Companies urged to make staff health and wellbeing a priority

Matthew Fell

Companies must make staff health and wellbeing a priority, according to new survey analysis by the CBI in partnership with Bupa and HCA Healthcare.

Failure to do so has a major impact on business, according to the report, since workers are away form their jobs for an average of 5.2 days every year.

Almost 350 businesses – employing nearly 1.7 million people – of all sizes across the UK were surveyed or interviewed to understand what steps they are taking to improve workplace health & wellbeing.

The survey found that companies are motivated to play a greater role supporting people, with 63% seeing workplace health & wellbeing an important business issue. 52% of business leaders are recognising the need to focus on prevention, not just the cure. Yet worryingly, 71% of firms say they are finding it hard to take practical action because they are not clear on what works and can’t see the benefits for others that have invested.

To support the thousands of firms seeking to improve health & wellbeing for their employees, the report, called Front of Mind, includes case studies from companies demonstrating good practice and makes recommendations including:

  1. Making health & wellbeing a leadership priorityand training line managers to support their teams effectively
  2. Creating a culture where physical & mental health have equalfocus – raising awareness of what poor mental health looks like, the techniques to help improve it and encouraging staff to have open conversations
  3. Target action on early interventionsby offering fast and confidential access to treatment through health insurance where possible to minimise the time that employees take as sick leave and using technology to promote health & wellbeing.

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said:“People spend on average 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime, so businesses should prioritise and promote health and wellbeing in their workplaces.

“Companies perform better when their staff are happier, healthier and more engaged. There are great examples of firms leading the way, but we’ve also found that most businesses don’t yet know how to realise the full potential of taking action.

“To invest in better supporting staff health & wellbeing, firms don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There’s lots to be gained from adopting the good practice that’s already out there.”

Almost 1 in 3 people of working age have a long-term health condition, estimated to cost the UK economy £100 billion a year. 1.3m people suffered from a new or longstanding work-related illness last year alone, and up to 5m workers are thought to be experiencing a mental health condition this year.

New CBI survey data reveals that there has been a four-fold increase in the number of UK firms with 5% or more of their workforce disclosing a mental health condition – from 11% in 2013 to 40% in 2017. Yet more than four in five businesses (84%) say that they feel their employees are less comfortable talking about mental health compared to physical health at work.

Seven in 10 businesses say workplace mental health is one of the issues they are currently looking at as part of their health & wellbeing strategy. And 83% say raising awareness of mental health and the techniques to improve is an effective way to build a culture where the issue is discussed. Over the last five years, 42% of respondents have trained line managers to spot signs of mental illness and talk about available organisational support.

Other steps firms can take to support workplace mental health include:

  • Working with external organisations to raise awareness of mental health
  • Considering the needs of individuals inside and outside the workplace when developing their approach to health and wellbeing
  • Giving people the option to work flexibly to help those experiencing poor health return to work.

Mr Fell added: “Everyone at some point in their lives will be affected by poor mental health, whether that’s experiencing it personally or supporting someone else.

“It’s encouraging that as a country we are more vocal about mental health, and that this includes telling our employers. But disclosure is not enough. Employers need to do more to discuss the issue, helping to remove the stigma which still exists and can prevent people from seeking support. This is both a business and social issue, and one where employers play an important role.”