The state of an individual worker’s wellbeing is influenced by a combination of psychosocial and physiological conditions and experiences, stemming from both their workplace and domestic and personal lives.
Workplace wellbeing encompasses various aspects of working life, including the quality and safety of the physical environment, workers’ feelings toward their tasks, their working conditions, the workplace atmosphere, and the organisation of work. In the UK, on average, 17 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2021-22. This is over half of all working days lost due to work-related ill health1.
According to a report form Deloitte, the cost of poor mental health to UK employers has reached up to £45bn. This figure is made up of absence costs of around £7bn, presenteeism costs of around £29bn and turnover costs of around £9bn. Deloitte’s updated work also makes a positive case for investment in mental health by employers, finding an average return of £5 for every £1 spent2.
In addition to the costs associated with absence due to work-related ill health or presenteeism, the value and importance of worker wellbeing extends to the ability to retain and recruit potential workers and improvements in productivity. This in turn, supports and generates organisational reputation and public perception.
Strategies to manage wellbeing
To better support workers, organisations should formulate psychosocial strategies for managing wellbeing. These strategies can be complemented by a review of organisational culture, as the culture is influenced by both individual worker and the team wellbeing.
Conversely, the wellbeing of both workers and teams is also influenced by the organisational culture. The starting point for organisations on their journey to support work wellbeing is to determine and identify organisational wellbeing commitment.
This should be followed by a number of steps, the next of which is to carry out analysis of what the organisation is currently doing and what the organisation may need to foster a culture that supports employees wellbeing.
Organisations should then identify if there are any wellbeing gaps and what the priorities may be. These gaps can manifest in several areas: a lack of access to wellbeing programs; inadvertent exclusion of some employees; barriers to participation; and gaps in communication and engagement are also just a few examples of poor employee wellbeing.
At this stage, it is vital to also determine and develop the overall management approach for wellbeing including policies, action-plan, and strategy for implementation. This should include wellbeing assessment tools, team/individual assessments, processes for measuring and recording data, evaluation and monitoring and arrangements for sharing internally the findings as well as public reporting.
Wellbeing incorporates all aspects of health; it should be a key priority for any organisation to commit to workers’ wellbeing; considering and supporting workers demonstrates that workers health is a key part of the culture and not just a requirement.
The role of safety and health professionals
Occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals have the capacity to gather reliable employee wellbeing data, including metrics such as ill-health-related absences caused by work factors.
Nevertheless, it is imperative for organisations to emphasise collaboration as a cornerstone of their wellbeing strategy. This employee participation and engagement should encompass strong connections between senior management, HR, and OSH individuals, facilitating the development of wellbeing data-sharing and compilation systems.
Alternatively, by involving existing workers safety representatives or other worker groups in the consultation and communication process, organisations can contribute to the development of effective wellbeing initiatives.
In formulating the psychosocial wellbeing strategy, it is essential to prioritise generally applicable access and benefits for all workers. For instance, reward schemes like gym memberships may not align with the preferences of older workers or may pose accessibility challenges for workers with disabilities. Similarly, the implementation of hybrid working arrangements, or a four-day workweek may not be feasible for every role within the organisation and may introduce operational complexities that could negatively affect the wellbeing of certain workers. To ensure the success of wellbeing strategies, active worker consultation is imperative, where employees are encouraged to provide input, raise concerns, and participate in the resolution of issues.
Engaging the workforce
This includes ensuring that there are measures in place to support workers who are disabled or have long-term health conditions to remain or return to work, supporting their work and their wellbeing. For example, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has developed (with support of IOSH and other partner organisations) a tool kit to help with worker conversations and keeping disabled workers or workers with long-term health conditions at work. Talking toolkit – Support disabled workers and workers with long-term health conditions – HSE.
Some common techniques for improving individual workers’ wellbeing are by expressing the importance or healthy work-life balance, nutrition and hydration, physical activity, healthy sleeping, breathing techniques, learning new skills, and connecting with others.
Line managers need to understand what is affecting workers to support them. Organisations must grant their management the tools to help to support workers. Some ways they can provide support is through worker engagement and consultation and launching wellbeing programmes.
Through the above measures, organisations can go a long way to instilling a positive wellbeing strategy which can prevent significant issues.
- Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Working days lost in Great Britain 2022. (Accessed 29/09/2023) https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/dayslost.htm#:~:text=Stress%2C%20depression%20or%20anxiety%20and,10.6%20days%20for%20Injuries
- Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) preventing and managing work-related psychosocial risks ND. (Accessed 29/09/2023) https://iosh.com/about-iosh/our-influence/policy-positions/preventing-and-managing-work-related-psychosocial-risks/
Jo heads up the Applications Team at IOSH, which is made up of specialists who provide advice and guidance on workplace health and safety. A chartered member of IOSH, Jo has worked there for more than ten years, producing a wealth of guidance, training, white paper and presentations which advocate for good health and safety.