Despite increased business awareness of the importance of actively supporting health and well-being in the workplace, there remains a stubborn ‘implementation gap’ in UK workplaces, which is threatening individuals’ health and long-term business sustainability.

This is according to a new report from the CIPD, Growing the health and well-being agenda: From first steps to full potential, which highlights that the average cost of absence now stands at £554 per employee per year. It also reveals that:

  • Only 8% of UK employers currently have a stand-alone well-being strategy that supports the wider organisational strategy.
  • The majority of employers are more reactive than proactive in their approach to well-being (61%).
  • Almost two-fifths of employees are under excessive pressure at work at least once a week.
  • 43% say that long hours working is the norm for their organisation.
  • Well-being is taken into account in business decisions only to a little extent, or not at all, in the majority (57%) of cases.
  • Less than two-fifths of organisations monitor the cost of employee absence.

It is reported that many well-being efforts consist of one-off initiatives that aren’t joined up, and therefore often fail to have a long-term impact in the workplace. To address this, the CIPD recommends that a proactive employee well-being programme – based on the foundations of good people management, leadership and culture – should be at the core of how an organisation fulfils its mission and carries out its operations.

Sir Professor Cary Cooper, CIPD President and well-being expert, said: “A workforce that is well works well, but we’re still seeing far too many people doing more work than they can cope with, working long or unsociable hours, suffering from technology overload and unable to switch off. Organisations need to take better care of their people and recognise how the demands of work can affect their physical and mental health, as well as their ability to perform well at work. Prevention is better than a cure; it’s high time that business leaders recognise this and create cultures in organisations in which well-being is centre stage and people are happy, healthy and committed to achieving organisational success.”

To stem the rising cost and prevalence of employee ill-health, the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, is urging employers and policy-makers to recognise not just the potential cost of inaction on well-being, but also the growing body of evidence that positively links the introduction of well-being programmes at work, with improved employee engagement and business performance.

To progress the health and well-being agenda, the CIPD has the following recommendations for employers:

  • Implement a holistic approach to health and well-being that is preventative and proactive, and respond quickly to offer support when issues emerge. Their approach should promote good physical health, good mental health and ‘good work’.
  • Line Managers are pivotal in shaping employees’ experience of work, bringing people management policies to life, and managing the potential causes of stress. Training is vital to ensure they have a clear understanding of health and well-being responsibilities, and have the confidence and skills to implement policies, and handle difficult conversations with staff in a sensitive and effective way.
  • Creating a healthy culture is perhaps the greatest challenge for organisations. It requires commitment and role-modelling from senior leaders and Managers.

Mental Health Awareness

The CIPD’s initiative comes at roughly the same time as increased public awareness of the importance of ensuring good mental health at work and elsewhere. Almost 6% of people with mental health conditions are currently unable to work, despite evidence showing employment can be a crucial part of treatment. The Prime Minister recently announced that action will be taken across government, the NHS and private companies, to treat potentially debilitating mental health conditions early on, through improved access to care and to help those already struggling with mental health issues to find or return to work. He highlighted the need for a shift in attitude to people with mental health conditions in the workplace and to agree new workplace standards.

Practical Steps

In our experience, less than two-fifths of organisations monitor the cost of employee absence, which is surprising given the cost impact of even average levels of staff absence.

We would agree with the CIPD that there is a lot to be said for taking a positive approach to well-being, indeed much of it comes down to good management in creating an environment which people want to attend, and give 100% commitment. Most of us know that it is the best motivated of our colleagues who attend work most regularly. Management are responsible for providing the motivation that makes us less prone to illness, and more likely to come in when we are ‘a bit under the weather’. Generating a positive environment in which your staff can perform and develop doing worthwhile work, will go a long way to controlling our attendance levels.

There are, however, many other more tangible control measures which you can do without making the environment inhospitable. The first thing to do is, ensure that you have good accurate records of non-attendance at work. This not only avoids embarrassment and claims of unfair treatment, but gives you a base for appropriate KPIs and cost measurement.

The next most important measure to take is to ensure that you are doing Return to Work interviews properly. There are three good reasons for this:

  1. To ensure employees are fit for work. Allowing someone to work, who is not safe to themselves, or others, is an unnecessary risk.
  2. To show appropriate concern for the good attendee.
  3. To let the poor attendee know that they have been missed, and what may happen if they are off work again.

Such meetings provide the opportunity to explore ways in which you can help the individual to attend as required, and to discuss ways that they can better manage their own attendance. You may need to stress that it is non-attendance which is of concern, not their honesty. People with good attendance records can be praised for their record, which should reinforce the desired attendance behaviours.

Managing attendance is not easy or simple, but it does require a range of approaches which have to be adapted to fit the individual’s circumstances, and job role.

We will be exploring all of these themes further at our forthcoming course “How to Deal with the Absent Employee” being run in April and May.

Our Consultants would be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.