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Wellness in the workplace: Why is it important?

Workplace wellness is no passing trend. Its roots can be traced back to Johnson & Johnson’s 1979 Live for Life programme, which is widely regarded as being the prototype for corporate wellness programs, and the following years saw the normalisation of corporate wellness programmes as we know them today. We know that 75.5% of adults are in employment, spending an average of a third of their waking hours in the workplace. This, coupled with the fact that 14.7% of people experience mental health issues in the workplace, points to a very clear need for employers to take the wellbeing of their team members seriously. So far, some action has been taken: our report has found that 34% of people regularly work from home to focus on their mental health and wellbeing. But could more be done to focus on employee wellbeing?

We’ve looked at where we’re at currently and what more needs to be done to ensure wellness in the workplace get the attention it deserves.

The state of workplace wellness in the UK

Organisations across the UK vary significantly when it comes to how they address employee wellbeing. According to the CIPD’s 2018 Health and Well-Being at Work report, two-fifths of businesses have a standalone well-being strategy, while the remainder report a more flexible, ad-hoc approach to employee wellness. Most organisations offer at least one or more well-being benefits to employees, and more than half say that employee wellbeing is on the agendas of senior leaders. As a result, 44% of employers say their health and wellbeing activity has resulted in improved employee morale and engagement, with 31% reporting lower sickness absence.

So far, so good. But are employers walking the talk? According to the CIPD, budgetary constraints and achieving value for money are the most significant drivers when it comes to making decisions around employee wellness programmes, rather than managing identified health issues or employee feedback. While wellness is certainly becoming more of a priority of the majority of UK workplaces, for some, it’s more of a case of box-ticking and token gestures as opposed to a concerted, holistic approach that is structured and planned.

“There’s definitely been a shift in the approach to and attitude surrounding workplace wellness,” says Jen Christie, Director of employee wellness consultancy Rise Well and ex-recruitment director. “When I first started in recruitment, candidates would be mostly focused on salary and career development. Now, I’m seeing people asking about flexible work arrangements first and foremost – and that’s not just for people with children, either. People are asking about what’s important to them in their lives, rather than just their work, which is so important. We spend so many of our waking hours at work that it makes sense to ensure it’s a positive, healthy place to be.”

Despite this, stress and mental health issues continue to be a major cause of concern in British workplaces. Just under 13% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions, with stress accounting for 43% of working days lost due to ill health.

"Stress is the biggest cause of absenteeism in the workplace,” says Louise Woodhead, co-founder and MD of Tall, an innovation consultancy specialised in marketing and corporate wellness. “Presenteeism is one of the biggest drains on the UK working economy. Presenteeism includes going to the office when unwell, under-performing because of stress, working long hours, having excessive workloads and experiencing poor working relations. The pace of life today and associated drivers has resulted in a critical work-life imbalance, which business leaders must recognise and address.”

Why do employers need to pay more attention to workplace wellness?

The annual economic cost of sickness absence and worklessness is estimated to be more than £100 billion, and while not all workplace absence can be addressed by workplace wellness programmes, research shows the return on investment for workplace health initiatives can range from £2 for every £1 spent to a whopping £34 for every £1 spent. Return on investment can be measured in the medical savings and productivity gains associated with investment in workplace wellness, such as level of sickness absence and employee satisfaction and output. From a purely financial perspective, it makes sense to focus on employee wellbeing.

“Organisations delivering a robust workplace wellness programme experience enhanced productivity, increased retention and improved morale - as well as competitive advantage. In 2014 80% of employees agreed a company’s wellness offering would be crucial in recruiting and retaining them over the next 10 years. Which, arguably, makes workplace wellness the brand differentiator in business today. Consequently, those companies who don’t act will find themselves behind the competition,” says Louise.

This sentiment is echoed through the workplace wellness market. “Expectations from candidates are high and employees are the ones driving the change in this field,” says Jen. “In the current war for talent, companies need to be competitive with what they offer in order to secure the top talent. If you’re not offering a healthy culture that promotes wellbeing, you won’t attract or retain the best people.”

What can you do to improve your workplace wellbeing?

We know that healthy, happy employees are more productive, cost organisations less in terms of sickness leave and ultimately contribute to a more positive environment. This can’t happen overnight. To review or implement a workplace wellness programme, external consultants can help. Contact Jen Christie here and Louise Woodhead here.

No matter how healthy your culture is, your business won’t thrive without the right talent. Ensure you’re hiring the right candidates for your team with EMR. We specialise in sourcing the best people across marketing, digital and communications. Get in touch and find out how we can help.

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