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Employee Wellbeing 2019

Time to shift the dial on wellbeing

iStock / Getty Images Plus / fizkes

Rachel Suff

Well-Being Adviser, CIPD, the professional body for HR and People Development

Health and wellbeing has been moving up the business agenda. Most employers now know they play a critical role in improving people’s health at work. But, is their investment paying off?

Research repeatedly shows that work can be a force for good. Quality work is good for our wellbeing, and a healthy, happy workforce produces the highest-quality work too.

The latest CIPD Health and Well-being at Work Survey shows that more employers are waking up to the vital role they play in ensuring that work lives up to that promise.

Look beyond absence rates

The sickness absence rate (5.9 days on average per employee per year) is the lowest ever recorded in the survey’s 19-year history. Is this a cause for celebration?

There’s a rising culture of ‘presenteeism’ in UK workplaces. If people are coming into work when they’re ill, this could be artificially contributing to a drop in sickness absence levels.

Many employers have also observed some form of ‘leaveism’ over the past 12 months, with people working when they are on holiday or off sick.

Employers need to get to grips with the organisational issues that could be driving this kind of unhealthy behaviour, such as unmanageable workloads – the biggest cause of work-related stress.

Organisations need to give their managers training, guidance and ongoing support so they are part of the solution and not the problem.

More focus on mental health

The main risks to people’s health at work are now psychological, with reported common mental health conditions on the increase.

If levels of work-related stress and mental-health-related absence are not improving, there remains a stubborn implementation gap between aspiration and practice.

More employers are taking steps to raise awareness of mental health issues, but only a minority train their line managers to support staff with mental health issues.

A ‘whole person, whole organisation’ approach

Employers need to be far more proactive in how they support people’s health and wellbeing. The ageing population means many workers have increased caring responsibilities and will develop a long-term health condition or disability, for example.

Offering flexibility and designing jobs to play to people’s strengths can help to avoid unnecessary sickness absence and retain valuable talent.

Organisations need to be aware of the complexity of people’s lives and treat people as individuals, some of whom will need tailored support and working arrangements to enable them to remain in work.

Invest in line managers

CIPD research has found that heavy workloads remain the most common cause of workplace stress but, this year, an increased proportion of employees blame management style.

This is a stark reminder of how harmful the impact can be if managers aren’t equipped with the skills to support their people.

There are low levels of confidence in managers’ ability to spot the warning signs of employee stress, have sensitive conversations about health issues and signpost to expert sources of help.

Organisations need to give their managers training, guidance and ongoing support so they are part of the solution and not the problem.

Create a healthy culture

Employers can make a serious investment in employee health, but if their activity isn’t rooted in how people are managed, a supportive and inclusive culture and committed leadership it will not have real impact.

On a positive note, this year, more people in our survey agreed that employee wellbeing is on senior leaders’ agendas (61% compared with 55% last year).

An effective employee wellbeing strategy requires a ‘whole organisation’ response with serious leadership commitment and supportive line management. We need a substantial improvement in both of these areas to achieve the step change needed to improve people’s wellbeing at work.

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