Guide to workplace health and wellbeing for employers

1. Overview

This guide gives employers information about:

  • how to promote positive physical and mental health and wellbeing in the workplace
  • where to find national and local advice for businesses and organisations

We have a separate guide for employees.

Why workplace wellbeing matters

Wellbeing in the workplace is important because:

  • on average, adults spend one third of their life at work, which means our working environment can play a big part in our health and wellbeing
  • good working conditions and a supportive work environment have a positive impact on health
  • healthier workforces are more productive
  • taking employees’ health and wellbeing seriously reflects positively on the organisation
  • preventing illness, managing it in a positive way, and helping employees to stay in work makes good business sense

Resources for starting a workplace wellbeing health programme

When considering a workplace health programme, our guide for managers (pdf, 414k) (opens new window) (pdf, 414k) (opens new window) on where to begin might be helpful.

There are lots of free resources to help you get started with your workplace health programme. A survey or a health assessment can be a useful way to gather information about the health of the workforce.

You can find a guide on how to carry out a workplace health needs assessment on GOV.UK. The guide also gives some practical workplace health advice. It’s for employers of all types and sizes.

There are some useful free resources on the British Heart Foundation website, including:

  • how to write a business case for health and wellbeing
  • a model health and wellbeing statement
  • a staff survey template
  • toolkits
  • an action plan for how to promote health and wellbeing in your workplace
  • workplace challenges and other ideas

You can find some best practice guidance on workplace health management practices on the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) website.

You can find a guide to wellbeing in small businesses on the National Federation of Self-employed and Small Businesses website.

2. Productivity and performance

Wellbeing has a strong impact on productivity at work and is important for increasing an individual’s engagement, performance and job satisfaction. In many industries, improved wellbeing is paramount in reducing health and safety risks.

Performance

Government research has found a positive link between health and wellbeing and improved workplace performance: 
•    in financial performance
•    labour productivity and quality of outputs or services
•    job satisfaction

Acas provide information about why wellbeing matters and what’s likely to help boost business performance

Employee health and wellbeing

Investing in employee wellbeing can help to improve performance and productivity. This can include helping employees to balance their working and home lives, making adjustments to working patterns whenever possible and providing support when it is needed. Research carried out by Rand found that:

  • unrealistic time pressures and strained relationships at work have a negative impact on productivity
  • workers who experience workplace bullying have higher levels of sickness absence
  • mental health problems, lack of sleep, financial concerns and being an unpaid carer can result in reduced productivity if employees are not appropriately supported
  • employees with musculoskeletal and other chronic health conditions can have higher rates of sickness absence and reduced productivity. This is particularly the case for conditions that fluctuate

Employee engagement 

Engage for Success describes employee engagement as:

“a workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of wellbeing.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development say that health, wellbeing and employee engagement are important for organisational success and research by Gallup showed that employees who felt involved in the goals and outcomes of their employer were more healthy and resilient and took less sick leave. An open culture and effective communication is an important part of this.

Acas provide information and advice on:

Working environment

A report by Public Health England shows how office design, layout, furniture, lighting and temperature and control over the working environment can affect the wellbeing and productivity of the workforce.

The UK World Green Building Council on health, wellbeing and productivity have identified four key components for healthy workplaces. These are:

  • good design, making the most of natural shade and ventilation
  • good construction, investing in new technology, innovation and smart controls
  • good behaviour, making available appropriate clothing, adaptability and access to systems
  • good location, encouraging low carbon commuting and access to local facilities

3. Health and safety

Health and safety is an important part of workplace health. It’s covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and other legislation, which is there to make sure all employees:

  • work in a safe environment
  • are protected under the law

You have a legal obligation to:

  • give all your employees a safe and healthy environment
  • consider the welfare needs of all your workers

This is the case for all workplaces, from factories, shops and offices to schools, hospitals, hotels, pubs, clubs and bars.

What workplace health and safety covers

Workplace means:

  • any premises or part of a premises that the employer manages
  • the common parts of shared buildings
  • private roads and paths on industrial estates and business parks

You need to think about different aspects of the workplace, including:

  • lighting
  • ventilation
  • temperature
  • toilets and washing facilities

You must also think about the needs of people with disabilities, for example:

  • adapted toilets and washing facilities
  • wide doorways and gangways
  • access ramps into and out of a building

What information to give your employees

As an employer, it’s your legal duty to give your employees the right information, instructions and training.  

It’s your responsibility to give employees:

  • information that’s easy to understand and follow, so they’re aware of the dangers and risks they face, the measures in place to control dangers and risks, and how to follow emergency procedures
  • clear instructions so all your employees know what they need to do to comply with onsite health and safety requirements
  • free and relevant health and safety training, which must take place during work hours
  • the right amount of supervision, especially for new or inexperienced workers

Health and safety resources

4. Sickness absence

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), in 2016, 137 million working days were lost in the UK due to sickness or injury.

The ONS states that main causes are:

  • coughs and colds (34 million days)
  • musculoskeletal conditions (31 million days)
  • stress, anxiety and depression (15.8 million days)

This is an average of 4.3 days per worker, although there are differences between sectors, job roles and demographics.

It’s your responsibility as an employer to have a clear sickness absence policy and procedure, so that your employees know:

  • what you expect from them when they’re thinking about taking sick leave
  • how they can report sickness absence
  • what their rights and responsibilities are

Long term sickness absence

Long term sickness absence is an absence period that lasts longer than one month. In general, people find it harder to return to work after a long term absence.

A well-managed return to work will reduce the risk of the sickness absence becoming long term.

Managing sickness absence resources

5. Alcohol

Drinking excessively can damage our health and wellbeing. It can have far reaching effects on our personal and working lives, for example:

  • alcohol dependence
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • changes in behaviour
  • irritability
  • liver cirrhosis
  • mouth cancer
  • high blood pressure
  • heart attacks
  • relationship problems at home and at work, which can have a negative impact on individuals, their families and their employment

Alcohol misuse can cause the loss of productivity, because it might make people:

  • come into work even though they’re ill
  • call in sick

According to the British Heart Foundation, every year, 17 million working days are lost because of absences caused by excessive drinking.

How to deal with alcohol in the workplace

You should deal with alcohol in the workplace proactively. If you don’t this might have consequences on:

  • health and safety: according to British Heart Foundation, around 40% of accidents at work involve alcohol use. If you don’t try to reduce the risks of alcohol to workplace health and safety, you could be breaking health and safety legislation.
  • business finances: according to the same report, there’s strong evidence that not dealing with issues relating to alcohol costs a business money, in terms of lost productivity, sickness absence, accidents and injuries

It’s important to know:

It’s your responsibility to explain:

  • what the policy and procedure is for employees
  • what the expectations are in different kinds of businesses and workplaces
  • what behaviours are acceptable
  • what the consequences for breaking the rules are
  • how employees can get support and help, if and when they need it

Alcohol in the workplace resources

6. Smoking and tobacco

According to Action on Smoking and Health, smoking is the main cause of preventable illness and premature death in England.

According to NICE, smoking increases the risk of getting a wide range of diseases and conditions, including:

  • different types of cancer
  • respiratory diseases
  • coronary heart and other circulatory diseases

According to the Office of National Statistics, smokers take between 1 and 2.7 more sick days off per year than non-smokers. Reducing levels of smoking among employees can help reduce some illness and conditions that cause sickness absence.

Helping employees to cut down and quit may improve productivity and reduce costs.

Promoting stop smoking campaigns in the workplace is a good way of:

  • reaching people who typically use health services less often, for example young men
  • helping employees who get involved in the initiative to support each other, which increases the likelihood of success
  • supporting smokers to quit

According to research by Cebr, for the British Heart Foundation:

  • 67% of smokers say they’d like their employers to promote campaigns like Stoptober and No Smoking Day
  • 71% say they’d find free information on quitting smoking useful
  • 78% would like information about their local stop smoking service for support

Resources on smoking and the workplace

7. Physical activity

According to the government, people in the UK are around 20% less active now than in the 1960s. Being less physically active increases the risk of a range of health conditions, for example:

  • coronary heart disease
  • stroke
  • osteoporosis
  • cancer
  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity
  • mental health problems

Being active helps:

According to the same report, one in three people of working age have at least one long term condition and one in seven have more than one.

The report states that regular physical activity can help prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions and diseases, such as depression or hip fractures.

Back pain

Back pain is the most common cause of sickness absence from work in the UK.

Physical activity helps people:

  • reduce the risk of injuries and musculoskeletal conditions, such as back pain
  • recover from injuries and musculoskeletal conditions
  • maintain strength and flexibility

Benefits of physical activity for the workplace

NICE advises that promoting physical activity in the workplace can reduce sickness absence by up to 20%. Physically active workers take 27% fewer sick days.

Physical activity can benefit an organisation, because active workforces:

  • get ill less often
  • recover faster from the illnesses they do get
  • call in sick less often
  • experience lower staff turnover
  • are more productive
  • have fewer industrial injuries
  • report higher levels of satisfaction with their work
  • create a positive corporate image

Physical activity resources

8. Mental health

Mental health conditions are a major, and rising, cause of sickness absence in the workplace. According to the charity Mind, “one in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression, in any given week.” 

According to the Centre for Mental Health, when employees go to work when they’re ill, it costs businesses about twice as much in lost productivity than would have been the case if the employee had taken sick leave.

According to the charity MIND, one of the reasons people go to work ill is because they don’t want to record mental health as a reason for sickness absence.

Research by the Department for Work and Pensions shows that 90% of people with common mental health conditions work. For many people, returning to work can be part of their recovery.

Mental health costs for Bristol businesses

In Bristol (pdf, 805k) (opens new window) :

  • more than 600,000 working days are taken as sickness absence because of mental health conditions
  • more fit notes are written for mental health reasons than any other condition
  • mental health conditions are costing businesses and other employers approximately £281 million a year

Mental health in the workplace resources

Charters and schemes

Sources of support

9. Fatigue and sleep

Research by Rand found that sleep deprivation is associated with a higher mortality, a compromised immune system and reduced productivity at work. In the UK, this is equivalent to 200,000 working days lost every year.

Sleep has clear implications for positive mental health. Many chronic health conditions include fatigue as a symptom. It is important to understand the potential impact of these on productivity and performance.

In recent years the divide between home and work life has become blurred for many people. Flexible working patterns and locations combined with longer commuting times, leave many people finding it hard to relax and sleep at the end of the day.

It is equally important for managers to look after their own health and wellbeing. Looking at phone messages and emails all day, at night, at weekends and while on holiday takes its toll and can often result in too little sleep, poor quality sleep or sleeplessness. This also has a negative effect on family and social lives.

NHS Choices provide information about the importance of sleep and how all of us can improve our sleep patterns.

Shift working

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) more than 3.5 million people are employed as shift workers in the UK. Poorly designed shift patterns and long working hours can results in accidents, injuries and ill health.  The HSE states that fatigue has been implicated in 20% of accidents on major roads and costs the UK £115-240 million per year because of work accidents. 

Fatigue results in slower reactions, reduced ability to process information, memory lapses, absent-mindedness, decreased awareness, lack of attention, underestimation of risk and reduced coordination. It can lead to errors, accidents and reduced productivity.

Acas provide advice for employers on how to manage the risks of shift working, including night shift working, and how to promote health and wellbeing:

The HSE provide information about the impact of fatigue at work and how managers should respond.

10. Healthy eating

Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for good health. Eating healthy food can help reduce many common diseases, for example:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • cancer
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • osteoporosis
  • dental disease, for example gum disease, tooth decay, or pain

On average, adults spend one third of their life at work, and may eat one or more meals and snacks at work.

Employers can help staff lose weight or maintain a healthy weight by encouraging physical activity and healthy eating in the workplace.

Workplaces can positively influence eating habits by:

  • making healthy foods available in work canteens and at work functions
  • increasing awareness of healthy eating and its role in our overall health
  • increasing awareness of the importance of eating well during the working day

This can improve the health of employees, reduce sickness absence and increase productivity.

If you have catering facilities for staff or customers, you should consider serving food that encourages people to eat more healthily.

You can also give information about healthy living, to encourage employees to stay healthy.

Healthy eating in the workplace resources

11. Information about other health topics