Businesses urged to increase wellbeing efforts

26 September 2023

Business leaders should focus on effective wellbeing strategies rather than “nice-to-haves” like lunchtime yoga sessions or Friday drinks, an employment expert has advised.

Jayne Holliday, Legal Director in the employment law team at Higgs LLP, said businesses of all sizes should prioritise the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff to improve engagement, reduce sick days and increase productivity.

Jayne’s advice comes in light of an in-depth study by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), which found UK workers are taking more sick days than at any point in the last decade.

The research found staff took on average 7.8 sick days in the past year, up from 5.8 before the pandemic. Minor illnesses, musculoskeletal injuries and mental ill health were the main factors of short-term absence, with mental health the leading cause of long-term sick. 

Jayne said: “I am not surprised by the findings of the study at all. We are still dealing with the fall-out of Covid and there is a cost-of-living crisis. These combined have increased stress for a lot of people and have had a negative impact on their mental health.

“All businesses should have a well thought out wellbeing strategy which goes far beyond the sick absence policy. This could include things like mental health first aiders, financial assistance, strategies to create an inclusive culture, personal resilience training and mentoring.

“Incentives such as lunchtime yoga and Friday drinks are nice-to-haves but, for me, that’s employee engagement not employee wellbeing. Employee wellbeing is a holistic approach which covers physical health, mental health and even financial health.”

Jayne said one of the most important changes a business can implement is structured back-to-work interviews after sick absence.

“Back-to-work interviews can help employers find out why people have been off and to spot trends,” said Jayne. “If there is a surge in skeletal injuries, or absentees in a certain team, that could be a sign that there’s a problem. Maybe the team leader is asking too much.

“Or maybe there is a pattern of an individual being off regularly on a Monday because of the back-to-work dread. Businesses need to encourage open discussion and a back-to-work interview is a fantastic opportunity to address any issues.

“Ideally this would happen in-person, or at least on a video call rather than the telephone.”

Jayne said she had noticed an increase in people feeling pressured as a result of providing care for elderly relatives, which she suggested could be due to cuts in social services and a change in circumstances following the pandemic.

And she questioned whether the rise in hybrid and home working had been good for everyone.

“We have seen such a dramatic change in the way people work,” said Jayne. “We’ve rocketed through a culture change that probably would’ve taken 10 to 15 years had it not been for Covid and we’re still learning about the effects of that.

“Some people love hybrid and home working and thrive in it, but other people struggle with isolation and not having that day-to-day contact.”

Jayne said, as well as being good for employees, a solid wellbeing strategy is also good for business.

She concluded: “If people have less sick days, that’s clearly good for business, but it’s much deeper than that. If people are suffering with anxiety or stress then they will not be as productive or as collaborative.

“If problems aren’t dealt with swiftly it’s likely to end up with the employee leaving and a costly recruitment process when it quite possibly could’ve been avoided.”

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