86% of employers and 69% of employees surveyed agree that it is more acceptable to take time off work when unwell than previously, according to new research* commissioned by Winckworth Sherwood, a leading full-service UK law firm.


As well as examining attitudes towards sickness absence, the report, ‘Wellbeing Strategies: Effective in Managing Sickness Absence? Insights and Recommendations for Employers’, also looks at the effectiveness of existing strategies and initiatives in promoting mental health and reducing sickness absence due to mental ill-health, and whether more could be done in view of the high levels of sickness absence in the U.K.


A majority (84%) of employers surveyed believe their wellbeing strategy, initiatives or benefits have reduced levels of sickness absence.  Although on the face of it this statistic is positive, when employers were asked why such benefits and initiatives were being offered within their organisation, employers surveyed admitted the main purpose was not to reduce sickness absence, but to improve productivity.


What’s more, the report highlights that employers (68%) and employees (67%) surveyed agree there is too much responsibility on employees to improve their health and wellbeing, as opposed to organisations improving their work environment and culture. Only 9% of employees and 14% of employers surveyed disagreed with this.


Employers and employees surveyed were predominantly aligned on the most effective factors in promoting mental health and preventing sickness absence for mental ill-health: “Good work” (autonomy, job satisfaction, work-life balance); fair pay and reward; and promotion of flexible working (e.g. remote working, condensed hours).


However, these results highlight yet another gap between employers’ beliefs and actions, with only around a half of employers surveyed admitting that they offered their employees fair pay and reward, “good work” and promoted flexible working.


Combined, these findings are clear indicators that “wellbeing washing” is occurring within organisations with employers publicly embracing the importance of wellbeing and implementation of wellbeing initiatives, while not genuinely supporting employees and ensuring a healthy working environment.


With the CIPD and ONS reporting the highest sickness absence rate in a decade, the report highlighted that employers could be even more effective in genuinely promoting wellbeing in the workplace and reducing sickness absence levels, if employers did not just offer sticking plasters such as free fruit and yoga classes, and instead looked at cultural change. 


Report co-author, Harriet Calver, Senior Associate at Winckworth Sherwood, commented:

We believe workplaces could be even more effective in promoting a healthier culture and preventing sickness absence for mental ill-health if employers re-considered the priorities for their wellbeing strategies and offerings; identified the specific challenges to wellbeing in their organisation; critically evaluated the success of their strategy; and adapted it accordingly.

 Report co-author, Harriet Calver, Senior Associate at Winckworth Sherwood


Winckworth Sherwood publishes annual research on the major topics affecting employers and employees in the UK. This year’s report on sickness absence and wellbeing in the workplace follows previous publications covering leadership developmentequality, diversity and inclusionethical leadership and flexible working.


To read the full report, please visit: https://wslaw.co.uk/publication/wellbeing-strategies-effective-in-managing-sickness-absence/


Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.