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Karen's story

Karen O’Brien, Deputy Director of Workforce at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead, worked in partnership with Denise McLaughlin, RCN Safety Representative to tackle sickness and improve retention using the Healthy workplace toolkit.

Staff absence due to stress was becoming a major issue in our Trust. Our health and wellbeing steering group couldn't identify the root problem but we knew it was something we needed to urgently tackle.

When the RCN launched its Healthy workplace toolkit in October 2015, it brought the fresh perspective that we desperately needed. The toolkit is clear, easy to follow, and importantly, it helped us to generate new ideas to tackle the problem.

Using the toolkit, we developed a ‘fast track referral process.’

Previously, when a member of staff was off work because stress, they could be absent for four weeks before their manager referred them to additional support.

The new system ensures staff are contacted by our occupational health team within 24 hours and receive advice, information about talking therapies, or help in approaching their GP.

As an employer, we have a duty of care to our staff and this change meant we could identify and resolve work-related issues quickly and discreetly.

Although ‘fast-track’ hasn’t been in place for long, sickness levels have already decreased. Anecdotally, staff have said that being able to speak to a health care professional, has given them the confidence to return to work sooner.

The toolkit hasn’t only helped to tackle sickness absence. Our Trust has a reputation for investing in our staff, and the toolkit has helped us safeguard funding to develop and retain our existing staff. I have used it in conversations with senior management, because it clearly sets out the value of investing in staff.

Working in health care, there are always complex issues that staff-side colleagues and employers are asked to manage, but the Healthy workplace toolkit has given us something positive to focus on and undoubtedly brought us closer together.

You may think that everything is fine, but it’s important to review your current processes, to ensure that staff feel supported and valued.

With this in mind, I would recommend the toolkit to any employer starting that journey. The checklist included within the toolkit allows you to focus on the right things for your workplace, just like we did.

So go for it. You won’t regret it!

Healthy workplace

Find out more about how our Healthy workplace, healthy you campaign can support you as a rep or an employer and download the Healthy workplace toolkit.

Share your story

Tell us about a change you have made using the Healthy workplace, healthy you resources in your organisation. You can also make a pledge and share good practice.

Page last updated - 03/08/2019