After just 90 minutes of continuous sitting, the effects of gravity can cause poor posture, forcing the body to lean forwards and down. Electrical nerve activity in the leg muscles shuts off, calorie burn drops to one per minute, enzymes that break down fat drop by 90% and blood flow is restricted in the lower body. Unfortunately all this happens whether you exercise every day or do no activity at all.
As absence through ill-health can be considerably costly to businesses, and employees spend so much time at work, Employers need to consider their role in providing workplace strategies to help improve health and wellness at work. In the long term, healthier, happier employees are likely to be more productive and engaged at work.
Encouraging more movement at work doesn’t have to be costly. Simple measures can be implemented to encourage employees to get up from their desk and move regularly throughout the working day. Cultural change needs to occur to show employees that it is ok to move around, to be seen to move around and not be a slave to their desk at all times. The following strategies are simple ideas that can be implemented cheaply and quickly in many workplaces:
As individuals spend so much time at work, and absence can be so costly, employers are recognising that workplace wellness programmes are becoming higher on the agenda. Occupational health professionals are well placed to advise on suitable initiatives.
For help identify strategies to get your employees on the move, call us now.read more
A new report is due to be published soon calling for more help for women coping with the menopause at work. The menopause can cause symptoms such as, hot flushes, difficulty in sleeping, palpitations, headaches, mood swings, anxiety and depression, as well as problems with memory and concentration. On average, symptoms can be present for approximately four years, but for 10% of women it can last up to 12 years. There is treatment available in the form of HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), which can reduce some of the symptoms, however, this treatment is not suitable or available for every woman. Other treatment options are aimed at keeping the symptoms as manageable as possible.
Each individual’s experience of the menopause is likely to be different. For some, the symptoms are minimal, for others it can be quite debilitating. In 2011 a study by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation explored women’s experience of working through the menopause. The findings showed that many women were little prepared for the arrival of the menopause, and even less equipped to manage its symptoms at work. Heavy and painful periods, hot flushes, mood disturbances, fatigue and poor concentration posed significant and embarrassing problems for some women, leaving them feeling less confident. Women felt that workplaces and working practices are not designed with menopausal women in mind. Due to the nature of the symptoms some women said they worked really hard to overcome their perceived shortcomings, while others considered working part-time, although they were concerned about the impact on their career if they did so, or even thought about leaving the labour force altogether.
Although many women find their own coping strategies (such as obtaining fans, opening windows, bringing a change of clothes, sleeping longer at the weekend), employers could provide more assistance and support during what is, for many, a difficult time. Employers can help by communicating to their workforce that health-related problems such as the menopause are ‘normal’. This could include:
More information can be found in this useful TUC booklet and BOHRF guide for managers on supporting people through the menopause. For any advice on managing the menopause in your workplace or for any other occupational health advice, call us now.read more
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in the UK. It is estimated that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem and one in six will be diagnosed with a disorder such as anxiety or depression.
Most people feel anxious from time to time, however, anxiety can become abnormal if it interferes with normal daily functioning. Anxiety can cause symptoms such as feeling fearful, tense but can also cause other unpleasant symptoms such as a fast heart rate, feeling sick, headaches, feeling shaky, fast breathing, dry mouth, difficulty in sleeping or panicky. Anxiety is normal in stressful situations but becomes abnormal if it is out of proportion to the situation, continues when the stressful situation has gone, or appears for no apparent reason when there is no stressful situation.
There are many different causes for anxiety and each individual may experience it differently. The cause may be related to personal issues, work issues or a combination of both. Regardless of the cause, the symptoms are likely to impact on an individual’s normal functioning, which can be both at home and at work. Work performance may be affected as the individual may have trouble with decision-making, complex thought processes and their work speed may be slower.
Many individuals with anxiety remain at work and may be undiagnosed. There are effective treatments available for anxiety, which include medication or talking therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), or a combination of both. Ideally, an employee should be encouraged to seek help through their GP to obtain a diagnosis and to discuss appropriate treatment options. Many people are able to function at work with anxiety, but may benefit from some temporary adjustments to their work until their symptoms are under control. Many individuals will be able to identify what would specifically help them at work, so having a conversation with them is the first step in helping them to manage their anxiety effectively at work.
Obtaining an occupational health assessment would also help identify adjustments that could be considered (such as reduced hours, reduced responsibilities, slightly later start time if sleep affected), provide you with advice on the likely consequences of the condition on the individual’s ability to perform their normal duties in the short and long-term, and advise on the organisation’s responsibilities if the anxiety is likely to be caused or aggravated by work factors. An occupational health nurse can also advise the employee on treatment options available and signpost them in the right direction.
If you would like to understand how anxiety may affect your employees and what can be done to minimise the impact on their work, pick up the phone to speak to one of our occupational health specialists for more information.read more