New ‘Healthy Place to Work’ certification will help NI economy recover from Covid-19

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Northern Ireland businesses need to rededicate themselves to employee health if they are to achieve high performance in 2021 and be part of economic recovery in Northern Ireland.

That is the view expressed by John Ryan, CEO and founder of Healthy Place to Work, as he launched the global standard for workplace health certification in Northern Ireland this week (11th January).

Ryan, who led the recognised Great Place to Work Institute certification in Ireland, launches Healthy Place to Work following a four-year development period and says that companies now more than ever, need to consider the health of their organisation. The leadership of local business networking organisation, Business in the Community (BITC) agrees with him and has endorsed the certification, recommending it to its 200+ members.

“2020 has shown the importance of Health more than ever before and now business needs to focus resources where they are needed most in order to thrive,” said Ryan. “This means looking at a strategic level on how the health of their employees impacts directly on business. Doing so will enable Business leaders and employees to work together to help the Northern Ireland economy recover from Covid.

“Over the past four years we have developed a strategic approach to organisational health and well-being that is evidence-based and data-driven.

“We have partnered with a number of major organisations, amongst them Version 1, the IRFU, Salesforce and BT. We have piloted the tools and methodology to enable them to gather information on the health of their organisation, understand what they need to do to improve it and benchmark their progress. We are ready now to make Healthy Place to Work available to all of Northern Ireland’s businesses and organisations.”

The conventional view of health in the workplace has been on sickness or the avoidance of it, demonstrated recently by the launch of reports into absenteeism in the Northern Ireland Civil Service and Councils. Healthy Place to Work contends that it makes greater economic sense to capitalise on the drivers of health, bringing a new focus on health rather than the absence of it, to the workplace for the betterment of the individual, the economy and society.

“In the last few months, we have seen the Auditor General for Northern Ireland reveal that the level of sickness in the Northern Ireland Civil Service has cost the public purse £32.9m and hampered its ability to operate while NI Council sick leave is the highest in the UK. This is simply not sustainable. It’s time to look beyond the top line figures and understand the factors that are driving them. Organisations need to create workplaces where people enjoy coming and doing their best work.”

Leaders need to create healthy cultures that lead to high performance


While, Ryan says, it is true that many organisations have employee health on their agenda, their approach to addressing it has, in most cases, been ad hoc rather than strategic, now in a world where the health needs of nations are growing exponentially and governments’ capacity to manage the needs is decreasing, it is incumbent upon business to step forward, be strategic and lead on the issue.

“Business can move the dial on employee health and make a real and significant difference in people’s lives. Business can influence the global workforce of 3.5 billion people – half the world’s population. They can help them to live healthier lives. This is not tick box wellness but a fundamental rethink of how we define a healthy person and a healthy workplace. The wonderful thing is that it is in their short term and long-term interests and the ones that lead first will get the biggest benefit,” said Ryan.

Hughes Insurance, part of the Liberty Mutual Insurance Group is the first company in Northern Ireland to embark on the Healthy Place to Work certification process.  Sarah Balmforth Head of Human Resources, Hughes Insurance explains why the company is seeking the certification:

“Over the past year, Hughes Insurance has successfully pivoted to ensure that we continued to offer the high level of service that our customers expect of us.  We have sought during this time to prioritise the Health and Well-being of our employees as they met the challenges of working from home and living through a pandemic.  This experience has made us realise more than ever that health and well-being deserve a strategic focus and one that ultimately has an impact on the bottom line.  To this end, we wanted to partner with experts who could advise and guide us with the processes required to truly embed a health and well-being strategy and Healthy Place to Work provides us with that.”

IT consulting and managed services international company Version 1, which has operations in Ireland, India and across the UK and recently created 70 specialist jobs in Belfast, is amongst the first businesses to integrate the Healthy Place to Work process into its business strategy. The company’s Director of People Success Jarlath Dooley, says that adopting Healthy Place to Work has paid dividends:

“Version 1 has reaped the benefits of Healthy Place to Work since 2018. We have a large workforce spread across five countries, so it is important to us that there is synergy of approach to the health and well-being of the team across our operations. Healthy Place to Work has enabled us to deploy employee health processes and initiatives that are proven to increase the health of the individual and the organisation alike. The data-driven approach allows us to benchmark and track our progress providing confidence that we are going in the right direction with our employee health strategy.”

Kieran Harding, Managing Director of Business in the Community Northern Ireland explained why his organisation has endorsed Healthy Place to Work:
At Business in the Community, we seek to inspire and support business to be a force for good. When our leadership team learned about Healthy Place to Work’s objectives, we could see clear synergies with our own. Like us, Healthy Place to Work encourages business to act responsibly, in this case towards the health and well-being of their people. The certification process is well thought out and has undergone rigorous testing, so given the alignment with our focus as an organisation, it makes perfect sense for us to recommend Healthy Place to Work to our members.”