Guide to workplace health and wellbeing for employees
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
- 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
- Advice on when you need a fit note, on the NHS website
- Advice for employees on working with a long term medical condition, on the NHS website
- Support while you’re at work and if you’re off sick, on the Fit for Work website
- Support for adults who are experiencing mental health problems or who need help with finding or staying in employment, on the Bristol Mental Health website. You can self refer to this service.
Drinking excessively can damage our health and wellbeing. It can have far reaching effects on our personal and working lives, for example:
- alcohol dependence
- changes in behaviour
- 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
- Information about the benefits of stopping smoking, on the NHS website
- Local help for stopping smoking, on the LiveWell website
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
- type 2 diabetes
- mental health problems
Being active helps:
- prevent disease
- maintain a healthy weight
- have positive mental health and wellbeing
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 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:
- the benefits of exercise
- why we should sit less
- how to build physical activity into daily life
- eight common posture mistakes you can correct
- how to sit correctly
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:
- dealing with stress
- the importance of sleep
- how to beat stress at work
- stress, anxiety and depression
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.
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.
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.
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
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
- 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
- Working with arthritis, on Arthritis Care UK
- Returning to work with a heart condition, on the British Heart Foundation website
- Returning to work after a stroke, on the National Stroke Association website
- For employees with cancer, on the Macmillan website
- Diabetes and employment, on the Diabetes UK website
- Sources of financial and debt advice
- Bristol Citizens Advice Bureau
- Bristol Against Violence and Abuse support those experiencing violence and abuse
- Stand Against Racism and Inequality provide help for victims of hate crime