Strategies to ensure the health and wellbeing of staff are vital to bring down sickness absence in the NHS but first the board must approve them. Ruth Warden explains how best to approach and persuade directors of your plans



Sickness absence in the NHS continued to decrease in 2014 despite growing demands on the health service. This is a real achievement.

The success is partly down to rapid growth in comprehensive health and wellbeing plans.

These strategies cover 300,000 more NHS staff now compared to three years ago. Also, staff told the annual NHS staff survey they felt more engaged and more supported about their concerns, both of which contribute to wellbeing at work.

Despite good leadership, health and wellbeing continues to have an inconsistent presence at board level. It is time to cement its profile and secure its place as core NHS business alongside other big priorities.

Present your ideas to the board

Getting it right helps the NHS to deliver its number one priority: quality care.

Good health and wellbeing means more staff respond well to adversity, are motivated and engaged, feel confident to raise issues, continue careers despite ongoing health issues and are at work consistently so that staffing can be planned effectively.

Benjamin Franklin once said: “He that cannot obey cannot command.”

‘It is important that your case speaks the board’s language and gets their attention’

And while I would not recommend you literally ask your leaders to obey you, if you have the right evidence you can influence and educate board members on this agenda.

So I would urge any staff who have involvement or expertise in health and wellbeing to consider presenting a business case to their board. It could either be very comprehensive or focus on just one area, such as healthy food choices or exercise options.

There is no “one size fits all” when doing this. Challenges and resources vary locally and so too should the business case you construct.

It is important that your case speaks the board’s language and gets their attention.

So first ask yourself these questions:

What is the business you are in?

You need to be very clear on this and keep it at the centre of the whole business case.

Look at your organisation’s vision or strategy, use the language it uses and constantly refer back to the core business, explaining how your work links to this.

What problems is your business facing right now?

If you can show how your work will address the problems your organisation is facing you stand a much better chance of getting support.

Who is your audience?

Ask yourself who you need to persuade.

Different audiences will need different approaches. You will need to change your message to match the people you are talking to.

Show the medical and nursing director the impact of a health and wellbeing intervention on patient outcomes, but the finance director will also want to know the cost savings associated with it.

What are the priorities of that audience?

Knowing this is essential to being heard.

What matters to them? What is top of their “to do” list? If you can link to this you will get their attention.

What techniques can you use to persuade them?

There are a lot of approaches that have been successful for others.

The final question

Here are some practical suggestions on that final point.

It is important to get feedback.

Make sure you find out what people really want from a health and wellbeing approach and ensure your conversations are two way.

You might think lunchtime exercise clubs are good but if stress and work-life balance are the things that matter to colleagues then that might be a greater priority.

Creating conversations about health and wellbeing throughout your organisation is crucial to building support for your business case.

‘If you can keep the message flowing and people talking it becomes much harder to ignore’

From reports to the board to information in newsletters, from individual conversations to team briefings, if you can keep the message flowing and people talking it becomes much harder to ignore.

Evaluating the progress is important and you will need to explore the difference you made both to the individual and to the organisation.

Also make sure you work with others and build these partnerships to deliver your business case. Staff side support is one obvious example but do not forget local authorities and charities - many of which are very keen to get involved and will help to strengthen your messaging to your internal audience.

Secure a champion

Create champions. Work with those who are already convinced of the business case and seek their help to influence others.

Securing a champion at board level can really help to make health and wellbeing a priority in an organisation.

Finally, once your health and wellbeing plan is a success - as I am sure it will be - remember to shout about it so that we all continue to learn from each other.

Ruth Warden is assistant director of employment services at NHS Employers