Work can and should be good for us

Research repeatedly shows that work can be a force for good: not only is quality work good for our well-being, but healthy, happy workforces are key to productivity too. The latest Health and Well-being at Work Survey shows that more and more employers are waking up to the vital role they play in ensuring that work lives up to that promise:

  • Most organisations today are taking some action to improve overall health and well-being, with an increasing focus on mental health.
  • A growing proportion of employers provide counselling services and employee assistance programmes.
  • Employee well-being is rising up the agenda of more senior leaders.

But stress remains stubbornly common in the UK’s workplaces

Stress-related absence is on the rise in nearly two-fifths of the UK’s workplaces, and less than half of people professionals say their efforts to tackle stress in their organisation are effective. The survey reveals that organisations are much more effective in tackling stress when they have a standalone well-being strategy in support of their wider corporate strategy and when line managers have bought in to the importance of well-being.

But the research shows that many employers’ efforts are falling short of what’s needed: just two fifths have a formal well-being strategy in place, and the majority are relying on line managers to look after the well-being of the workforce, without giving them adequate support to do so.

Managers play a major role in health and well-being…

…but don’t get the support they need to be effective

The two top causes of stress at work are unmanageable workloads (say 62% of HR professionals) and management style (43%) – two factors that put line managers squarely in the frame for people’s mental well-being...

…but only 50% of organisations train managers to manage stress and less than a third think managers are confident to have sensitive discussions about mental health issues and signpost staff to expert sources of help.

In nearly two-thirds of organisations, line managers are expected to take prime responsibility for managing short-term absence (extending to long-term absence in two-fifths of organisations)…

…but only 56% of managers overall are trained in short-term absence-handling, and a quarter of organisations that give line managers primary responsibility for managing short- or long-term absence do not offer any training or tailored support.

Among the minority of organisations that tackle presenteeism (working when unwell), the overwhelming majority, (79%) rely on managers sending people home when they’re unwell…

…but only 37% provide training/guidance for line managers to spot the warning signs of presenteeism.

So what can people professionals do?

The survey shows that when line managers are bought in to the importance of health and well-being, organisations are more likely to report that stress is well managed. The holy grail is a holistic health and well-being strategy that is championed by leaders and embedded throughout the organisation. But this is not always easy to achieve when other priorities compete for investment and attention.

HR and L&D teams should therefore look for simple, low-cost ways to start building healthier workplaces from the ground up - sharing the CIPD’s top tips for helping teams thrive with every manager in their organisations would be a good place to start.

Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser at the CIPD who led on the research, says: ‘Not only are most managers ill equipped to support their teams through times of stress, but if they don’t go about their role in the right way, the impact on people’s well-being can be harmful. Employers can introduce a suite of exemplary well-being policies and make a serious investment in employee health, but if their activity is not rooted in how people are managed, it will not have real impact.’

Suff adds: ‘Our research shows that manager buy-in is crucial, so HR teams should focus communications with managers on what’s in it for them: when their team’s happy, healthy and engaged in their work, they’re more likely to meet their goals and contribute to the team’s success.’

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Championing better work and working lives

About the CIPD

At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.