Keeping the British Heart Foundation staff healthy

27 November 2019

Mark Dean hired HCML shortly after joining the British Heart Foundation to improve the way they manage sickness absence. He needed a speedier and more practical alternative to the traditional occupational health approach and through HCML the BHF got faster and better return to work outcomes. Dean explains why today they have HCML on speed-dial.

Dean is head of people relations and diversity at this prestigious research body. Previously, he had worked at British Airways where he had a large in-house team of medical experts to call on to resolve staff health problems. He experienced the power of good clinical advice at the right time. 

Having worked with many traditional occupational health providers, he knew the BHF needed more proactive and practical support, at the right time. He describes the HCML service as “second to none” and that his team has been “overwhelmed by their personalised, individual service”.

The British Heart Foundation’s vision is a world without heart and circulatory diseases. Its research into better cures and treatments means more of us survive heart and circulatory diseases.

Its shops help fund that research. It was ranked as the UK’s biggest charity retail chain in the 26th annual Charity Shops Survey with 724 outlets across the UK, generating £176.4m.

The HR team recognises the people challenges of running an extensive retail network. Retail work is physically demanding and always busy, with repeated cycles of seasonal activities or sales. It also involves a very transient workforce. Inevitably, workers face sickness and even injury.

BHF needed more personalised, independent expertise to manage staff absences better and resolve long-term absence cases which could create big management challenges.

Drawing on his BA expertise, Dean recognised that HCML’s early intervention and clinical approach to occupational rehabilitation case management solution offered the best care for staff and the BHF.

“Traditional services can be impractical and convoluted with slow sign-off processes and I did not want absent, unwell staff waiting for 10 or 15 days uncertain of their medical advice”, said Dean. I wanted them to get fast action and support. HCML helped speed up the process, have supported staff through trying times and have given consistently practical, sensible advice to everyone. They have been more efficient at resolving cases and have enabled the HR team to get more involved.”

For the last two years, HCML case managers have routinely contacted absent BHF staff quickly to establish open communications over sickness absence, whether it’s a chronic health condition or something like a back injury or anxiety, to get the root of individual issues.

They have used their independent status and nurturing skills to build staff rapport and discuss individual problems without any medical jargon.

They clinically assess physical and mental fitness for work within the job role. They map out bespoke, safe, accelerated return-to-work action plans, with actions and deadlines agreed by worker and line manager. Unusually, the BHF HR team have been included in most plans from the start with HCML routinely securing staff permission to share details.

HCML’s individual Management Action Plans might include alternative duties, adapted working environments and practical solutions to problems like personal debt, life circumstances or unhealthy lifestyles, all practical and achievable, said Dean. The case managers have motivated BHF staff to work on their own recovery, like sticking to exercise routines and sleep hygiene plans, acting as their personal health project manager, available by phone or text as needed.

“The simple fact staff know they can phone or text an independent person that they trust, maybe in times of stress, aids their recovery, and the call might result in a reasonable adjustment that we can fix but which could have looked like an impossible obstacle to a depressed colleague.”

“A speedier return to work helps recovery. The longer the absence, the harder it is for people to return to work, as they can face depression or anxiety, and lose out on the social integration work offers. We focus on the positive things that staff can do, and support them. Some think they can never return to work, but they can, through tailored advice and open, honest conversations at the right time, with the right expert that they are comfortable with.”

“Personally I have worked with many occupational health providers and I can only recommend HCML. Everyone in our HR department, and our colleagues, remain immensely impressed by the personalised and focused attention that they deliver.

“Their service is balanced, focusing both on the needs of the colleagues and marrying this up with what the BHF can accommodate. HCML has brought resolutions more efficiently by being collaborative and by really immersing themselves into our business and understanding what our capabilities and constraints are.

“We have found HCML to be masters of partnering and building on the relationships that we have, so they can continue to understand and help us by supporting our colleagues.”

According to The Institute for Employment Studies between two and 16 per cent of annual salary bills may be spent by employers on absence. 

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