Employee wellbeing is high on many businesses’ agendas and is no longer merely an afterthought when addressing sickness absence. There is an obvious link between a happy, healthy workforce and improved productivity with “improvements in employees’ wellbeing also being conducive to economic growth.”1
But how can organisations effectively enhance employee wellbeing, prevent potential issues and provide effective solutions when faced with wellbeing challenges? It is incumbent upon employers to understand the key issues affecting employee wellbeing, particularly as the Health and Safety Act of 1974 makes this a legal obligation.2
Mental health is one area that has attracted growing attention in recent years, not least because stress and mental ill-health are among the top four causes of long-term absence.3 Over half of UK employees have suffered from mental health problems while in employment, with stress and depression the most commonly experienced issues.4
Workplace impacts on mental and physical health
The causes of mental health problems are rarely clear-cut, but we do know that workplace environments can have a significant negative impact. Having a high pressure or stressful role, an unsustainable workload, excessive working hours and unpleasant interactions with colleagues can all lead to issues with mental health.
Nearly a fifth of UK employees have come into work when feeling mentally unwell. A growing number saying this is because they felt more embarrassed to say they were off with a mental health problem rather than a physical one, or because they felt their boss and colleagues would not understand or take them seriously.5 Where this is the case, employers need to work harder to change it.
The workplace also has a bearing on our physical health. Sedentary office jobs do little to encourage an active lifestyle and illnesses can spread quickly around an organisation. Our research shows working from home could be a healthier option. While a third (32%) of employees working in an open plan office say they regularly feel anxious or stressed because of work, only 17% of those who work predominantly from home say the same.6
Managing short-term absence with Employee Assistance Programmes
So what are employers to do when faced with this myriad of wellbeing issues? The importance of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) should not be underestimated. An EAP is a strategic and cost-effective way of assisting with wellbeing problems, allowing staff to identify and resolve personal concerns that may affect their wellbeing and job performance. Many Group Income Protection contracts now offer embedded EAPs so employers and staff can benefit without any additional cost to their insurance policy.
The services offered by an EAP can involve a blend of short-term solutions and focused support, such as counselling, information about care and legal guidance, as well as assistance for emotional and workplace issues. It is worthwhile remembering that employees do not have to actually be experiencing a problem in order to use the service, as there are many other positive benefits of regular engagement in lifestyle guidance.
Having regular, positive communications helps to enforce the message that an employer cares about the health and wellbeing of their staff, and will not punish them for bringing to light issues affecting their health or productivity.
Early Intervention Services for long-term illnesses
Some illnesses will result in long-term absence. The cost of sickness absence is often high up the list of organisational concerns for an employer, so early involvement in absence and maximising rehabilitation support is prudent. This is where Early Intervention Services (EIS) offered alongside Group Income Protection products can come into play. With this, employers are able to access case-specific, vocational rehabilitation support immediately after an employee has called in with a relevant cause of absence.
The aim of employee wellbeing services is to manage employee absence effectively and find the best possible outcome for all involved, which in many cases is a sustainable return to work. Making the most of services like EAPs and vocational rehabilitation helps employers to prevent wellbeing concerns becoming issues and tackle them head-on if they do. Good employee wellbeing is not just a ‘nice to have’, it’s a vital requirement for employers who want their business to thrive and be productive.
1 Does worker wellbeing affect workplace performance? – Department for Business Innovation & Skills, October 2014, p.11
2 Health &Safety Act: http://www.hse.gov.uk/legislation/hswa.htm
4 Canada Life Group Mental Health research, December 2015
5 Canada Life Group release: 5.8 million UK workers have gone into work when feeling mentally unwell, September 2017
6 Canada Life Group Productivity research, March 2018
This article was first published in HR news, 7 November 2018