Despite increased business awareness of the importance of actively supporting health and well-being in the workplace, there remains a stubborn ‘implementation gap’ in UK workplaces, which is threatening individuals’ health and long-term business sustainability.

This is according to a new report from the CIPD, Growing the health and well-being agenda: From first steps to full potential, which highlights that the average cost of absence now stands at £554 per employee per year. It also reveals that:

  • Fewer than one in ten (8%) of UK organisations currently have a standalone well-being strategy that supports the wider organisational strategy.
  • The majority of employers are more reactive than proactive in their approach to well-being (61%).
  • Almost two-fifths of employees (38%) are under excessive pressure at work at least once a week.
  • 43% say that long hours working is the norm for their organisation (to a great or moderate extent).
  • Well-being is taken into account in business decisions only to a little extent, or not at all, in the majority (57%) of cases.
  • Less than two-fifths of organisations monitor the cost of employee absence.  

To date, many organisations’ well-being efforts have tended to consist of one-off initiatives that aren’t joined up, and therefore often fail to have a long-term impact in the workplace. To address this, the CIPD recommends that a proactive employee well-being programme - based on the foundations of good people management, leadership and culture - should be at the core of how an organisation fulfils its mission and carries out its operations.

Sir Professor Cary Cooper, CIPD President and well-being expert, said: “A workforce that is well works well, but we’re still seeing far too many people doing more work than they can cope with, working long or unsociable hours, suffering from technology overload and unable to switch off. Organisations need to take better care of their people and recognise how the demands of work can affect their physical and mental health, as well as their ability to perform well at work.

“In the fast changing world of work, well-being has never been more important. With the UK at the bottom of the G7 and near the bottom of the G20 countries on productivity per capita, the way we manage people and create cultures that enhance well-being are now bottom-line issues. Prevention is better than a cure; it’s high time that business leaders recognise this and create cultures in organisations in which well-being is centre stage and people are happy, healthy and committed to achieving organisational success.”

To stem the rising cost and prevalence of employee ill-health, the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, is urging employers and policy-makers to recognise not just the potential cost of inaction on well-being, but also the growing body of evidence that positively links the introduction of wellbeing programmes at work with improved employee engagement and business performance.

Rachel Suff, policy adviser at the CIPD, said: “The cost of inaction is staggering, yet the gains that can be made from a proactive and holistic approach to well-being are equally impressive. To put well-being firmly on the business agenda, we need to change conversations around the business case for well-being programmes from ‘cost avoidance’ to ‘shared value creation’, and highlight what organisations stand to gain, rather than lose. By taking a proactive and holistic approach to well-being, organisations can help both their people and the business to reach their full potential.”

To progress the health and well-being agenda, the CIPD has the following recommendations for HR professionals, employers and government:

HR Professionals:

  • HR professionals are in a unique position to steer the health and well-being agenda and drive a systemic approach to change to ensure that it’s integrated into an organisation’s day-to-day operations.
  • Convincing senior management to integrate well-being throughout the business may need to start with a pilot area, or by highlighting pockets of good well-being practice that already exist, and demonstrating in tangible terms what the impact has been on employee engagement, customer service, absence levels and performance.
  • It’s vital that HR professionals monitor and regularly report on a range of health, employee satisfaction and organisational measures to build a strong body of evidence to demonstrate the need for ongoing financial commitment to health and well-being.


  • Employers need to implement a holistic approach to health and well-being that is preventative and proactive, and respond quickly to offer support when issues emerge. Their approach should promote good physical health, good mental health and ‘good work’.
  • Line managers are pivotal in shaping employees’ experience of work, bringing people management policies to life and managing the potential causes of stress. Training is vital to ensure they have a clear understanding of health and well-being responsibilities and have the confidence and skills to implement policies and handle difficult conversations with staff in a sensitive and effective way.
  • Creating a healthy culture is perhaps the greatest challenge for organisations. It requires commitment and role-modelling from senior leaders and managers.

Government and wider public policy action by stakeholders:

  • The time is right to recreate the momentum generated by Professor Dame Carol Black’s pioneering work during her five-year appointment as National Director for Work and Health from 2006. A joined-up policy approach is needed, bringing together government departments, healthcare providers and business to set an aspirational agenda for workplace health and well-being.
  • Government should consider wider financial/tax incentives for organisations to encourage greater employer investment in well-being.
  • The CIPD is calling on the Government to establish Human Capital Management (HCM) reporting standards for FTSE 350 organisations on core, agreed HCM metrics to help organisations measure, report and benchmark the health and well-being of their employees. Government should also lead by example by embedding this into the annual reporting of all public sector organisations.
  • Greater investment is needed in anti-stigma campaigns on mental health, and more work is needed to improve the use of the ‘fit note’ and ‘fit for work’ service.

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