Now in its 23rd year, the CIPD’s Health and wellbeing at work survey, supported by Simplyhealth, provides readers with benchmarking data, information and analysis on current and emerging health and wellbeing practices.

While these findings are based on UK data, the broader trends and implications should be of interest wherever you are based.

 

   

Health and wellbeing at work 2023

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Watch Rachel Suff, Senior Policy Adviser at the CIPD, discuss the key findings and recommendations of this year's report

This year the research reveals that:

Employee sickness absence is at the highest level we've reported for over a decade

  • The average rate of employee absence (7.8 days per employee or 3.4% of working time lost, per year) has risen considerably since we last reported this from data collected before the pandemic in Oct/Nov 2019 (5.8 days per employee). 
  • Average absence levels remain considerably higher in the public sector (10.6 days per employee) than in other sectors, particularly private sector services (5.8 days), although the upsurge in average levels of absence is observed across all sectors.

 

Mental ill health and musculoskeletal injuries are two of the top causes of both short-term and long-term absence 

  • The causes of absence are similar to previous years. Minor illness is most commonly responsible for short-term absence while mental ill health, musculoskeletal injuries, acute medical conditions and stress are the most common causes of long-term absence. 
  • COVID-19 continues to impact sickness absence – it's the fourth main course of short-term absence and  50% report their organisation has employees who have experienced, or are experiencing, long COVID in the last 12 months. 

 

Stress and mental health require continued focus

  • Mental health remains the most common focus of wellbeing activity. More organisations are using a range of approaches to support this including an employee assistance programme, mental health first aid training, wellbeing champions, access to counselling services and the promotion of flexible working options.
  • Around three-quarters of respondents (76%) report some stress-related absence with heavy workloads and management style most commonly to blame.
  • Over three-quarters (78%) of organisations are taking steps to identify and reduce stress. Two-thirds of these (66%) attempt to identify the causes of stress through staff surveys or focus groups. 

Presenteeism and leaveism remain widespread

  • Most respondents (87%) have observed presenteeism over the last year. 
  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents have observed some sort of leaveism, such as working outside contracted hours or using holiday entitlement to work, over the past 12 months.
  • Just over two-fifths (41%) are taking steps to discourage presenteeism and 35% are attempting to reduce leaveism.
 

Line managers need more training and support as more than half of organisations say they take primary responsibility for managing absence

  • Line managers play a key role in supporting people’s health and wellbeing including taking primary responsibility for managing short-term absence in 70% of organisations and long-term absence in 61%.  
  • However, lack of line manager skills and confidence is the most common challenge for employee wellbeing and ‘management style’ remains among the top causes of stress related absence.
  • Overall, 68% provide line managers with tailored support and 59% provide some training in absence-handling. 
  • Just over half of those taking steps to reduce stress provide stress management training for line managers (55%). Organisations are more likely to train mental health first aiders (66%) than managers (43%) to support staff with mental ill health. 

Over half of organisations are now approaching health and wellbeing through a stand-alone strategy

  • Over half (53%) of organisations now have a stand-alone wellbeing strategy. 
  • Over two-thirds of respondents (69%) report that senior leaders have employee wellbeing on their agenda.
  • Just over two-fifths (43%) continue to take measures to support employee health and wellbeing in the wake of COVID-19.
  • Most organisations take a holistic approach to employee wellbeing with mental health continuing as the most common focus.
  • Financial wellbeing, a previously neglected area, is receiving increased attention as nearly three-fifths (57%) report their health and wellbeing activity is designed to promote financial wellbeing to a large or moderate extent.
  • More organisations have employee assistance programmes (EAPs) for all or some employees (2023: 84%; 2022: 74%).

There’s variable support for wellbeing issues through the employee lifecycle

  • Nearly half of organisations (46%) now include provision for menopause transition ‘to a large or moderate extent’, up from 30% last year. Nearly a quarter (24%) have a standalone policy for menopause transition and a further 16% include provision as part of a wider policy.
  • More organisations now include provision for pregnancy loss compared with last year (37% ‘to a large or moderate extent’ compared with 26% in 2022).
  • Provision for issues such as chronic health conditions, suicide prevention, pregnancy loss and men’s health is more mixed.
  • Few organisations currently have policy provision for menstrual health (15% in a standalone policy or as part of another policy) but 19% report they plan to introduce a policy.

Evaluating the impact of health and wellbeing activity helps to improve outcomes

  • Nearly half of organisations (48%) take a continuous improvement/feedback loop to improve their wellbeing programme but fewer (27%) critically assess the quality of wellbeing outcomes for employees who participate in activities/interventions.
  • Sickness absence rates and staff retention levels remain the most common metrics used to evaluate the impact of wellbeing activity/spend.
  • The most common benefits of health and wellbeing activity are better employee morale and engagement, a healthier and more inclusive culture and better work-life balance.

Employee views on health and wellbeing

This year we have also examined what employees think about health and wellbeing at work using our Good Work Index data

How employees feel about health and wellbeing at work

  • In 2023, employees generally feel positively about their mental and physical health, with over half reporting this to be good or very good.
  • Nevertheless, staff feel much more mixed on how work affects both their mental health, with over a quarter reporting a negative impact.
  • These negative effects are especially notable for public sector workers, whose experiences at work are more likely to contribute to lower wellbeing than private sector employees. 
  • Specifically, public sector workers are more likely to feel exhausted and under excessive pressure at work.
  • Employees tend not to discuss their health issues with their boss or employer. Only in cases of an injury due to an accident at work, COVID-19 and heart problems have over half of workers done so.
  • Despite this, staff feel mildly positive about the climate of wellbeing in their organisations. There is more agreement than disagreement on whether or not they are encouraged to speak about their mental health (51% agree or strongly agree) and are supported when they do so (57% agree or strongly agree).
  • Line managers are perceived very positively with regards to their support and treatment of their staff around mental health. This is in contrast with the findings from the survey of people professionals, where a ‘lack of line manager skills and confidence’ is rated as the top challenge for health and wellbeing over the next year (43% of respondents).
  • Many employees find their workload to be about right, but more than 31% feel they have too much to do in a normal week.
  • Over half of employees (53%) have done their job in the last three months despite not feeling well, up from 46% in 2022.
  • Pressure to work despite not feeling well often comes from within (93%), with employees feeling less pressure from their manager or their colleagues.

Health and wellbeing at work 2023 – Views of employees

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