Is your office killing you?

You only have to search Google images with the key words “dilbert open plan” to find some Dilbert strips that make you giggle – I found the strips of May 31, 2011, November 2, 2012, May 14, 2003 and October 17, 1998 particularly funny.  But look down at some of the comments and it all gets a little more serious – on the most part, people don’t like working open plan.

All the Dilbert gags aside, I’ve just spent a few weeks carrying out a literature review into the health harms/benefits of different sorts of office.  It led me to conclude that this isn’t a laughing matter…

The short story is – depending in part on your personality and the particular nature of your work – but on the whole…

If your office is shared, larger and/or has a density that makes it feel crowded – your health is at risk.  Your health is more at risk if your own workspace in that office is further from a window, nearer to circulation areas and/or the distractions of shared facilities.  If you are by the window – especially if you have a green view – you seem to be protected a little.  If you have some control – over your own light, your own temperature, your own ventilation – then it helps again.  It gets worse if control is removed, for example you have no input into the decor of your office or you are told no personal items on your desk. Continue reading

Perspectives on ‘health system’

Not sure what it is but I keep seeing the phrase ‘health system’ at the moment.  It always seems to be in the context that it should be obvious to the reader what the ‘health system’ of interest is – as if it isn’t open to different understandings.

So let’s pick this apart a little…

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Two parallel worlds of public health?

I don’t often use this blog as a platform for a rant, but there’s something I have to get out of my head…

This last week – in my ‘twittersphere’ – two ‘events’ happened, each billed in their own right as a ‘major move’ forward for public health.  But they just seemed like parallel universes. Continue reading

Health is controversial

I can’t count how many times I’ve at least hinted at the phrase in the title of this post.  Following Ison (2010, page 231/232), my stock phrase is something like  “wellbeing and health concerns, are characterized by interdependencies, complexity, uncertainty and controversy and involve multiple stakeholders with different perspectives”.  It’s these type of characteristics that lead us to call health a ‘wicked issue’ or a ‘mess’.

But I suppose I’ve never really taken stock of just how ‘controversial’ health is.  I started thinking about this the other day and realised that a lot of the time the ‘multiple stakeholders with different perspectives’ can’t even agree how to word the questions, let alone any of the ‘answers’.  What’s more when people want to illustrate the ‘wickedness’, they often don’t even take on ‘health’ in its entirety they break it down into example issues or more focused concerns like obesity or sexual health – it seems that ‘health’ is so wicked you have to chunk it up.

So I thought I’d try and summarise my thinking on this controversial concept – in doing so I hope that I will bring into focus the nature of what makes the territory so difficult to negotiate through.  By the way, I’m making no attempt to ‘hide’ where my own perspective lies!

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Time to re-think ‘workplace health’

Something has really been bothering me recently about ‘workplace health’ initiatives.

We seem to have got into a real mess about the PURPOSE of this type of focus.

The employer perspective is of the importance of PRODUCTIVITY and the WASTAGE caused by people being ill or off work.    As a result the initiative’s success is measured in terms of sickness absence, rather than in terms of employee wellbeing as a positive condition.  The questions shifts from – what can we do to enable people’s wellbeing? (the salutogenic perspective) to – what can we do to stop people being off-sick? (the pathogenic perspective).  Back to the use and abuse of measurement issue – what we get is a punitive system that performance manages levels of sick leave and game playing starts – people take annual leave or use flexi time, rather than reporting a sick day.  Or presenteeism – people coming to work and pretending to work even when they are not fit to be there, perhaps passing on infections to colleagues in the process. Recorded sick leave goes down, employers herald this a success, but the wellbeing of the workforce has not improved.  Public health professionals are complicit in this, they make the case for workplace health initiatives in terms of the cost of days work lost.

The other thing that bugs me is that workplace health initiatives purely see the workplace as a site of health promotion or traditional public health ‘lifestyle’ interventions.  We use the workplace to tell people about the importance of eating 5-a-day but then don’t give any thought to whether or not they can get affordable healthy food during their working day.  We use the workplace to train people in emotional resilience – telling them they have to be resilient to stress – this means that if they go off with stress it becomes the employees fault for not being resilient enough (nothing to do with workplace stressors at all!).  So in essence we are telling people to be healthy and happy (and therefore productive and not waste employer’s resources) but give very little thought to the physical, social and economic conditions in which they are doing their work.

The bottom line is – we need to re-think workplace health. Continue reading

The use and abuse of measurement

There seems to be a bit of a thing going on this week about terms like measurement, targets, payment by results, outcomes.  It has been going on a while in conversations I have had (both face to face and on-line) and a number of systems bloggers are writing about it but it all seems to be getting a bit busier this weekend…it seems to be coming to a head.

So to start with I’ll mention all the activity that has prompted me to turn to the keyboard to add to the conversation – or if not adding to it then at least summarising where my own thinking is going to. Continue reading

On helping – reciprocity, deference and demeanour

So after ‘Getting started‘, I have now read Chapter Two of Schein’s book on Helping.  Chapter Two is a bit of a scene setter about the cross-cultural principles underpinning social life and relationships in general – rather than about helping per se.  Schein emphasises that it is important to understand this “essence of relationships” so that the special-ness of a helping relationship can then be understood.

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Harnessing systems thinking in public policy process

Yesterday, I got to meet a number of systems thinkers in the flesh – hooray.  It was at a joint event arranged by Prof Eileen Munro of the LSE and Prof Ray Ison at the OU…partly to mark 40 years of systems teaching at the OU.

There were about 30/35 people there – mostly handpicked through systems and public sector networks.  Eileen and Ray had designed it as a systemic inquiry using conversational mapping in small table groups.  Every so often there was some front of the room ‘input’ reflections from people who had been involved in the use of systems thinking in public sector in different ways…the programme information is here (SYSTEMS+40Program) which provides info on each of these speakers…..including me – but more of that later.

It is easy to get enthused in a room like that – the energy levels were amazing – and the mark of any good meeting is that people didn’t quickly dash off at the end, people were chatting, connecting and so on for a good 40 minutes afterwards – and then for a few of us longer in a pub.

Just a few thoughts that struck me as the day went on and I reflected on the way home on the train (admittedly with a glass of wine inside me)… Continue reading