August 2, 2018

Is Spending on Workplace Wellbeing Really Worth It? 

Back in 2016 a House of Commons briefing noted that 99% of UK private businesses – and thus one third of our workforce – are employed by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and the paper suggested that limited access to resources make some less likely to implement workplace initiatives promoting a health-based culture for employees.  

When you consider that full-time employees spend one third of their waking hours in work the importance of evaluating how their health is managed becomes clear, yet the NHS does not yet collect data on employment and health outcomes, despite being at the forefront on dealing with employees with work-related health issues. 

 The HSE (which does gather statistics) published the following findings: 

  • The annual cost to society in 2013 to 2014 due to workplace injuries and ill health (excluding cancer) was £14.3 billion 
  • 137 million days in 2016 were lost to sickness absence in the UK 

This shows that, cumulatively, the burden on the SME sector is substantial and there would be significant value in tackling the problem head-on.  

It is true that individually SMEs will struggle to make any impact on the alarming figures in HSE findings and so it must fall to Government and other employers organisations to grasp the nettle and act to support employees and employer in the SME sector.  

 In 2016 the Office for National Statistics found the following:  

  • minor illnesses (such as coughs and colds) were the most common reason for sickness absence in 2016, accounting for approximately 34 million days lost (24.8% of the total days lost) 
  • 22% of sickness absences are caused by musculoskeletal conditions (including back pain, neck, and upper limb problems) 
  • 11.5% of sickness absences were as a result of mental health issues (including stress, depression, anxiety and serious conditions) were the next most common reason for sickness absence, resulting in 15.8 million days lost (11.5%) 
  • self-employed people are less likely than employees to have a spell of sickness 
  • the largest workforces report the highest sickness levels 
  • sickness absence is lowest for managers, directors and senior officials 

A cautionary note to the last point – senior staff are those most likely to burn out so good attendance does not always equate to good health. Signs of burnout include mood swings, feeling constantly tired, and inconsistent achievement of tasks or projects.

All of these can impact others in the workplace and therefore should be managed in the wider context. For example, disengaged teams can be a symptom of a manager in burn-out mode. If absence is higher within certain teams, consider whether the manager is under too much pressure. 

More-so within SMEs, which may have small management teams or are owner-managed, burn out can directly affect the bottom line because of its impact on employees down the chain.  

Whilst we wait for a robust plan at Government level to support better wellbeing in the SME sector here are a few low-cost and effective means of better health management in work: 

  1. Regular 1-2-1s which encourage employees to talk about what would improve their working lives 
  2. Ensure employees use their annual holiday entitlement and take advantage of family-friendly entitlements. Using holidays for non-holiday activities eats into rest time 
  3. Make sure regular breaks are factored into the working day, particularly for monotonous or repetitive roles 
  4. Ensure colleagues, managers and customers treat everyone in a respectful way. Do not tolerate bad behaviour from anyone with whom employees interact 
  5. Remember that presenteeism can be a problem too. If someone could pass on colds or other illnesses they should not be in work 

Just implementing these five small but simple changes can save on absence costs and the overall impact on your business.   

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About the author

Stuart Clough

Stuart (MCIPR) is a trained journalist, writer and marketer with ten years' experience in B2B, public sector and employee communications. A former marketing consultant and agency client-lead, Stuart is responsible for communications and content at Moorepay.