Prioritising Employee Wellbeing

Here is the Hot Topic for June 2024 and an accompanying webinar will follow, which will be hosted on 13 June 2024.

Did you know, for 2022/23, the leading cause of work-related ill health was stress, depression and anxiety and resulted in 17.1 million working days lost. So, it goes without saying, that prioritising the health and wellbeing of your workforce should be at the forefront of both the business and people strategy.

In this month’s Hot Topic, we will consider how businesses can put employee wellbeing at the heart of what they do and how to focus on developing appropriate strategies. We also explore the topic of having a right to disconnect and how you could approach implementing it within your own business. Additionally, we examine the practical challenges of managing employee health and wellbeing in a world where we’re seeing the development of advanced technologies, increased remote working and a fast-paced, 24/7 society in which we have to operate.

Employee wellbeing

We know that in the last few years, poor mental health has been on the rise, and the implications for both employers and employees are becoming increasingly significant.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS)

Their report ‘Rising ill health and economic inactivity because of long term sickness UK 2019 to 2023’ published in July, focussed on different health conditions of the working age population and those economically inactive because of long term sickness.  The key findings of the report include:

  • More working-age people are self-reporting long-term health conditions, with 36% saying that they had at least one long-term health condition in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2023, up from 31% in the same period in 2019 and 29% in 2016.
  • The number of people economically inactive because of long-term sickness has risen to over 2.5 million people, an increase of over 400,000 since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
  • Over 1.35 million (53%) of those inactive because of long-term sickness reported that they had depression, or anxiety in Quarter 1 2023, with the majority (over 1 million) reporting it as a secondary health condition rather than their main one.
  • Other reasons causing long term sickness include musculoskeletal issues such as problems with legs or feet, which saw an increase in sickness levels of 29% and health issues relating to the back or neck increasing by 28%.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

The CIPD published its 23rd annual Health and Wellbeing at Work report, which showed that sickness absence was the highest it had been in over a decade. It also reported:

  • “The average rate of sickness absence was 7.8 days per employee (2.4% of working time lost per year).
  • Broken down into public and private sector; the public sector lost 10.6 days due to sickness per employee, with the private sector losing 5.8 days per employee.
  • The top two causes of short term and long-term sickness are mental ill health and musculoskeletal injuries
  • COVID-19 continues to be a key contributing factor for sickness absences, with it being the 4th main reason for short term sickness. Additionally, 50% of employers report they have employees who have/are continuing to have Long COVID.
  • Mental ill health continues to be a concern with 76% of employers reporting stress related absence, the main reason being heavy workloads and management style.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Each year, the HSE publishes its latest research into working days lost in Great Britain because of work-related ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries.

On 22 November, it published its latest report, ‘Health and Safety at Work – Summary statistics for Great Britain 2023’. In the report, they confirm:

  • “1.8 million working people were suffering from a work-related illness
  • 561,000 working people sustained an injury at work according to the Labour Force Survey
  • 2 million working days were lost due to work related illness and injury
  • £20.7 billion was the estimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions.”

These startling statistics provide a strong business case for why employers must take action sooner rather than later when it comes to looking after the wellbeing of their employees.

Developing a business and people strategy that focuses on health and wellbeing

Developing a business strategy requires careful consideration of your organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) because it will highlight the key issues that need addressing by the business strategy and, in turn, the people strategy, both of which go hand in hand and are vital business tools.

When it comes to prioritising employee wellbeing, the SWOT analysis will help you to identify the extent to which employee wellbeing is a workplace issue. Indicators to look out for include:

  • Absence levels: one of the main indicators would be absenteeism, although not always, as ‘presenteeism’ can exist, which is where employees are constantly present at work despite being unwell.
  • Stress-related absences: we know through data that mental health issues have significantly increased in recent years, and you may be observing a greater level within your workplace.
  • Low employee engagement: Low morale and engagement can be an indicator that someone is struggling at work.
  • High staff turnover: you may notice turnover connected to employee wellbeing. Employees are dealing more and more with greater responsibilities in juggling home life with employment and for some, something must give.

So how can these challenges be incorporated within your business and people strategies?

Businesses can develop robust actions to significantly enhance employee health and wellbeing, leading to a more productive, satisfied, and engaged workforce:

Assess Current Situation
  • Conduct Surveys: Gather feedback from employees about their health and wellbeing needs and current satisfaction levels.
  • Analyse Data: Look at existing health-related data such as absenteeism rates, health claims, and turnover rates to identify trends and areas for improvement.
Define Objectives
  • Set Clear Goals: Establish specific, measurable objectives for improving employee health and wellbeing, such as reducing stress levels, increasing physical activity, or improving mental health support.
  • Align with Business Goals: Ensure that the health and wellbeing objectives align with overall business goals, such as enhancing productivity or reducing healthcare costs.
Develop Initiatives
  • Physical Health Programmes: Implement initiatives like on-site fitness classes, virtual desk yoga, healthy eating programmes, and ergonomic assessments.
  • Mental Health Support: Offer resources such as counselling services, employee assistance programmes, stress management workshops, and mental health days. Introduce Mental Health First Aiders, or Wellbeing Champions into the workplace.
  • Work-Life Balance: Introduce flexible working arrangements, encourage regular breaks, promote the right to disconnect, and promote a healthy work-life balance.
Engage Leadership
  • Lead by Example: Encourage senior leaders to actively participate in and endorse health and wellbeing initiatives.
  • Training: Provide managers with training on how to support employee wellbeing and recognise signs of stress or burnout.
Communicate Effectively
  • Health and Wellbeing Policy: Introducing a Health and Wellbeing Policy allows employers to foster a healthier, more productive, and more engaged workforce, ultimately contributing to long-term business success.
  • Raise Awareness: Regularly communicate the importance of health and wellbeing initiatives through newsletters, emails, company updates, and meetings.
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Create channels for employees to provide feedback and suggestions on wellbeing programmes.
Measure and Evaluate
  • Track Progress: Use key performance indicators to monitor the impact of health and wellbeing initiatives, such as employee satisfaction scores, productivity metrics, and healthcare costs.
  • Regular Reviews: Conduct regular reviews of the programmes to assess their effectiveness and make necessary adjustments.
Create a Supportive Environment
  • Inclusive Culture: Foster a culture that prioritises employee wellbeing and encourages open discussions about health.
  • Recognition Programmes: Implement programmes to recognise and reward employees who actively participate in and contribute to wellbeing initiatives.
Provide Resources
  • Access to Information: Ensure employees have access to information and resources related to health and wellbeing.
  • External Partnerships: Partner with external health providers, such as gyms, nutritionists, and mental health professionals, to offer comprehensive support.
Promote Healthy Habits
  • Incentives: Offer incentives for employees to engage in healthy behaviours, such as discounts on gym memberships or wellness challenges.
  • Regular Activities: Organise regular health-related activities, such as fitness challenges, mindfulness sessions, or health fairs.
Sustain Efforts
  • Ongoing Commitment: Make health and wellbeing a continuous priority rather than a one-time initiative.
  • Update Programmes: Regularly update and refresh wellbeing programmes to keep them relevant and engaging.

The right to disconnect

The ‘right to disconnect’ is a term that has come about in the last few years and is about giving individuals the right to switch off from work outside of their normal working hours without being disturbed. It has gained momentum more recently because it is a policy area of the Labour Party.  In the Labour Party’s publication ‘Plan to make work pay – delivering a new deal for working people’, the party proposes introducing a model similar to those adopted in other European countries, whereby Codes of Practices are introduced to help employers.  But what would it mean in practice, to adopt a ‘right to disconnect’?  We can get an idea as to how it could be managed, by looking at how it is implemented in Ireland, which is set out in their Workplace Relations Commission – Code of Practice for employers and employees on the right to disconnect.

  1. The Code of Practice is guidance only and provides best practice to employers. There is no statutory legal entitlement.
  2. The guidance is to help employers create a workplace culture where employees feel that they can disconnect from work and work-related devices
  3. Establish Clear Policies: Define the right to disconnect within workplace policies, detailing when employees are expected to be available and when they are not.
  4. Communicate Expectations: Ensure all employees understand the policies regarding work hours and availability.
  5. Respect Personal Time: Encourage managers and employees to respect personal time and avoid contacting colleagues outside of work hours unless absolutely necessary.
  6. Regular Breaks: Promote regular breaks during work hours to prevent burnout.
  7. Technology Use: Limit the use of communication tools outside of designated work hours.
  8. Workload Management: Ensure workloads are manageable within contracted hours to prevent the need for overtime.
  9. Flexible Work Arrangements: Support flexible work arrangements that do not extend beyond agreed hours.
  10. Employee Training: Provide training on the importance of work-life balance and the right to disconnect.
  11. Monitor Compliance: Regularly review and monitor compliance with disconnect policies.
  12. Feedback Mechanisms: Implement Feedback Mechanisms where employees can report concerns about after-hours work expectations without fear of reprisal.

If moving towards a culture that proactively encourages and supports employees from disconnecting from work an important tool is to have a clearly written company policy, incorporating:

  • Purpose and scope: Clearly state the purpose of the policy. Define who the policy applies to within the organization.
  • Responsibilities: Outline the roles and responsibilities of both employers and employees regarding disconnection.
  • Contact protocols: Specify when and how employees can be contacted outside regular work hours.
  • Work hours: Detail standard work hours and expectations around availability.
  • Communication tools: Clarify the use of emails, phone calls, and other communication tools outside of work hours.
  • Breaks and rest periods: Emphasise the importance of taking regular breaks and rest periods.
  • Reporting mechanisms: Provide a process for employees to report violations or concerns regarding the right to disconnect.
  • Raising concerns:
  • Training: Include provisions for training employees on the policy and the importance of work-life balance.
  • Review and monitoring: Describe how the policy will be monitored, reviewed, and updated as necessary.

Managing employee wellbeing in a tech driven, remote and fast paced world

In today’s rapidly evolving workplace, managing employee wellbeing presents unique challenges. The advent of advanced technologies, the rise of remote working, and the demands of a fast-paced, 24/7 society require innovative and adaptable strategies.

Advanced Technologies
  • Efficiency and Flexibility: Tools like AI and other automation tools allow for flexible work schedules, enabling employees to better balance work with their home life.
  • Access to Health Resources: Digital platforms provide easy access to health and wellness resources, including virtual fitness classes, webinars, and other training resources.

However, it also brings challenges:

  • Tech Burnout: Continuous connectivity can lead to burnout. Employers must monitor workloads and encourage regular digital detoxes.
  • Privacy Concerns: Using technology to monitor health metrics can raise privacy issues. Transparent communication about data use is essential and compliance with the UK GDPR fundamental.
Increased Remote Working
  • Work-Life Balance: Remote work can improve work-life balance by reducing commute times and offering flexible schedules.
  • Broader Talent Pool: Employers can hire from a diverse, global talent pool.

The challenges with this include:

  • Isolation: Remote workers may feel isolated, leading to mental health issues. Regular virtual check-ins and team-building activities can help maintain connection.
  • Blurring Boundaries: The line between work and personal life can blur. Clear policies on working hours and encouraging downtime and the right to disconnect are critical.
24/7 Society
  • Global Operations: Businesses can operate across time zones, increasing productivity and customer service.
  • Increased Availability: Employees can work at times that suit them best, potentially increasing job satisfaction.

The challenges with this include:

  • Constant Connectivity: The expectation to be always available can lead to stress and burnout. Implementing the right to disconnect policies can help mitigate this.
  • Health Impacts: Irregular hours and lack of sleep can affect physical and mental health. Promoting healthy lifestyle choices and offering flexible scheduling options are vital.
Strategies for Employers
  1. Promote Digital Wellbeing:
    • Encourage regular breaks from screens and provide resources for managing digital fatigue.
    • Implement tools that help employees manage their time and workload effectively.
  2. Foster a Connected Culture:
    • Create virtual spaces for social interaction to combat isolation.
    • Regularly check in with remote employees and provide support for mental health.
  3. Enforce Work-Life Balance:
    • Set clear boundaries for working hours and encourage employees to disconnect after work.
    • Offer flexible work arrangements to accommodate different lifestyles and needs.
  4. Provide Comprehensive Health Resources:
    • Offer access to mental health support, such as counselling services and stress management programmes.
    • Promote physical health through initiatives like virtual fitness challenges and wellness workshops.
  5. Ensure Privacy and Trust:
    • Be transparent about how health data is collected and used.
    • Foster a culture of trust where employees feel comfortable discussing their health and wellbeing needs.
    • Have GDPR at the heart of any initiative you introduce.


Managing employee health and wellbeing in a technology-driven, remote, and fast-paced world requires a proactive and flexible approach. By leveraging the benefits of advanced technologies, supporting remote work, and addressing the challenges of a 24/7 society, employers can create a healthy, engaged, and productive workforce.

We’re Here to Help

If you want support developing and implementing effective strategies to enhance the wellbeing of your workforce , then contact us on 0844 324 5840, or send us an online enquiry by clicking here.




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