Health and wellbeing in the workplace: we need to make changes, not follow trends

As more of the workforce became out of sight, interestingly they became more in mind. Health and wellbeing stopped being a buzz phrase and became a genuine concern - or at least more conversations were being had. 

But poor health and wellbeing didn’t start in the pandemic, and we need to remember it won’t end with the pandemic. Organisations must make a genuine effort to continuously improve their culture, not temporarily adopt a new trend. 

Our own LinkedIn poll revealed that 80% of respondents believed organisations (in general) only started taking active steps to care for the wellbeing of their employees since the pandemic started. 

We are also conducting more research into health and wellbeing apps, where we want to hear about how and if people use digital apps to assist their health and wellbeing. You can take the short survey here.

What does health and wellbeing really mean?

Our overall health and wellbeing can be described as either the absence of physical illness, disease and mental distress or alternatively the maintenance of physical fitness and mental stability. Essentially, it’s health and happiness in our physical and mental state.

The true meaning of employee wellbeing has been arguably lost to LinkedIn clickbait and a tick-box mentality. But Dr.Martens Culture Coordinator Char Srahan is equally passionate and proactive in ensuring this is not the case at the popular footwear brand. 

“The fridges at DM's aren’t stocked to the gills with free booze on a Friday evening, we haven’t (yet) had puppies in the office and we don’t have 24/7 on-site masseuses… but maybe we do it better, by giving people what they really need.

“At Dr. Martens, wellbeing means placing focus on mental and physical wellbeing without forgetting emotional and financial wellbeing. We’ve hosted talks on navigating pensions, have Wellbeing Rooms at several of our sites and we’ve had a ball holding Wellbeing Week in October several years in a row.

“During lockdown, we’ve run weekly meditation sessions and virtual workouts which go alongside our evergreen offering of an employee assistance programme providing round the clock access to counselling, toolkits and support.  

“To boot (pardon the pun!), we have a team of Mental Health Champions who provide a compassionate listening ear to those who are feeling the weight of work on their shoulders. When we look at physical wellbeing, one of our recent events was a nutrition talk and it went down a storm.

“We listen to what people want, and we act on that. Wellbeing isn’t a trend, nor is it a short-lived campaign once a year – it’s an ongoing commitment to helping and supporting our people because ultimately, they are the custodians of Dr. Martens.”

Why are health and wellbeing important?

For individuals, this is simple. Maintenance of physical fitness and mental stability reduces mortality and increases happiness and a sense of worth. 

For organisations, of course, there is a morality element but it has many benefits to the business at large too. Happy and healthy employees are productive, present and engaged employees which ultimately generates more revenue and a positive reputation. 

The Financial Times November 2019 Health at Work report revealed employees who have financial concerns are losing more than twice as much productive time than those without, and report on significantly unhealthier lifestyle choices.

The report also found that:

  • 56.4% of surveyed employees suffer from at least one dimension of work-related stress.
  • 35.1% of employees reported having felt unwell as a consequence of work-related stress.
  • Financial concerns are very common, with 51.1% of employees reporting at least some level of concern.
  • Productivity loss is higher amongst lower-income workers and younger workers. 

This clearly demonstrates that businesses could benefit from less absenteeism and more productivity if there was greater financial and lifestyle support/education/reward available. 

Workplace productivity

AccountancyAge reported that British workers will spend an average of 3,515 full days at work over the course of their lifetime. The average person will also work 188 days of overtime during their professional life.

Whilst organisations are not to blame for an entire person’s wellbeing, they are certainly responsible for a large proportion of it.

According to The Health at Work report, employees who took part in the survey lost 14.6% of their working hours due to absence and presenteeism, representing a loss of 38 productive days per employee per year. The loss of productive time has increased steadily since 2014, where employees were losing 23 days.

The Labour Force Survey also represented similar concerns. 

There were 828,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or longstanding) in 2019/20. And 17.9 million working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2019/20.

Phrases like ‘don’t bring your problems to work’ have created stigmatised attitudes to the very trait of being open and honest about your physical and mental struggles in the workplace. The above statistics also show how some of these problems are created at work - and yet these issues can be left solely for the employee’s household to manage. 

Whilst a stable home environment is integral to an individual’s wellbeing, this does not stop the spread of mismanagement of workplace stress which could fall on a person who does not benefit from that support network. 

How do you promote health and wellbeing?

We can bet that an employee will remember the time you gave your full understanding and support to their personal issue, more than the time you bought everyone lunch. 

Contributing to your employee’s health and wellbeing isn’t about installing a trendy pinball machine or cake on Friday afternoons. Whilst these things can contribute to job satisfaction, you cannot rely on them to promote a culture where an individual’s health and wellbeing will thrive. 

It’s about creating a culture and an environment where their physical and mental health needs are understood and acted upon where possible. 

A management style that incorporates praise; effective communication; wellbeing budgets; an understanding that sick days include mental health; promotion of healthy lifestyle choices; encouragement of taking screen breaks and walks; and mental health first aiders - are all just a few examples of the things that can really contribute towards long-term health and wellbeing.

But the secret to really help your employees? Ask them. 

You can press forward with big plans and strategies but if they do not adhere to your workforce on an individual level then it’s simply wasted time and money. Have conversations. Ask employees what you can be doing to better support them. And listen. 

Workplace stress

Encouragingly, The CIPD, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Health and wellbeing at work 2020 report found the following:

• A gradual increase in the proportion of organisations including counselling services and employee assistance programmes among their wellbeing benefits. 

• Financial well-being remains further down the agenda, but we are seeing a gradual increase in the proportion of organisations that include financial education among their well-being programmes.

However, the same report shows 37% of respondents have seen an increase in stress-related absence over the last year, with the top two causes of stress are heavy workloads and management style. There was also a 60% increase in reports in common mental health conditions.

We spoke to Lizzie Benton, People & Culture Specialist and Founder at Liberty Mind UK to gather her thoughts on health and wellbeing in the workplace: 

"It's all too easy for businesses to adopt some wellbeing initiative to look like they're taking wellbeing seriously. But our wellbeing doesn't need some quirky health trend, our true workplace wellbeing comes from feeling that we can be ourselves at work and speak openly about issues that are impacting us.

This environment doesn't come from an initiative, it's at the core of your company culture. How you communicate with each other, how you support people in times of need. We need to stop looking for a quick fix, and instead, look at the day to day actions and behaviours that are ultimately causing stress and tension." 

The future of workplace wellbeing 

The health and wellbeing of workforces across the UK have the ability for a successful future as long as the ‘pandemic momentum’ is maintained and organisations continue to listen to what their employees really need. 

As a digital innovator that supports businesses to implement workplace health into their organisations, we’re certainly glad to see improvements being made. 

But we ask that each and every organisation continues to put health and wellbeing on the top of their agenda. And we promise to do the same - alongside creating more digital solutions to better the health and wellbeing of the nation.