LDDC Personnel Papers
Health before Sickness - Prevention is better than cure
- a study by the London Docklands Development Corporation
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Contents

Health before Sickness – Prevention is Better than Cure:  1998 article in People In the Public Sector
(Appendix O to the Final Personnel Annual Report)

Start
Human Resources Strategy - Health
Feedback
Performance Benchmarks
Working Environment
Counselling and Health Checks
Conclusions

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SICKNESS ABSENCE IN THE WORKPLACE IS NOT A SUBJECT THAT CAN BE TREATED IN ISOLATION.  The health of employees needs to he addressed through a holistic approach ensuring that staff are healthy and motivated in order to provide an optimum level of output in a successful organisation, in the private or public sector. The benefits of this approach have beers realised at the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) and the following case study traces the route and details leading to a successful approach to health promotion and sickness absence control.

The LDDC is a  Non Departmental Public Body set up in 1981 to undertake the physcial economic and social regeneration of 8 square miles of London’s derelict docklands. The LDDC has now almost completed its task and will he dissolved on 31 March 1998.

A key element in the success of the LDDC has been the human resources strategy, developed by the Head of Personnel & Administration, David Lowman. This strategy uses a range of flexible staffing methods to implement a variable project and grant programme both in terms of the budget and focus. The diverse nature of the LDDC task has resulted in sourcing staff across a wide range of disciplines from borehole engineers to landscape architects, from acquisitions surveyors to divers. The contractual status of these staff varies widely from fixed term and permanent employees to term consultants, freelancers and contractors.  This high level of diversity in contractual status has given the LDDC access to skilled professionals ensuring that its project programme and maintenance responsibilities can he met.

Figure 1:  In terms of organisational performance over the past 16 years the LDDC has achieved the following in its Urban Development Area

Total Population 1981 -39,429 1997 81,231 Forecast 2011 (112,054
Employees working in Docklands 1981 - 27,213 1997 - 72,000 Forecast 175,000 at end state
Commercial Floor space completed since 1981 (gross) 2.3 million sq metres
24.75 million sq ft
Housing completed 21,615 dwellings
Land reclaimed 1919 acres (777 hectares)

 

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Human Resources Strategy - Health

 The LDDC has developed a strategic approach to Human Resources issues using the following four elements as a focus for staff performance and motivation

Reward Communication
Training and Development  Health

 

Each heading interrelates to motivate and stimulate staff and provides support through series of ground breaking and innovative programmes including the highly successful Career Development Programme and the diverse Outlook health programme.

The development of the Outlook programme arose from a series of health  promotion measures introduced by the LDDC in the 1980s to encourage staff motivation, reduce staff turnover and seduce sickness absence;  the health programme and sickness absence control were not treated as separate items. The LDDC programme recognises. the need to integrate health and safety and occupational health advice and support under the general umbrella of health. The LDDC supports this integration though its Board level Safety Audit Committee and Health and Safety Committee.

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The LDDC has always had a medium sized work force - 500 in 1990 reduced to 150 in 1997 and to zero in March 998. This work force is largely housed in one headquarters building, although the there were area teams at one stage.   At the point of occupying the current headquarters in 1990 the LDDC is wanted to build on the developing policies of restricted smoking and Look After Your Heart membership. This was achieved primarily by the conversion of part of the new building space into a small gymnasium at a cost funded by term consultants working for the LDDC. At the same time two consultants from P&A Lifestyles (Paul White and Ann Aris) were retained one day a week to induct staff into the use of gym, provide update sessions and give general health and fitness advice.  Staff pay a £30 annual subscription and have access to the facilities out of core hours within the highly successful flexitime scheme introduced in 1991.

Over the past 7 years 300 staff and consultants have passed through the induction process.  The consultancy arrangements with P&A Lifestyles also includes the provision of a free workout session every week open to staff of all levels of fitness and co-ordination.

The provision of the health facility and consultancy support, under the banner of Outlook has resulted in a heightened awareness of health issues. This awareness has been developed through the use of health promotion days, alternative therapy, activity weekends and a range of other provisions outlined in Figure 2:

  Outlook  
 
Health Initiatives   Physical Activity and Exercise   Local and National Events
 
Health Services & Support   Management

 

Figure 2: LDDC Health at Work Programme

 A further benefit provided by the consultants has been to provide healthy eating advice and influence the design of the catering contract through the requirement for healthy options and publicity about dietary needs. This has been supplemented by the use of a computer program guiding staff on nutritional content and possible dietary alternatives.

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Feedback

The relationship between health advice and support and sickness absence are not readily identifiable, but the creation oft the right cultural climate has proved useful in giving staff choice and the potential for change. One way of gauging the benefits of this service is to conduct surveys. The problem with any survey is that those with an interest in the subject area are far more likely to respond. Even given this proviso the data at Figure 3 shows a strong approval of the health provision and an indication of the relatively low stress levels with in the organisation. The current smoking policy including a smoking ban in the headquarters building; the provision of a smoking room; smoking information; free counselling in special cases and free advice from health consultants seems to be successful; only 12% of all staff smoke according to a June 1997 survey as opposed to at least 26% of the adult female population in 1994 (OPCS 1996).

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Figure 3

View/Attitude statements - 41% returns March 1997

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Neutral

Agree

Strongly Agree

My attitude towards my own health has improved since the health initiatives were introduced 5% 7% 25% 51% 12%
The range of health initiative programmes offered by the Corporation is diverse and accommodating 0% 0% 9% 42% 49%
Feel I am better informed and educated regarding health matters as a result of the health initiatives 4% 9% 19% 58% 11%
Have been able to undertake a wider range of physical activity as a result of the health initiatives 7% 4% 44% 35% 11%
I believe that my ability to deal with negative stress in my life has improved as a result of the health initiatives. 7% 7% 40% 42% 4%
I am generally meeting the demands of my job. 0% 0% 9% 72% 18%
I feel supported by my manager. 11% 4% 14% 61% 9%
I am generally happy with my working relationships with my colleagues 0% 2% 9% 79% 9%
As a result of the health initiatives I feel better able to take positive action about my own health 5% 7% 30% 49% 11%
I feel the Corporation gives me the means to solve any work or home problems I have 4% 19% 30% 49% 7%
There is sufficient written in formation about the health initiatives available 0% 9% 25% 56% 11%

 

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Performance Benchmarks

Statistics for sickness absence over the past few years have been consistently low, given the LDDC is in the public sector, Other factors include the high number of professional and managerial staff in the LDDC (76% in 1997/98) and their expected sickness rates:

91/92 92/93 93/94 94/95 95/96 96/97 
 2.15% 3.04% 2.2% 3.5% 2.84% 2.73%

 

Figure 4 shows the mean trend since 1991/92

The trend compares well with national statistics for the public sector of 4.1% (CBI 1997) and an all sector average of 3.7%. The median figure for 1996/97 was 0.87%. In a recent article in “IRS Employment Review 628, March 1997” the method of analysing sickness absence rates is gradually moving to median (mid point). The median is considered to be a better gauge than the mean (average) because the influence of extreme values (unusually low or high levels of sickness absence) is less on the median than it is on the mean.

Sickness absence recording is undertaken by local team administrators and forwarded to Personnel for recording on a central database, This data covers staff, term consultants, freelancers and long term temps and as such provides an accurate reflection of absence across the whole organisation rather than directly employed staff only. The entry on to a central database acts as a further check and balance to the ability of administrators to fill out their data sheets correctly and to provide verification of their sickness absence. This enables accurate reporting on sickness trends, for selections and for references.

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Working Environment

The LDDC has also undertaken an environmental analysis (1995) of the headquarters, a modern air conditioned, open plan office built in 1990, to meet staff concerns at perceived temperature fluctuations and other air flow problems which may be seen as manifestations of “Sick Building Syndrome” (SBS). The results showed no problems of significance in the following areas:

  • Total Volatile Organic Compounds
  • Total Airborne Dust
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Airborne Bacteria
  • Temperature
  • Relative Humidity
  • Air Movement

The publication of a summary of these results to all staff has helped to assuage feelings that the building was causing colds and spreading airborne infections. The use of internal staff notices and an internal staff magazine to publish health information and health opportunities has proved successful. This has been facilitated by leaving the editorial content of the magazine to a skilled administrator with an enthusiasm for the health initiatives, This has combined with a familial atmosphere within the organisation leaving staff free to feel they can have a gym update or approach consultants to secure health advice without having to refer to their manager or personnel.

More recently in summer 1997 bomb repair work on the headquarters has led to detailed dust and fibre sampling by the LDDC and the contractors assess the environmental impact of works. The whole building work process has required the LDDC to continually communicate and consult with staff and the trade union UNISON. Through this continued feedback process the LDDC hopes allay fears and stress during what could be a traumatic period.

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Counselling and Health Checks

The LDDC provides a free twenty four hour Employee Assistance Programme service to all staff and consultants which gives access to telephone help on a range of domestic, financial and legal matters, face to face counselling and GP referrals where necessary. This service can help alleviate many issues which often result in staff taking sick leave whether they are health related or of a domestic nature.

Health checks for staff and consultants over the past few years through the company doctor and a specialist consultancy provides health checks to all staff This service is free to staff and a small charge is made to consultants - attendance at these checks is approximately 60% of the total complement. These checks have provided valuable information on health trends and how targeting can be undertaken in terms of campaigns.

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Conclusions

The health element of the LDDC personnel strategy has proved a valued and successful component helping to motivate and support staff during a stressful period. The effect of the health programme on sickness absence cannot be directly proven, but the changed cultural mood and organisational flexibility have given staff the opportunity to attend health programme and functions which they might normally miss. The overall cost of the programme is something that may well appear prohibitive to many employers inside and outside the public sector. In fact the average annual cost of all programmes (excluding gymnasium start up costs), is approximately £250 per head.

The overall, holistic approach has led to the Wellness Forum Working for Health Award in 1996, in recognition of a strategy including highly diverse elements providing low cost benefits to the employer and high value health support to staff. The Corporation is also submitting an entry for the Health at Work Award through the Health Education Authority.  The LDDC has sought to ensure that staff have access to a wide range of health provision and facilities; through this holistic approach a low level of sickness absence and a motivated and healthy staff have grown and learned new approaches to life and work and ensured that the organisation has met its performance targets for the physical social and economic regeneration of London Docklands.

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