Even before the COVID pandemic, the workforce was changing – more people were working remotely, the workforce was aging, and employee demographics were becoming more diverse.1 In light of new challenges to occupational health and the growing importance of employee wellbeing in addition to safety, Occupational Medicine (OccMed) executives will likely need to rethink how their facilities accommodate employers who increasingly need to focus on worker mental health and wellbeing in order to retain employees.2
Below, we’ll look at ways OccMed executives can meet these challenges while continuing to serve workers who remain vulnerable to traditional work-related health and safety risks.
Help Clients Create a Culture of Prevention
Many OccMed practices are responsible for meeting new public health needs in light of the COVID pandemic and the threat of long COVID on worker health.3 But if there’s one lesson to be learned here, it’s that preventing poor health is good for business in the short and long term. Many employers are now coming around to the idea of investing in preventative measures when it comes to retaining workers and creating a resilient workforce.4
To give clients a more significant return on their investments in occupational health, OccMed executives have the opportunity to educate their own employees as well as the organizations they contract on complex health issues. For example, executives may mine their health data for common worker complaints related to physical and psychological stress and consider:
- Advising companies on the psychological stress placed on workers with long or irregular hours or shifting job duties and how they lead to disabling conditions.5
- Encouraging companies to create job descriptions that acknowledge or lessen irregular hours to accommodate employees’ work-life balance.6
- Helping to build education programs that encourage employees to think about their role in preventing illness and injury and include preventative measures in job training.7
- Encouraging companies to invest in regular risk assessments for all jobs and assess new personnel needs as jobs change.8
These types of consulting services can be an adjunct to injury and illness treatment and management, regulatory compliance assistance, health exams, and vaccination clinics. Advising employers on these matters can also help offset any decrease in patients seen as a result of remote work and even allow some clinic staff to do occasional remote work.
Find Novel Ways to Address Hybrid and Remote Workforce Health Issues
Over half of hybrid employees report improvements in their mental health due to their ability to work outside the office. Many also noted increased physical activity and an overall better work-life balance.9 On the other hand, hybrid and remote work can be hard on the health of employees, especially since remote workers tend to put in more hours and feel burned out.10
Rather than let these workers remain “out of sight, out of mind” until their health is affected, OccMed executives may find ways to bridge the gap and help ensure that remote workers have a way to communicate any health issues related to their jobs. Setting up a clinic to provide occupational telemedicine is another obvious way to treat workers no longer on the premises.11
Explore Multidisciplinary Staffing Options
Occupational Health will likely require a larger and more diverse team of OccMed professionals with training in the psychological sciences and social determinants of health in the near future.12 Rather than risk splitting a client’s business with another clinic, OccMed executives may consider incorporating new disciplines into their practices.
A multidisciplinary staff can include many different professionals, including occupational psychologists and psychiatrists, public health professionals, and non-clinical staff, such as ergonomists and other technology safety specialists.
Redefining Occupational Medicine in the COVID and Post-COVID Eras
Work-related stress, non-standard employment, burnout, and musculoskeletal injuries are all increasingly common occupational hazards of global relevance.13 Since occupational health is concerned with the protection of people’s health while working as well as their ability to keep working, it makes sense to offer cost-effective services that fit the new needs of non-standard workers.
In a world where workers are less visible, their health issues may become obscured and prevention more challenging.14 But when OccMed executives help clients become more proactive in addressing these needs, everyone wins.
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4 Best Practices of Occupational Health Executives
1 American Association of University Women (AAUW), “The Future Workforce: More Diverse than Ever,” Accessed August 28, 2022.
2 Frontiers in Public Health, “Prioritizing the Mental Health and Well-Being of Healthcare Workers: An Urgent Global Public Health Priority,” May 7, 2021.
3 Journal of Occupational Health and Medicine, “How did Occupational and Employee Health Services Strengthen Their Health System to Meet the Challenge Presented by the COVID-19 Pandemic?,” September 2020.
4 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “Shaping a Culture that Will Retain Employees,” March 8, 2022.
5 Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), “Long Work Hours, Extended or Irregular Shifts, and Worker Fatigue,” Accessed August 29, 2022.
6 Economic Policy Institute, “Irregular Work Scheduling and Its Consequences,” April 9, 2015.
7 Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), “Worker Participation,” Accessed August 28, 2022.
8 International Labor Organization, “How Can Occupational Safety and Health Be Managed?” Accessed August 31, 2022.
9 Business Wire, “Hybrid Employees Prioritize Health and Wellness More Than Ever, According to New Ergotron Report,” January 25, 2022.
10 Entrepreneur, “How to Manage a Happy and Healthy Hybrid Workforce,” May 6, 2022.
11 mHealth Intelligence, “Telehealth for Occupational Health Benefits Both Employee and Employer,” February 9, 2021.
12 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Health Equity and a Paradigm Shift in Occupational Safety and Health,” December 29, 2021.
13 International Labour Organization, “Safety and Health at the Heart of the Future of Work,” Accessed August 31, 2022.
14 Safety and Health at Work, “Occupational Health: Meeting the Challenges of the Next 20 Years,” June 2016.