The CIPD’s nineteenth annual health and wellbeing survey report, in partnership with Simplyhealth, highlights some areas of tangible progress. The overall picture shows small but steady improvements on previous years across a number of dimensions; for example, there are signs that more organisations are giving heightened attention to promoting good mental health. There is an increase in the number who report their organisation is promoting awareness of mental health issues across the workforce, and we are encouraged that this year more respondents agree that employee well-being is on senior leaders’ agendas (61% compared with 55% last year).

In terms of outcomes, similarly to last year, three-quarters of organisations report positive outcomes from their health and well-being activity – but this year they report an increased number of achievements. Better morale and engagement, a healthier and more inclusive culture and lower sickness absence remain the most common benefits.

A mixed picture persists

The average level of employee absence (5.9 days per employee per year) is the lowest ever recorded by this survey, and many will also interpret this finding as a progressive step. In some organisations better attendance will indeed reflect a more effective approach to well-being: if fewer people are going off sick because they feel healthier and better supported by their employer, that is a positive development. However, the drop in the headline absence rate across UK workplaces comes with a caveat, and a number of findings are cause for concern.

For example, this year’s results again confirm the rising culture of ‘presenteeism’ and ‘leaveism’ (such as using holiday leave to catch up on work) in UK workplaces, and most organisations are doing nothing to discourage these unhealthy behaviours. Levels of stress- and mental-health-related absences remain much too high. And despite the increased focus on mental health, there is still a lack of preventative measures being taken to promote good mental well-being and we are still seeing a worrying increase in poor mental health and work-related stress. This indicates that the steps taken by employers are falling short of what’s needed.

Tentative signs of a more holistic approach…

Slowly but surely more employers are attempting to adopt a holistic approach to people’s well-being. The increasing inclusion of effective mental well-being policies and practices, for example, is a big step forward in terms of addressing the psychological aspects of health and well-being at work. Our survey finds that good work, collective/social relationships, physical health and values/principles are also commonly promoted, at least to a moderate extent, by around three-fifths of organisations, while half promote personal growth and good lifestyle choices.

Organisations with a standalone well-being strategy are more likely to take a holistic approach compared with those without one, with a majority promoting most aspects of employee well-being.

…but much more focus needed on financial well-being

The exception to the increase in many employers’ holistic approach is financial well-being. It is the least-promoted area of employee well-being promoted by our survey respondents, with just over a third (37%) taking action in this area, and there has been negligible change since last year (36%). We find that just one in seven organisations (14%) adopt a strategic approach to financial well-being, considering the needs of different employee groups. These findings chime with other CIPD research, suggesting that there is still a long way to go before employers actively address this important issue.

Money worries can contribute directly to employee mental stress, and the financially stressed are more likely to suffer conditions such as fatigue and heart attacks as well as alcohol and drug abuse. A quarter of people taking part in our 2019 survey believe that poor financial well-being is a significant cause of employee stress. And yet over a third disagree that employees in their organisation demonstrate the knowledge and skills to make the right reward and benefit choices to meet their financial needs.

When asked in other CIPD research why they don’t provide programmes to encourage better employee financial well-being, the most common response among employers is that they are not sure what they need at this stage, with the current lack of progress not so much due to the cost complications of such programmes, but reflecting more practical concerns around knowing where to start or how to work out what is needed. The findings set out in our 2019 Health and well-being report provide a good starting point for the kind of steps an organisation can consider in developing a financial well-being programme integrated with its wider health and well-being strategy, including:

  • Pay and benefits policy – a fair and equitable pay system and a benefits scheme allowing staff to pick benefits to suit their circumstances
  • Retirement planning – phased retirement options and pre-retirement courses
  • Employee communication – induction material on rewards for new starters and total reward statements for all staff
  • Employee support – employee assistance programme offering debt counselling and access to independent financial advisers.

The CIPD also has a range of useful reports and guides to support organisations wanting to improve their employees’ financial well-being.

About the author

Rachel Suff, Employment Relations and Diversity Adviser (Europe)

Rachel Suff joined the CIPD as a policy adviser in 2014 to increase the CIPD’s public policy profile and engage with politicians, civil servants, policy-makers and commentators to champion better work and working lives. An important part of her role is to ensure that the views of the profession inform CIPD policy thinking on issues such as health and wellbeing, employee engagement and employment relations. As well as conducting research on UK employment issues, she helps guide the CIPD’s thinking in relation to European developments affecting the world of work. Rachel’s prior roles include working as a researcher for XpertHR and as a senior policy adviser at Acas.

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