London employers create healthier workplaces

03 December 2012

Creating healthier, happier staff is the goal of a group of London employers who this week became the first recipients of the Healthy Workplace Awards.


14 organisations across the capital signed up to the London Healthy Workplace Charter, which has been set up by the Greater London Authority to help employers wanting to create healthier workplaces for their staff.


An average London firm of 250 employees loses around £250,000 a year due to ill health calculated by sickness absence, whilst workers who are physically active take 27 per cent fewer sick days than their non-physically active counterparts. 17.3 million working days are lost due to alcohol in England, including both dependent and non-dependent drinkers.


Organisations involved in the initial pilot for the London Healthy Workplace Charter included Middlesex University, Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust, The Royal Borough of Greenwich and The Charter provides a framework as well as simple ideas to help employers wanting to create a healthier environment for their staff.


Measures that participating organisations introduced included encouraging staff to get more active, for example by using the stairs at work rather than the lift, cycling to work, or getting off the bus a few stops earlier. Some offered subsidised gym memberships, massage in the workplace and even fresh fruit for staff. Other activities included setting up stop smoking groups and developing alcohol and mental health policies.


One organisation found that over a two year period it reduced absence through sickness from 6.5 per cent to 3.5 percent. Another saw staff turnover reduce from 40 per cent to 20 per cent.


Deputy Mayor for London Victoria Borwick commented: 'Improving the way we think about health, as employers and as staff, has obvious personal benefits, but it also can also have a positive impact on organisations, including the financial bottom line. If people are fitter and healthier they are less likely to take time off and evidence shows it can reduce staff turnover as well. Whether in the public or private sector, our hope is that signing up to the London Healthy Workplace Charter and bringing in a few simple measures will boost the performance of organisations and the health of Londoners.'


The London Healthy Workplace Charter is coordinated by the Greater London Authority working in partnership with London borough public health and environmental health teams that can offer local advice and support. The GLA has to date been working with seven London boroughs and the aim is to increase numbers across London as the programme expands.


Organisations that participated in the project pilot stage were: Forster, Ltd, Guys and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, Middlesex University, Kingston Hospital NHS Trust, Greenwich Council, Kingston Council, New England Seafood, Colemans – CTTS Solicitors LLP, Haringey Council, South London Healthcare NHS Trust, Greenwich University, Wolters Kluwer UK, Deloitte LLP.


London boroughs that took part in the pilot were: Royal Borough of Kingston, Royal Borough of Greenwich, City of London, Westminster, Southwark, Barking and Dagenham and Lewisham.


The awards were presented at City Hall by Professor Dame Carol Black, Expert Adviser on Health and Work to the Department of Health and Dr Marianne Dyer who led the award winning occupational health project at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Park and Village.




Employers that took part in the pilot of the London Healthy Workplace Charter include:


Guys and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust


Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust is committed to the health and wellbeing of its 12,500 employees. A review of staff benefits in 2010, in which staff participated and provided their views, identified health and wellbeing as a top priority.


The Trust has a very clear message to be 'the healthiest NHS Trust' with employees that are role models of the public health priorities, and ambassadors to service users and patients. Their focus is to identify interventions and activities that provide staff with the opportunity to improve their own health and wellbeing, and to encourage personal responsibility. In addition health and wellbeing must be sustainable, cost effective and accessible.


Guys and St Thomas' signed up to the London Healthy Workplace Charter as they wanted a framework and a method to assess their existing health and wellbeing strategy and a means to identify potential gaps or areas to develop. In addition the Trust was keen to gain formal recognition of the success of the health and wellbeing strategy to date.


Guys and St Thomas' achieved excellence in the London Healthy Workplace Charter pilot in June 2012. Ltd


HostelBookers, an online travel agency based in central London, was started in 2003. The company introduced a hostel and budget accommodation booking website with no booking fee. Since then, they have grown quickly and now employ a team of 130 people.


The company decided to become involved with the Charter to get an accreditation that recognised their efforts to ensure that employees worked in safe and comfortable conditions. They wanted to achieve a better understanding of what was required to reach 'Excellence' and welcomed the assessment as a benchmark with feedback providing the basis of an Action Plan of what was required to develop further.


Since enrolling in the Charter, the company has reviewed some of its policies and considered future actions to put in place. All managers are trained in coaching skills, and they take ownership of health and wellbeing. There is effective use of external support. Wellbeing benefits such as bike to work schemes, discounted massages, free fruit every month and free eye tests are long-established along with a culture where standard hours are the norm. Ltd achieved achievement in the London Healthy Workplace Charter pilot in June 2012.


Middlesex University


Middlesex University employs 1630 permanent and 1500 casual staff on three sites in North London.


The organisation decided to become involved with the Charter because they wanted a set of standards and a framework within which to progress staff wellbeing. The Charter offered accreditation, and they hoped to identify good areas and those areas for improvement.


In 2012 the University's Wellbeing Steering Group approved a Wellbeing Action Plan based on the standards in the Charter and a Wellbeing Strategy that offered vision and direction. A director was chosen to be the wellbeing champion; a wellbeing strategy and action plan were developed; a number of actions around staff training were implemented; information provided on the Intranet; and, a food plan and GDA labelling at food outlets introduced.


Participation in the Charter has led to improvements. The University has a better understanding of compliance and best practice standards across all areas of wellbeing. New links and new relationships were developed with the GLA, NHS and the London Health, Work and Well-being Forum in particular. Benefits included specialist support, potential partnership working and peer review. Their plan going forward includes developing in-house courses on mental health awareness and Mental Health First Aid, and organising stress management workshops.


Middlesex University achieved excellence in the London Healthy Workplace Charter pilot in June 2012.


Royal Borough of Greenwich


The Royal Borough of Greenwich employs 10,000 staff.


The Royal Borough of Greenwich took part in the London Healthy Workplace Charter to see how it compared with other sectors and organisations in addition to sharing good practice. In addition, as an employer it is aware that a healthier workforce improves its ability to provide better public services, with employees being able to perform more effectively and there being less sickness absence.


It is proud to have been recognised with 'achievement' against the standards and intends to build on its efforts and strive for continuous improvement.


Health at work facts and figures


An average London firm of 250 employees loses around £250,000 a year due to ill health calculated by sickness absence (GLA Economics, London's business case for employee health and well-being, 2012)


Physically active workers take 27% fewer sick days than their non-physically active counterparts (NICE, 2012)


17.3 million working days are lost due to alcohol in England, with this loss attributed to both dependent and non-dependent drinkers. (Middlesex University, 2011)


Smokers have more time off than non-smokers (male short term absence 46% higher, long term absence 81% higher. Female absence 9% and 37% higher)


900, 000 working age Londoners will experience mental health problems during the course of each year. (Work, Mental Health and Welfare…The case for co-ordinated action to achieve shared benefit, 2012)


Research looking into the health needs of workers in the city identified that a third of respondents reported having a long term health condition and 24.7% smoke cigarettes (above the London and England average) - The Public Health and Primary Healthcare Needs of City Workers, City of London 2012

Notes to editors

The framework standards cover corporate support for wellbeing, health and safety, attendance management, physical activity, healthy eating, mental health and well-being, smoking cessation and alcohol and substance misuse. To support investment across these areas organisations can be assessed against three levels: commitment, achievement and excellence. Feedback is provided to organisations as they make steps against the Charter including advice and tips from health and work experts.


The London Healthy Workplace Charter developed from the Workplace Well-being Charter, a framework first developed by NHS Liverpool and then supported as a tool for local roll out by the cross Government Health, Work and Well-being board. A health at work framework and organisation assessment process for London employers follows similar successful models that recognise benefits of health improvement activity across wide geographical areas. The London Healthy Workplace Charter also supports London boroughs improve outcomes recognised in the public health outcomes framework.


The London Healthy Workplace Charter was piloted from January 2012 to October 2012. This included working with a workplace health lead in six London boroughs to support local employer engagement. Achievements in the project pilot stage include:


- Fourteen employers successfully accredited to the London Healthy Workplace Charter standards, covering around 50,000 London employees, including Small and Medium Enterprises, two large private sector firms, three NHS organisations and three local authorities.


- Establishment of a team of trained volunteer verifiers that have expertise in workplace health and can interview organisations working against the assessment standards. Volunteer verifiers are from a range of high profile organisations including the London Chamber of Commerce, the Centre for Mental Health, Skills for Health, NHS London and Occupational Health experts that have supported major employers such as the Royal Mail and Tate and Lyle.


- Development of a robust and sustainable employer assessment process, using expertise from Wales that have run a 15 year employer accreditation programme.


- Positive evaluation from the project pilot phase, with evidence of the Charter being seen as a useful, practical and relevant tool for London businesses.