Looking after our employees’ health helps keep London on the move

27 Jan 2017 By Dr Olivia Carlton

From offering mental health support groups to HIV testing, Dr Olivia Carlton explains why TfL is investing in wellbeing

Our role at Transport for London (TfL) is to keep London moving, growing and working and to make life in the city better for everyone. With more than 31 million journeys being made every day, we know how important it is that our customers are able to get to where they need to be. That is why it is imperative for us to look after our workforce and help them to maintain good health. From the customer service assistant helping people in our stations to the transport planner working out how to increase capacity on the network, every employee helps our customers get from A to B, whether it be now or in the future.

I lead the occupational health (OH) team at TfL and we offer a range of resources so that our colleagues across the business are able to keep well and seek advice when they need it. We also try to provide preventative – rather than just reactive – solutions by educating employees about how they can avoid developing problems. For example, most people at some point in their life experience back pain, but there are ways to reduce the likelihood of it occurring. Our online resources inform staff about the easy ways they can change their behaviour to prevent and alleviate the pain, such as altering how they sit and stand, and trying some relaxation exercises. But we also understand that this is not always enough; employees who have had lower back pain for a longer period of time can access physiotherapy and attend back fitness classes to learn how to look after themselves and prevent it recurring.

We don’t just deal with physical health: our employees’ mental health can have just as big an impact on their performance and wellbeing. That is why we pledged to support the Time to Change campaign, which aims to improve people’s attitudes and behaviour towards those with mental health problems. We first signed up in 2011 and we renewed our pledge last year to demonstrate how high a priority this issue is for TfL.

Our staff network group, WellMent – which focuses on mental health issues and support – has pioneered the introduction of mental health first aid training in TfL. We now have more than 30 mental health first aid trainers, with more to come. They are trained to spot the early signs of mental il- health, and can offer support to those who are suffering to prevent their condition deteriorating further. More often than not, knowing that there is somebody to talk to makes all the difference and we think it is vital that our employees feel able to talk about what might be bothering them.

My OH team also offers stress reduction groups and resilience groups for managers, and they support a group of staff specifically trained to be there for colleagues in the event of acute psychological distress.

We also try to think out of the box and work with other organisations, which is why we joined forces with the Terrence Higgins Trust to host the biggest HIV workplace testing event for the second year running. This idea came from another of our staff network groups, OutBound. These groups excel at encouraging innovation; I am inspired by them. At TfL we believe it’s hugely important for our employees to have access to HIV testing and are aware of the benefits of getting an early diagnosis, particularly considering that almost half of all new HIV diagnoses are made in London. This year, 90 of our employees requested the test and 38 per cent of these people had never been tested before.

It’s vital for every organisation, regardless of their size, to put their employees’ health at the top of their agenda. If your workforce is encouraged to be healthy and feel that they are supported, they are more likely to be productive. It makes business sense and leads to a happier working environment.

Dr Olivia Carlton OBE is Transport for London’s head of occupational health

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