Workplace Wellness

by Liggy Webb

Why is workplace wellness important?

Looking after people in the workplace is becoming an increasingly important issue and ‘work-life balance’ is a phrase that has been bandied about since the 1970s. Over the past thirty years, there has been a substantial increase in workloads, which is felt to be due, in part, to the use of information technology and to an intense, competitive work environment.

Long-term loyalty and a sense of corporate community have been eroded by a performance culture that expects more and more from employees, yet offers little support in return.

Many experts forecasted that technology would eliminate most household chores and provide people with much more time to enjoy leisure activities. Unfortunately, many have decided to ignore this option, being egged on by a consumerist culture and a political agenda that has elevated the work ethic to unprecedented heights.

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.

Aristotle

An alarming amount of absenteeism in the workplace is now stress-related and it is clear that problems caused by stress have become a major concern to both employers and employees. Symptoms are manifested both physiologically and psychologically. Persistent stress can result in a range of problems, including frequent headaches, stiff muscles and backache. It can also result in irritability, insecurity, exhaustion and difficulty concentrating.

Stress can also lead to eating disorders, increased smoking, excessive caffeine and increased alcohol consumption. These, in turn, will perpetuate depression and mental illness, so the vicious cycle of negativity continues.

The impact of absenteeism on the economy is colossal. However, another important area to consider is that of presenteeism. In contrast to absenteeism, presenteeism is when employees come to work in spite of illness, which can have similar negative repercussions on business performance. A depressed economic climate and the threat of redundancy can put people under considerable pressure to come into work. However, work performance is impaired, expensive mistakes are made and this can have serious repercussions.

So what is the answer? Well, realistically there is no magic formula; however, there are certainly measures that can be taken to address some of the health issues that occur. Learning to manage personal stress can help considerably, and a better understanding of what we can do to help ourselves is extremely important.

Organisations that help raise awareness for healthier working practices are taking responsibility and finding that they are being rewarded by a reduction in absenteeism, better morale, long-term loyalty and a sense of corporate community. These factors clearly contribute to a far happier and more productive workplace.

Why have a wellness programme?

There is a good business case for workplace wellness. Below is a list of things a wellness programme can do for an organisation. Many more examples can be found on the the Department for Work and Pensions website.

Absenteeism

Forty-five out of 55 cases reported a reduction in days lost through sickness absence as a consequence of wellness interventions. The reductions in lost days varied enormously, ranging from ten per cent to 97 per cent over the evaluation period, with the reported average around 30 to 40 per cent.

Staff turnover

Eighteen cases mentioned a positive impact on reduction in staff turnover, through improved staff retention and/or return-to-work rates. Reductions in staff turnover rates ranged from about ten per cent to 25 per cent. On average, the reduction in staff turnover was around 20 to 25 per cent.

Accidents and injuries

Sixteen cases reported reductions in accidents and injury rates as a consequence of worksite wellness initiatives. Reductions ranged from 30 per cent to 73 per cent, with the average reduction around 50 per cent; seven cases cited reduced insurance or civil claims and/or savings on insurance premiums.

Employee satisfaction

Fourteen cases mentioned a positive impact on employee satisfaction as a result of wellness programme intervention and participation. For example, one organisation saw a dramatic and positive increase in its employees’ opinion of the organisation, from -0.08 in 2003 to +0.53 in 2006 (range is -2 to +2).

Resource allocation

Nine cases cited a reduction in time dedicated to managing sickness absence, employee disciplinary procedures or injury investigation as a consequence of wellness interventions.

Company profile

Eight cases reported an improvement in their external reputation, which can help attract and retain quality staff and raise public profile.

Output and productivity

Eight cases attributed improvements in productivity levels to implementing wellness programmes, some referring to reduced errors or rejects and increased utilisation rates. A further four cases attributed increased competitiveness and profitability to wellness programmes. For example, the increase in productivity at one manufacturing organisation was partly responsible for the working week falling from 48 to 40 hours, coupled with a significant reduction in stock levels.

Health and welfare

Eight cases explicitly mentioned an improvement in the health and welfare of their employees associated with their wellness initiatives, including improved diet, exercise and general wellbeing. One case reports a 33 per cent success rate from its smoking cessation programme; another tracked reductions in employee fatigue through a personal resilience evaluation.

What every business needs to know

  • The estimated cost to employers, communities and the taxpayer of working-age ill health is around £100 billion a year – this is the equivalent to the annual running cost of the NHS.
  • The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) estimated that 172 million working days were lost last year due to absence, costing employers alone £13 billion.
  • Dame Carole Black’s review of the health and wellbeing of the working age population highlighted the fact that a healthy workforce is a happier, more productive workforce.
  • The Government response highlighted a variety of positive initiatives.
  • In the UK, over 13 million working days are lost every year because of stress.
  • Stress is believed to trigger 70 per cent of visits to doctors and 85 per cent of serious illnesses.
  • According to Mind one in four people will be affected by mental illness
  • According to The World Health Organisation, depression is the leading cause of disability.
  • Our increasingly sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits have led to 66 per cent of men and over 50 per cent of women in the UK being overweight or obese.
  • According to Dame Carol Black’s report, by 2050, if trends continue, 90 per cent of men and 80 per cent of women will be overweight or obese.