Professor Dame Carol Black talking about wellbeing at work.

Focus on wellbeing

3 February 2021

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The coronavirus crisis provides a ‘unique opportunity’ to focus on health at the workplace, says Professor Dame Carol Black. The coronavirus crisis …

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The coronavirus crisis provides a ‘unique opportunity’ to focus on health at the workplace, says Professor Dame Carol Black.

The coronavirus crisis provides a “unique opportunity” to develop a broader focus on health and wellbeing at the workplace, Professor Dame Carol Black, expert on public health, says in a Cambridge Judge Business School video interview.

“When the virus hit the United Kingdom we weren’t a healthy nation – we have too much diabetes, lots of people with hypertension and having heart disease. These are modifiable factors,” says Dame Carol, Expert Adviser on Health and Work to NHS England and Public Health England.

The crisis, as bad as it is, presents a fresh chance to develop policies to “enable people as they go through their working lives to stay as healthy as possible, to be able to contribute as much as possible, and to go on contributing beyond what might be considered their normal retirement age,” says Dame Carol, former Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, and currently Chair of the British Library. Data could play a very important role in this in order to more properly assess risk factors: “It would be wonderful if out of this crisis there was an increased appetite and interest of employers to collect health-related wellbeing data.”

Dame Carol’s remarks came in a video interview with Paul Tracey, Professor of Innovation & Organisation and Co-Director of the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge. The interview is part of a series entitled CJBS Perspectives: Leadership in Unprecedented Times, organised by the Alumni & External Engagement and Executive Education teams at Cambridge Judge.

Dame Carol, who directed a 2008 report for the UK government entitled “Working for a Healthier Tomorrow”, says the document “opened up a difficult conversation, the conversation that people might not be able to be in the workforce due to poor leadership” and management – because employees don’t feel trusted at work and are not given proper autonomy.

The report was an important step in acknowledging that stress, anxiety and depression are “very powerful” factors in not only absenteeism but the inability to work to one’s full capacity, she says.

Dame Carol says the COVID-19 pandemic will be very challenging for some people who have been furloughed from their jobs, as they have become “decommissioned” from the normal workplace routine.

“We’re all going to be edging our way to trying to find out what will work well.”

Watch the video "CJBS Perspectives with Dame Carol Black"

Since this interview, Professor Dame Carol Black was awarded the rare Dame Cross – the highest rank in the Order of The British Empire – in the New Years Honours list 2024 in recognition for her work on the impact of illicit drugs on society.

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3 February 2021.