Research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that 1.8 million employees suffered work-related ill health, and 38.8 million days were lost due to work-related ill health in Great Britain in 2022.

Numerous studies have shown that employees’ health correlates with job satisfaction, productivity, and profitability.  According to research conducted by the HSE, employees in good health are not only 20% more productive but also contribute to business growth.

A workplace that prioritises health and wellbeing fosters a sense of care and value for their employees. When employees feel supported, motivated and happy, it creates a work environment where people are inspired and show the same care for their colleagues.  Healthy and happy employees not only perform better but also stay around for longer reducing turnover.

So, what’s the bottom line when it comes to return on investment?

Enhanced employee engagement, increased productivity, decreased absenteeism and presenteeism and improved retention all contribute to the economic value of enhanced employee wellbeing. Recent research from McKinsey Health Institute in 2023 indicates that enhancing employee wellbeing in the UK could bring economic benefits ranging from £130 billion to £370 billion annually, which translates to £4,000 to £12,000 per UK employee.

In alignment with this, the Economic Evidence Report on Health at work by ERS Research and Consultancy in 2016 indicates that effective workplace health interventions can return £2 to £34 for £1 invested.

The Health and Wellbeing at Work Report (2023) by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), examined 918 organisations representing 5.5 million employees, found that the impact of health and wellbeing initiatives resulted in better employee morale, increased employee engagement and a healthier and more inclusive culture in one-third of the respondents.  Additionally, only 6% reported that their organisation’s health and wellbeing activity has not resulted in any positive benefits and 37% of respondents noted it is still too soon to draw a definitive conclusion.

However, despite these compelling figures, 2023 Health and Wellbeing Report (CIPD) reveals that mental health (54%) is the most focused area of health and wellbeing where respondents reported focusing on this area ‘to a large extent’.  In contrast, respondents reported promoting work-life balance (27%), physical health (24%), financial wellbeing (18%) and good lifestyle choices (17%) to a lesser extent in their efforts to enhance overall employee health and wellbeing.  Worryingly, one out of every five companies surveyed admitted to not taking any actions to enhance employee health and wellbeing, underscoring the potential for untapped return on investment (ROI) in this critical area.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a healthy workplace as “one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of all workers…”

A healthy workplace not only considers the health and safety of its employees in the physical work environment but in the psychosocial work environment too. A holistic approach to a healthy workplace is vital.

How do you create a healthy workplace?

According to the Health and Wellbeing Survey conducted by CIPD in 2023, it became evident that many organisations are currently lacking robust evaluations of their employees’ health and wellbeing. However, fostering a truly healthy workplace requires a multifaceted approach.

To create a healthy workplace, it’s essential to focus on four distinct areas, all of which have an impact on each other and may overlap to some extent:

  1. Physical work environment
  2. Psychosocial work environment
  3. Personal health resources
  4. Community health resources

Firstly, organisations must focus on the physical work environment by identifying, assessing and controlling hazards through regular inspections. These inspections encompass comprehensive examination of factors such as ergonomic design, lighting, noise levels and adherence to safety protocols.

Simultaneously, attention should be directed towards the psychosocial work environment, personal and community health resources. Here, surveys play a pivotal role in assessing and subsequently eliminating psychosocial hazards. Such hazards can manifest as stress, strained work-life balance, and other interpersonal challenges. Surveys serve as valuable tools for gaining insights into the unique dynamics and the needs of each company.

The beauty of surveys lies in their adaptability. They recognise that the implementation on health and wellbeing measures isn’t one-size fits-all. Instead, surveys allow companies to collect diverse and individualised information. This information becomes the foundation upon which health and wellbeing strategies can be crafted.

Through a commitment to vigorous evaluations, companies can effectively gauge their starting point. This assessment serves as a compass, guiding them towards targeted interventions. Subsequent re-evaluations become checkpoints for assessing the effectiveness of these interventions.

Crucially, health and wellbeing initiatives should remain agile, changing in the response to the evolving needs of employees. This adaptability ensures that companies remain responsive to the unique dynamics and challenges of their workforce.

In essence, the path to a healthy workplace is one of continuous assessment and adaptation, guided by data collected from surveys. This approach empowers organisations to address health and wellbeing in a manner finely attuned to their employees’ ever-changing needs and the distinctive nature of their work.

Here are some examples that may be implemented:

1. Physical Work Environment:

Identify, assess and control hazards in the workplace. Regularly conduct safety audits to ensure a safe physical environment addressing issues such as ergonomics (workstation assessments, office layout, office furniture), lighting, ventilation, chemicals, equipment maintenance and health and safety training (i.e. manual handling) to minimise the risk of accidents and injuries.

Ergonomic Workspaces:

Ergonomic Workspaces: Ensure that workstations are ergonomically designed to minimise physical strain and discomfort. Carry out regular DSE (display screen equipment) assessments to assess hazards and minimise the risk of injuries (HSE, DSE regulation). Encourage a culture where regular micro breaks, stretching and moving around is part of your company’s culture. This will help to avoid prolonged periods of sitting and minimise musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as neck, upper limb, and back pain. Additionally, provide employees with ergonomic training such as workshops and ergonomic tools and equipment as needed to further support their physical health and comfort during work.

Office Ergonomics Accessories:

Provide employees with ergonomic accessories according to the individual needs. These accessories allow employees to customise their workstation to their specific needs, promoting good posture an reducing the risk for MSD like back and neck pain. Encouraging the use of ergonomic accessories contributes to physical wellbeing in the workplace.

Stretching and Exercise Zones:

Set up areas for employees to engage in stretching exercises or quick workouts. Encouraging physical activity during breaks can alleviate physical strain and improve overall wellbeing.

Green Spaces and Plants:

Incorporate green spaces and indoor plants into the workplace design. Plants can improve air quality, reduce stress and create a more pleasant and calming atmosphere. Adding greenery to the physical environment can contribute to the overall physical and psychological wellbeing of employees.

2. Psychosocial Work Environment:

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines psychosocial work environment as ‘The organisation of work and the organisational culture; the attitudes, values, beliefs and practices that are demonstrated on a daily basis in the enterprise/organisation, and which affect the mental and physical wellbeing of employees. These are sometimes generally referred to as workplace stressors, which may cause emotional or mental stress to workers.’

Psychosocial hazards in the workplace refer to factors that can affect an employee’s mental and emotional wellbeing. These hazards are often related to the social and psychological aspects of work and can impact an individual’s mental health and job satisfaction. Factors such as an inadequate work-life balance, poor communication, and aspects of organisational culture can contribute to a poor psychosocial work environment, negatively impacting job satisfaction, increasing stress levels and consequently affecting employees’ mental health.

Organisational Culture:

Foster a culture that prioritises health and wellbeing. Encourage open communication, flexibility in work hours, and support for work-life balance. For example, create policies that allow employees to take regular breaks and booking holidays without feeling guilty.

Stress Management Training:

Equip your employees with strategies to cope with workplace stressors. These programs can include workshops, seminars or online courses. Teach your employees techniques for recognising and managing stress such as mindfulness, relaxation exercises, time management and setting realistic goals. By implementing stress management training, employees can better handle the demands of their roles, reducing the negative impact of workplace stress on their mental and physical wellbeing.

Mental Health Support:

Recognise the importance of mental health in the workplace. Train managers to identify signs of stress or burnout and provide access to confidential counselling services. Create a stigma-free environment where employees feel comfortable discussing mental health concerns.

Promote Healthy Work-life Balance:

Encourage reasonable working hours, limit excessive overtime, and provide flexible scheduling options, when possible, to help employees manage their personal and professional lives effectively.

3. Personal Health Resources:

Personal health emphasises the individual wellbeing of employees. It includes their physical health, nutrition, exercises and lifestyle choices that can impact on their overall health and productivity.

Enhance Workplace Health Resources and Financial Education:

Offer workshops, seminars and resources on topics like physical health, stress management, nutrition, sleep hygiene, menopause and overall wellbeing. Bring in experts to provide guidance on healthy lifestyle choices and stress reduction techniques.

Financial education and support:

Implement confidential financial counselling and advice to employees facing personal financial challenges. Offer reimbursement programs to support employees in pursuing further education or skills development, helping them to enhance their career prospects and earning potential.

 Provide Health Assessments:

Conduct regular health assessments or check-ups for employees. This could include blood pressure checks, cholesterol screenings and body mass index (BMI) measurements. Use these results to identify health trends and provide personalised recommendations.

Encourage Physical Activity:

Create opportunities for physical activity during the workday. Establish walking or standing meetings, provide access to on-site fitness facilities or discounts at local gyms and promote lunchtime or after work exercise classes.

Healthy Eating Options:

Offer nutritious food choices in the workplace or cafeteria or vending machines. Implement a wellness program that promotes health eating habits and consider providing free fruit, healthy snacks, or access to a nutritionist for dietary advice. Make sure you provide refrigerators to store food and encourage employees to bring nutritious meals from home.

 Support in Circumstantial Periods:

Offer additional support employees with during challenging circumstances or personal challenges. This support could include paid time off for personal emergencies, counselling services for emotional or mental wellbeing, and flexible work arrangements to accommodate their needs. By providing these resources and accommodations, you can help employees navigate difficult times and maintain their overall wellbeing while fulfilling their work responsibilities.

4. Community Health Resources:

Community health resources encompass the broader support systems available to employees outside the workplace. It involves connecting employees to resources in the community that can positively influence their wellbeing.

Family Health Days:

Host family health days where employees and their families can participate in health and wellness activities such as fitness classes, health check-ups and health education sessions. Involving employees’ families in these events can lead to improved family dynamics, strengthened support networks, and foster a greater sense of community within the workplace. It not only promotes the health and wellbeing of employees but also extends these benefits to their loved ones, creating a more holistic and supportive environment for all.

Providing information on local health care providers and clinics:

Sharing information about nearby healthcare facilities can assist employees in making informed decisions about their healthcare and seeking timely medical attention when needed.

Subsidising public transport for employees:

Offering financial assistance or subsidies for public transportation, making it more affordable and accessible for employees to commute to work, reducing transportation-related stress.

Offering flexible scheduling to allow employees to participate in community health activates:

Enable employees to actively engage in community health events and initiatives, fostering a stronger connection to the community and wellbeing.

Fostering a healthy workplace is an ongoing process of continuous assessment, reassessment, and adaptation. By prioritising health and wellbeing in the workplace, companies can cultivate a supportive environment that enhances physical and psychosocial health, leading to increased productivity, job satisfaction and healthier work-life balance for all.

The wellbeing of employees should be at the forefront of organisations’ priorities. Recognising and addressing physical, psychosocial, personal and community health factors not only benefits individuals but also contributes to the overall success and sustainability of the company. Prioritising employee health and wellbeing is an investment that yields positive returns in terms of engagement, productivity and a thriving work culture. It’s a win-win approach that creates a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.

Recommended reading, tools and resources:
  1. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Workplace Health Model 
  2. CDC: Workplace Health Model (graph)
  3. CDC: Workplace Health Program Development Checklist 
  4. Public Health Agency. Health and Wellbeing at Work: a resource guide
  5. CIPD. Health and Wellbeing at Work Report (2023)
  6. World Health Organization (WHO). Healthy Workplaces: a model for action