Despite there being a year-on-year increase in workplace health and wellbeing initiatives, sickness absence is at the highest level in a decade. Our analysis of the CIPD Wellbeing at Work 2023 report goes behind the headline figures to find out what has gone right, what has gone wrong and how organisations can use wellbeing to achieve their objectives.
Positive outcomes from the CIPD’s Wellbeing at Work report
Around a third of respondents report that their health and wellbeing activity has resulted in better employee morale and engagement and a healthier and more inclusive culture.
Many HR professional have seen other positive outcomes from health and wellbeing activity including:
- Reduced work-related stress
- Lower sickness absence
- Improved productivity
- Better staff retention
- Enhanced employer brand
- More effective working relationships
- Better customer service
- Better work–life balance
Just 6% said that their organisation’s health and wellbeing activity had not resulted in any positive benefits (37% said it’s too early to tell and 14% said it had helped maintain pre-pandemic levels).
Opportunities identified in the CIPD’s Wellbeing at Work report
The above results are not surprising given that Deloitte’s Mental health and employers report showed that:
- working whilst experiencing poor mental health accounts for 46% of total costs in the UK workplace;
- 40% of employee turnover costs are now attributable to mental health problems; and
- 80% of nearly 9,000 respondents identified well-being as important or very important for their organisation’s success (2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report)
Impact of external factors on employee wellbeing
The UK’s cost-of-living crisis is having a huge impact on people’s health and wellbeing. Recent CIPD research found that over half of employees are experiencing difficulties keeping up with their bills and credit commitments.
War in the Ukraine, the Climate Crisis and political uncertainty all increase stress as people are unsure what the future will bring.
Non-work factors, such as health issues and relationships/family, are also among the most common causes of stress-related absence e.g. half of respondents report that employees have experienced, or are experiencing, ‘long COVID’.
Internal workplace wellbeing challenges
Covid put mental health and employee wellbeing onto organisations agendas. However, maintaining the momentum and ensuring that wellbeing is properly embedded with the organisation is challenging (see Figure 8).
- Managers want to engage but don’t have the skills
- Employees don’t engage in activities
- Senior leaders’ focus on wellbeing has waned
- Wellbeing activity is not strategic
- Lack of support and guidance
1. Managers want to engage but don’t have the skills
The top challenge to health and wellbeing across all sectors is a lack of line manager skills and confidence to support wellbeing.
Although 67% feel that managers are bought into the idea of wellbeing, just three in 10 organisations provide guidance/training for line managers on how to support people to stay at work when managing health conditions and 37% of respondents identified management style as a key cause of stress
A third of respondents saw employee engagement as an issue but under half of them seek feedback from those employees to help improve their wellbeing initiatives.
Often employee engagement in activities is affected by lack of time - 67% of respondents identified heavy workloads as a cause of stress-related absence - and, if managers do not see the activities as a good use of employee time, they will discourage many from attending.
3. Senior leaders’ focus on wellbeing has waned
At the height of the pandemic 75% of respondents felt that wellbeing was on senior leaders’ agenda but now only 69% think this is the case. This is still higher than the 61% before the Covid pandemic but it is essential that health and mental wellbeing are given the priority they require.
4. Wellbeing activity is not strategic
A key issue for organisations is that wellbeing does not have a formal workplace wellbeing strategy
which is integrated into the business strategic plan and annually reviewed. The respondents demonstrated this in a number of ways:
- 29% identified the fact that the wellbeing practices were not embedded across departments/sites as a top challenge.
- 50% said that they didn’t have a formal strategy or a plan, but act flexibly on an ad hoc basis according to employee need.
- 33% felt their organisation was much more reactive (taking action when people have gone off sick) than proactive (promoting good wellbeing).
- only 39% measure employee health and wellbeing annually and only 28% critically assess the wellbeing outcomes. (These evaluation approaches are significantly more common in organisations that have a wellbeing strategy).
One of the causes for this can be attributed to waning senior leader focus and, in addition, almost a quarter of respondents felt that the was a lack of skills / resources to be strategic. This was a particular issue in smaller organisations who are less likely to take a strategic and proactive approach to wellbeing.
Despite increased expectation from current and future employees, 62% expect wellbeing budgets to remain the same.
6. Lack of support and guidance
It is important that health and wellbeing plans and initiatives are supported by policies, guidance, awareness-raising and line manager training to help managers and staff know where they stand. This is often not the case.
Of the 78% of respondents who are taking steps to identify and/or reduce stress, less than 1/3 had a written stress policy or guidance.
Over half the respondents provided support and guidance around carers of children (60%) and bereavement support (55%). In addition, menopause transition support is being given in 46% of organisations.
However, under 45% provide provision for any of the following:
- Chronic health conditions, disabilities (e.g. diabetes) or terminal illness
- Suicide risk and prevention
- Employees with caring responsibilities for an elderly or ill relative
- Pregnancy loss
- Men’s health issues (e.g. prostate cancer)
- Alcohol or drug misuse
- Domestic abuse
CIPD’s recommendations for improve workplace wellbeing: Insights from the 2023 report
CIPD’s 2023 report delivers a set of recommendations to improve workplace wellbeing. These guidelines aim to help businesses create healthier, more inclusive and productive environments for their employees. Here are their key recommendations from the report:
- Develop a strategic and holistic approach to ensure health and wellbeing priorities are integrated across the business.
- Monitor and evaluate the outcomes of your health and wellbeing programme to secure ongoing commitment from senior leaders. What difference does it make to employee outcomes such as attendance, engagement and performance?
- Use regular employee engagement surveys and apply the results of your evaluation exercises to shape the future direction of your wellbeing.
- Ensure line managers are checking in regularly with their team and spotting any early warning signs of poor wellbeing.
- Create policies and/or guidance to help managers and individuals agree supportive workplace adjustments e.g. around the menopause.
- Support a climate where people can share their health concerns and needs. Create an open culture around health and disability issues.
Altruist Enterprises is passionate about providing practical tools to support your organisation with developing a health and wellbeing culture which increases retention, helps recruit talent and boosts productivity. Our training and consultancy are based on 10 years of experience working with over 500 businesses and schools.
We can help you:
- Assess the strength of your current wellbeing provision – Workplace Wellbeing Audit
- Develop a workplace wellbeing strategy
- Help embed the strategy within the organisation with a pragmatic implementation plan including developing key policies
- Train managers so they gain the confidence to address mental health, and have the practical skills and knowledge to support their team when issues arise - Mental Health Training for Managers
- Help employees with stress management through Resilience and Stress Management Training Course