Employee health and wellbeing should be a core element of any HR strategy and central to the way an organisation operates.
The latest official data shows that 35.2 million working days were lost to work-related ill health in 2022/23, with stress, anxiety and depression accounting for almost 24 million of these. CIPD research shows that employee sickness absence is at the highest level we’ve reported for 15 years and around three-quarters of respondents (76%) report some stress-related absence. Over two-thirds of respondents report that senior leaders take wellbeing seriously. However, lack of line manager skills and confidence is the top challenge for employee wellbeing and ‘management style’ remains among the top causes of stress related absence. In addition to this many people continue to work when unwell, even if they are working from home, while many employees even use holiday or sick leave to work.
Organisations need to understand the causes – including any underlying health or workplace issues – for sickness absence and develop effective strategies for optimising people’s health and attendance.
Employers have a fundamental duty of care for the health, safety and welfare of their workers. However, our research shows that despite more organisations stepping up their efforts, more needs to be done to tackle rising rates of sickness absence, presenteeism and the impact of poor mental health. This means taking a systematic and evidence-based approach.
A focus on employee health and wellbeing should be a core element of any HR strategy and central to the way an organisation operates. It should not simply consist of one-off initiatives but be based on employee need.
As well as benefiting employees, an integrated approach to wellbeing can increase employee engagement and foster a joint commitment to organisational success.
Organisations should take a holistic approach and provide good work for people that helps to prevent ill health. We define ‘good work’ as work that is fairly rewarded, providing people with the means to securely make a living; it gives opportunities to develop skills and a career, and ideally provides a sense of fulfilment. Organisations also need to focus on the wider dimensions of wellbeing, including financial wellbeing, which is still a neglected area.
Actions for the UK Government
- Improve the protection of workers’ health and rights through the creation of a well-resourced single enforcement body.
- Ensure that employers conduct risk assessments for work-related stress by providing the Health and Safety Executive with the resources to promote employer compliance with obligations under existing health and safety law, including work-related stress.
- Reform statutory sick pay so it is financially adequate and flexible, and can support employees to make a more effective and sustainable phased return to work.
- Develop locally delivered access to occupational health provision for employers, which is free for SMEs, to support organisations with health advice and return to work.
- Nominate a director of work and health to work with employers and across government departments to improve the recruitment, retention and progression of people with disabilities and long-term health conditions.
Recommendations for employers
- Ensure that senior leaders are aware of the importance of workplace health and wellbeing, and that they embed actions to ensure that it’s taken seriously across the organisation.
- Train line managers to manage people well. Line managers are key to employee wellbeing and should ensure people’s workloads and deadlines are manageable. They should provide clear objectives and give constructive feedback, as part of a trust-based relationship with people. They should have the confidence to have sensitive conversations with people and offer support and flexibility if a team member needs adjustments to help manage their health and work.
- Provide early access to occupational health support and other specialist sources of help, such as counselling or physiotherapy.
- Develop an evidence-based understanding of the causes of absence and unhealthy practices in your organisation, such as ‘presenteeism’ and ‘leaveism’. Unless the underlying issues prompting people’s attendance and behaviours are addressed, efforts to improve health and wellbeing will be short-lived.
- Tailor policies and practices to organisational and employee needs. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to designing an effective employee wellbeing strategy – its content should be based on the organisation’s unique needs and characteristics, and of course those of its employees.
- Build a robust organisational framework to promote good mental wellbeing and foster a culture where people can talk about mental health and seek help where needed.
- Carry out a risk assessment or audit on work-related stress across the workforce, as part of a preventive approach to identify its main causes.
Urgent public policy reform to promote good work and health is needed to tackle long-term sickness absence
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