Employers are increasingly recognising that a happy, healthy workforce is also a more productive one. It’s worthwhile for every organisation to take stock of its attitude and strategy towards wellbeing, says Louise Aston, wellbeing director, BITC

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UK workplaces are facing demographic changes, global competition, advances in technology and chang­ing workforce expectations. These mean that a strategic and proactive ‘whole person’ approach to physical and mental wellbeing at work is more essential than ever. However, many senior leaders still don’t regard this as an integral part of the way they do busi­ness. So why is focusing on wellbeing in the workplace important?

For a start, in 2015 UK workforces were 31% less productive than those of the US and 17% less productive than the other G7 countries, despite working similar hours. Although this productivity puzzle has many components, engagement and wellbeing are significant factors, with research showing that employees with high wellbeing were more attached to their organisation.

Physical and mental health issues also have a significant impact on productivity. Musculo­skeletal disorders such as back, shoulder and knee pain make up the largest number of work­ing days lost in the UK, at an estimated 30.6 million days a year. Meanwhile, more than 15 million sickness days were attributed to stress, anxiety and depression in 2013; presenteeism from mental ill health alone costs the UK £15.1bn per year. This data makes the business case for investing in a proactive approach to wellbeing clear.

Although many employees feel comfortable discussing their physical health at work, this is not necessarily the case for mental wellbeing.

Here at Business in the Community, our Mental Health at Work report found that 77% of employees had experienced symptoms of poor mental health, and 62% said work was a contributing factor. However, only 11% of employees discussed a recent mental health problem with their manager, suggesting that talking about these issues carries a stigma.

Throw in increasing pressures due to the rise of mobile technology and global competi­tion, changing employee expectations and needs around issues such as flexible working, and changing demographics as workforces become increasingly diverse and multigenera­tional, and the scale of the challenge becomes apparent. So what can employers do?

It’s important to take a whole systems approach to embed wellbeing into organisa­tional culture. Business in the Community’s Workwell model provides a framework so employers can take a strategic, proactive approach to staff wellbeing and is designed to support an organisation’s unique requirements for building a practical, bespoke strategy.

Business in the Community and Public Health England have also developed a free online toolkit to help every organisation sim­plify its approach to workplace wellbeing and take positive actions to build a culture that champions good mental health and provides a greater understanding of how to help those who need more support.

Finally, we would encourage all employers to follow the three recommendations in our Mental Health at Work report:

  • Sign up to the Time to Change Employer’s Pledge to break the culture of silence
  • Invest in basic mental health training for all staff and training for line managers – 76% of whom believe they are responsible for staff wellbeing: 49% would appreciate basic training in common mental health condi­tions, but only 22% have received it, and
  • Close the gap by asking all staff about their experiences to identify any disconnects between what senior leaders have commit­ted to and what staff are experiencing.

Things are changing as more employers take the issue seriously. But unless we all take action, employees will continue to suffer in silence.

This article first appeared in Reward's new research report, Wellbeing in the Workplace 2017. To read the report in full, CLICK HERE