Business before bananas: workplace health that focuses on healthy work

Emma-Louise Fusari talks to workingmums.co.uk about how she set up a digital health company which focuses on addressing the root causes of ill health at work.

Man bullying a woman sitting at a desk

 

Emma-Louise Fusari knows a thing or two about health, having been a nurse for 21 years. She is now bringing that expertise to the workplace at a time when there is a big focus on the numbers of people falling out of work or reducing their hours due to ill health. For her prevention is crucial and yet it gets relatively few resources. What does get resources is wellbeing at work, but there is very little hard evidence that many of the initiatives make a significant difference to people’s health, says Emma-Louise. She wants to change that and address the root causes of ill health at work through hard data. Her work so far has just  earned her an award at this year’s Computing Women in Tech Excellence Awards. The awards recognise top-performing women from across the technology space and play an important role in increasing diversity in tech across the UK.

Emma-Louise’s interest in health prevention has been long-standing. She left the NHS in 2016 because she felt what she was doing was too reactive and, briefly, became a childminder before rethinking how she could use her nursing knowledge to focus on improving health outcomes for individual workers and their employers. She felt a lot of the corporate wellbeing initiatives were merely providing ‘sticking plasters’.

Emma-Louise, who is based in Greater Manchester, started from the basis of offering NHS-style health checks to employees. “The idea was to see people and give them advice about their health and give the employer advice on recurring themes,” she says.

When she piloted the idea with a digital tech firm she realised there were huge gaps between the amazing office of the digital tech firm she was working which had rooftop terraces and beers in the fridge – and the health issues that employees were presenting with which were mainly related to stress.

She started building a network to promote her business, In-House Health, but then Covid happened. Emma-Louise reached out to GPs to help with doing virtual calls to assess people with asthma, which was one of her nursing specialisms. She realised through doing so that so much of Government Covid policy was led by data and that businesses were using data for everything…except wellbeing. “There seemed to be no benchmark data about whether what they were doing on wellbeing was working, only subjective surveys,” she says.

Evidence-based wellbeing work

That realisation changed her business. In-House Health became a tech business. Emma-Louise created an app which collects data on everything from blood pressure levels and alcohol consumption to stressful workplace cultures which can then be used to make reports for individuals as well as – anonymised – for employers [as a whole or by department]. Employers are then given training and education on key problem areas that are identified to ensure the help is relevant.

True to her interest in health prevention, Emma-Louise has also developed a wellbeing risk audit to look at the workplace factors that impact wellbeing. “It’s important to address the root causes of wellbeing issues,” she says. “Most wellbeing apps and initiatives focus on the individual employee as if they are the problem – maybe they are not resilient enough – rather than the organisation. Perhaps the organisation is not creating a good working environment for people to be well or to feel psychologically safe.” She adds: “You can spend all the money you want on yoga and free fruit. It might make people feel good for half an hour, but they may still be working a 14-hour day or be stressed because they have no autonomy over their work. There are no long-term benefits if you don’t address the causes, which includes no financial benefits for the company as people will still be leaving or getting ill and they may find it difficult to attract new people.”

Emma-Louise adds that, although wellbeing apps are widely used, there is very little evidence of their clinical quality for serious mental health issues and she says this could be potentially dangerous. She would like to see greater regulation of the workplace wellbeing industry.

She is working with a number of employers, including Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s digital team, but admits it has been a challenge to get some employers to buy into the idea that wellbeing is not a quick fix. “They are often happy to tick a box and pay lip service,” she states. Emma-Louise makes the point that good work is a vital component of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and that work-based illness has a big economic impact. She wants eventually to be able to influence policy, backed by the wealth of data she is gathering, in order to prevent the kind of chronic health issues we are seeing today and which are forcing many older workers out of the workplace.

She is keen that wellbeing doesn’t sit only with HR. For her it is an organisational issue and needs to be led from the top. “There needs to be a culture shift,” says Emma-Louise. “We need action, not talk. People say they are doing wellbeing, but wellbeing is not something you do. It is an outcome of what you do and outcomes need to be measured.”



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