Guide to workplace health and wellbeing for employees

1. Overview

Why workplace wellbeing matters

Wellbeing in the workplace is important because on average, adults spend one third of their life at work. This means our working environment can play a big part in our health and wellbeing.

The NHS website has information about how to improve your health at work, with tips on dealing with stress, back pain, exercise, and healthy eating.

Making small changes to your daily routine can make a big difference to the health of your heart, which in the long term could save your life. You can find more information on the British Heart Foundation website.

We have a separate guide for employers.

2. 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

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

If you need more information about how health and safety affects your workplace and working arrangements, ask your employer.

Information your employer should give you

It’s your employer’s responsibility and legal duty to give you:

  • information that’s easy to understand and follow, so you’re aware of the dangers and risks you face, the measures in place to control dangers and risks, and how to follow emergency procedures
  • clear instructions so you know what you 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 if you’re new or inexperienced

You have a right to work in an environment where risks to your health and safety are properly controlled. Under health and safety law, your employer is mainly responsible for this.

Your health and safety responsibilities

You have a duty to take care of:

  • your own health and safety
  • the health and safety of others who may be affected by your actions at work

You must work together with your employer and co-workers to help everyone make sure their doing their legal duty.

If you have questions or concerns about health and safety in your workplace, talk to your employer, manager, supervisor or a health and safety representative.

Information on workplace health and safety

This guide on the Health and Safety Executive website gives information about:

  • what your employer must do for you
  • what your own responsibilities are
  • where to get help 

3. 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 the main causes are:

  • coughs and colds (34 million days)
  • musculoskeletal conditions, which are conditions that affect the joints, bones and muscle (31 million days)
  • stress, anxiety and depression (15.8 million days)

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

  • what your employer expects of you when you’re thinking about taking sick leave
  • how to report sickness absence
  • what your rights and responsibilities are

Sickness absence advice and information

4. 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 you, your family and your employment

Alcohol in the workplace

It’s your employer’s responsibility to explain:

  • what the policy and procedure is for employees
  • what the expectations are in your workplace
  • 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 information and advice

The NHS website has advice and information about:

  • calories and units in alcohol
  • how much is too much
  • how to cut back
  • health risks and what you can do to avoid them

You can find information about agencies who can provide help and advice about alcohol and drugs on the Bristol Mind website. 

5. Smoking and tobacco

According to the NHS, 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, enclosed or substantially enclosed workplaces in the UK must be smoke free.

By law, your employer must:

  • have no-smoking signs in workplaces and work vehicles
  • make sure that no one smokes on the premises or in vehicles, including staff, customers, members and visitors

Stop smoking resources

6. 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

We spend a lot of time at work. To reduce the risk of ill health from inactivity, it’s important to:

  • be active
  • sit properly, by setting your desk chair at the right height so you can type without putting pressure on your spine and back muscles
  • take breaks, you can find information about taking breaks on GOV.UK
  • go outside
  • keep moving

The NHS website has advice on:

Information on physical wellbeing at work

On the NHS website you can find information on:

On the sustrans website you can find information on:

We also provide information on exercise referral programmes for people with health conditions in Bristol.

7. 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.” 

It’s important for you to know:

  • how to take care of yourself
  • how to manage stress
  • what to do if you feel like you’re struggling.

There’s lots of advice and organisations who can help, so don’t suffer in silence.

Information on mental health in the workplace

On the NHS website you can find information and advice on:

On the website of MIND, the mental health charity, you can find information and advice on:

  • how to be mentally healthy at work
  • how to talk to your employer about mental health
  • planning and returning to work
  • where to find support
  • how to find work when you’ve had mental ill health
  • how to stay well at work
  • how to stay safe online

Many people find work important for their mental health. If you’ve stopped working because of mental illness and now feel ready to return, you’ll want to consider your options. This factsheet from Rethink (pdf, 911k) (opens new window) is for people with mental illness who are looking for work and their carers.

Bristol Mental Health and Employment Service provide employment advice and support for people experiencing mental health.

There is also information on how to access NHS services on the Bristol Wellbeing Therapies site and help and guidance can be found on the Samaritans webite.

Bullying and harassment can make working life miserable. Bullying is not against the law but harassment is. You can find some suggestions for how to tackle bullying on the NHS Choices website. There is advice and information about what harassment is and what you can do about it on the government’s website.

8. Sleep

Sleep is as important to our health, it allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to consolidate our memories and process information. Mentalhealth.org has linked poor sleep to physical problems such as a weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. 

Many of us have busy working and family lives. 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. In addition, many chronic health conditions have fatigue or poor quality sleep as one of the symptoms. 

The NHS choices website provides advice about sleep and how to tackle sleep problems.

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, ill health, tiredness and fatigue.

The HSE links fatigue has a contributing factor in 20% of accidents on major roads and costs the UK £115-240 million per year because of work accidents. It results in slower reactions, reduced ability to process information, memory lapses, absent-mindedness, decreased awareness, lack of attention, underestimation of risk and reduced coordination. 

As a result, it’s very important for shift workers to look after themselves and manage their sleep patterns as well as possible.

Sleep information and advice

Information about how sleep affects health and advice on how to sleep better.

The HSE provide hints and tips for shift workers.
 

9. Healthy eating

Most of us consume at least a third of our daily calorie intake at work. What we eat and drink affects not just our health but our work performance, too.

People who don't eat regular, well-balanced meals or drink enough water, we may:

  • get headaches
  • feel sluggish
  • have difficulty concentrating

Having a balanced diet can help maintain a healthy weight and reduce preventable diseases, for example:

  • cardiovascular disease, which means any condition that affects the heart or blood vessels
  • cancer
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • osteoporosis
  • dental disease, for example gum disease, tooth decay, or pain

Information on eating well in the workplace

The British Heart Foundation website has information on:

10. Information about other health topics