Introduction

Fostering employee well-being is good for people and their employers. Promoting well-being can prevent problems from escalating and help create positive working environments where individuals and organisations can thrive. It can be a core enabler of employee engagement and productivity, and there's growing evidence that employee wellness programmes can have a positive impact on key organisational performance indicators.

In this factsheet we focus on well-being in the workplace, explain why it matters, and explore the relationship between work, health and well-being. We investigate the impact of well-being on employee engagement and productivity, unpack the five domains of our well-being model, and look at the role of different stakeholders in cultivating well-being.

Key takeaways

  • Investing in well-being can lead to greater resilience, innovation and productivity.
  • HR professionals are pivotal to steering the health and well-being agenda.
  • Good leadership and management practices are required to successfully implement a well-being strategy.
  • Well-being strategies need to be tailored to the organisation’s unique needs and characteristics.
  • Different stakeholders are responsible for cultivating well-being in different ways.
  • The UK Government has recognised the importance of the workplace in promoting health and well-being.

CIPD viewpoint

Promoting and supporting employee well-being is at the heart of our purpose to champion better work and working lives because an effective workplace well-being programme can deliver mutual benefit to people, businesses, economies and wider society. We believe that work should do more than meet our basic financial needs and contribute to economic growth; it should also improve the quality of our lives by giving us meaning and purpose and contributing to our overall well-being. The fast-changing world of work and the fluctuating demands it places on employers and employees means that our grasp of health and well-being needs can never stand still. It needs to evolve constantly to mitigate and optimise the impact on people’s health and well-being. When people are happy and well, businesses thrive and societies flourish.

Watch our video on why well-being matters

In an interview with the CIPD, Professor Lord Richard Layard of the LSE explains why well-being matters - for individuals and society.

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Still frame of Professor Lord Layard in an interview with the CIPD
Please scroll to the bottom of the factsheet to view the transcript of this video.

In our Growing the health and well-being agenda report, we found that well-being creates workplaces which support health and happiness so that people can flourish and reach their potential. It involves the creation of an environment that actively promotes a state of contentment, benefiting both employees and the organisation.

There's growing evidence of a much broader understanding and application of holistic health and well-being approaches in many workplaces. However, it's also clear that there's an implementation gap, with many organisations not yet embracing the health and well-being agenda. These organisations could benefit from greater investment in the well-being of their workforce.

Yet well-being isn't only about fixing problems; it's about creating opportunities and generating long-term value.

Investing in well-being can lead to increased resilience, greater innovation and higher productivity. Put simply - it makes good business sense.

What an effective health and well-being programme looks like depends on the needs of the organisation and its people. It's likely to include:

  • health promotions
  • a good working environment
  • flexible working
  • positive relationships
  • opportunities for career development
  • a healthy management style. 

However, well-being initiatives often fall short of their potential because they stand alone, isolated from the everyday business. To gain real benefit, well-being must be integrated throughout an organisation, embedded in its culture, leadership and people management.

The HR profession is in a unique position to drive this agenda forward, to understand the needs of both workforce and organisation, and to deliver the benefits of well-being throughout the business.

From the year 2000, the UK Government launched a range of studies in response to the challenges it perceived to the nation’s health. A number of these studies recognised the growing impact of work on people’s health.

In 2008, Professor Dame Carol Black, National Director for Health and Work (a post which no longer exists), published her ground-breaking review of the health of Britain’s working-age population. The review proposed three principal objectives at the heart of its new vision for health and work in Britain:

  1. The prevention of illness and promotion of health and well-being
  2. Early intervention for those who develop a health condition
  3. Improvement in the health of those out of work - so that everyone with the potential to work has the support they need to do so.
According to the review, the workplace plays a key role in promoting the nation’s health and well-being. It advocated a new, joined-up approach to health and well-being at work and beyond, including measures to help people enter or return to work.

The review also highlighted the importance of ‘good work’. This includes elements such as work being healthy and safe while offering ‘the individual some influence over how work is done and a sense of self-worth’. 

The Government’s response to Professor Dame Carol Black’s review called for ‘greater overall recognition of the importance of good work in maintaining health and well-being’:

'We want to see increases in the proportion of businesses and workers who report that their workplaces have in place the processes that characterise good work, including the provision and uptake of health and well-being initiatives/support, stress management, flexible working and effective methods of worker engagement.'

Since then, we've seen an ongoing Government focus on improving the health and well-being of people at work, including a number of initiatives such as the Fit for Work service.

The importance of employee health and well-being has become more widely recognised in the UK over the past decade. Professor Dame Carol Black’s review reported the annual economic cost of working-age ill health at over £100 billion. Our 2016 Absence management survey put the overall annual median cost of absence per employee at £522.

While risks to workers’ health from physical hazards still exist, fatal and non-fatal injuries to employees have fallen significantly since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

However, there’s been a rise in the number of reported mental health problems over the past 10 years. Our 2016 Absence management survey found that two-fifths of organisations had seen an increase in reported mental health problems such as anxiety and depression among employees in the past 12 months. This has led to a growing recognition of the need for employer well-being practices to address the psychosocial as well as physical aspects of working life.

Employers also need to think carefully about how their well-being strategy builds on, and aligns to, an organisation’s health and safety policies.

Complex changes in the world of work mean that people now face other organisational and wider environmental pressures. Our Megatrends report, Are we working harder than ever?, and our Autumn 2015 Employee Outlook reflect the fact that people’s work and domestic lives have become more entwined. This provides strong evidence pointing to an intensification of work. 

The value of employee well-being

Traditionally, when articulating the business case for managing people’s health, employers focused on quantifying the negative impact of ill health. However, recent thinking provides a more positive business case. PricewaterhouseCoopers research, commissioned by the Health Work Wellbeing Executive, points to ‘a wealth of evidence’ suggesting a positive link between the introduction of wellness programmes in the workplace and improved business key performance indicators.

Our 2016 Absence management survey identified the top three reasons for employers increasing their focus on employee well-being:

  • We want our organisation to be a great place to work.
  • Our organisation believes employee well-being is linked to business performance.
  • Our organisation believes it’s the right thing to do.

CIPD research shows that health and well-being does not have to be treated as an ‘add-on’ or ‘nice-to-have’ activity by organisations – if employers place employee well-being at the centre of their business model and view it as the vital source of value creation, the dividends for organisational health can be significant.

The CIPD has set an aspirational agenda for workplace health and well-being. An effective employee well-being programme should be at the core of how an organisation fulfills its mission and carries out its operations, and should not consist of one-off initiatives. It’s about changing the way business is done.

There’s growing evidence of a much broader understanding and application of holistic health and well-being approaches in many workplaces. However, it’s also clear that there's an implementation gap, with many organisations not yet embracing the health and well-being agenda in a sustainable way.

The CIPD well-being pyramid model

Pyramid model showing the elements of organisational well-being

An integrated approach to health and well-being:

  • benefits employees
  • can nurture heightened levels of employee engagement
  • fosters a workforce where people are committed to achieving organisational success. 

As our well-being pyramid shows, to truly achieve a healthy workplace, an employer needs to ensure that its culture, leadership and people management are the bedrock on which to build a fully integrated well-being approach. Ultimately, employee well-being contributes to organisational success through enhanced levels of employee engagement.   

When people feel a high level of well-being they are more engaged and productive at work. Conversely, when people experience low levels of well-being, they don’t perform at their best. The growing complexity of organisational life and its wider environmental, societal and demographic context brings added urgency to the health and well-being agenda.

The five domains of well-being model

Circle diagram showing how the five domains of well-being intersect across the individual and organisation

The CIPD well-being model identifies five inter-related domains of employee well-being, guided by the principle that an effective employee well-being strategy needs to go far beyond a series of standalone initiatives.

There’s no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to designing a health and well-being strategy; its content should be based on the organisation’s unique needs and characteristics. A well-being strategy needs to acknowledge not only the physical and psychological factors affecting health and well-being, but the wider cultural and societal contexts too.


Initiatives and activities

The underlying elements include examples of workplace initiatives and activities to support people’s health and well-being.

Graphic of a person and an apple

1. Health

Physical health 
Health promotion, good rehabilitation practices, health checks, well-being benefits, health insurance protection, managing disability, occupational health support, employee assistance programme.

Physical safety 
Safe working practices, safe equipment, personal safety training.

Mental health 
Stress management, risk assessments, conflict resolution training, training line managers to have difficult conversations, managing mental ill health, occupational health support, employee assistance programme.

Graphic of a moving clock

2. Work

Working environment 
Ergonomically designed working areas, open and inclusive culture.

Good line management 
Effective people management policies, training for line managers, sickness absence management.

Work demands 
Job design, job roles, job quality, workload, working hours, job satisfaction, work-life balance.

Autonomy 
Control, innovation, whistleblowing.

Change management 
Communication, involvement, leadership.

Pay and reward 
Fair and transparent remuneration practices, non-financial recognition.

Graphic of a thumbs up gesture

3. Values/Principles

Leadership 
Values-based leadership, clear mission and objectives, health and well-being strategy, corporate governance, building trust.

Ethical standards 
Dignity at work, corporate social responsibility, community investment, volunteering.

Diversity 
Diversity and inclusion, valuing difference, cultural engagement, training for employees and managers

Illustration of two people united

4. Collective/Social

Employee voice 
Communication, consultation, genuine dialogue, involvement in decision making

Positive relationships 
Management style, teamworking, healthy relationships with peers and managers, dignity and respect.

Illustration of a personal chart showing progression

5. Personal growth

Career development 
Mentoring, coaching, performance management, performance development plans, skills utilisation, succession planning.

Emotional 
Positive relationships, personal resilience training, financial well-being.

Lifelong learning 
Performance development plans, access to training, mid-career review, technical and vocational learning, challenging work.

Creativity 
Open and collaborative culture, innovation workshops.

Adopting an organisational approach to employee well-being carries with it distinct responsibilities for particular employee groups. To successfully implement a holistic, sustainable well-being programme, employers need to define and communicate the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders involved.

HR professionals

HR professionals have a pivotal role to play in steering the health and well-being agenda in organisations. They need to ensure that senior managers regard it as a priority and integrate well-being practices into the organisation’s day-to-day operations.

HR practitioners need to communicate the benefits of a healthy workplace to line managers, who have taken on the responsibility for implementing people management and well-being policies in most organisations. They need to work closely with all areas of the business and provide practical guidance to ensure that rhetoric becomes a reality.

Senior managers

Lack of senior management commitment to well-being can be a major barrier to implementation. Senior managers are crucial role models, and line managers and employees are more likely to engage with health and well-being interventions if they see senior leaders actively participating in them. Senior managers have the authority and influence to ensure that well-being is a strategic priority embedded in the organisation’s day-to-day operations and culture.

Line managers

Much of the day-to-day responsibility for managing employees’ health and well-being falls on line managers. This includes implementing stress management initiatives, spotting early warning signs of stress, making reasonable adjustments at work, and nurturing positive relationships. Yet our Absence Management surveys consistently suggest that ‘poor management style’ is one of the top three causes of work-related stress, identified by a third of surveyed organisations in our 2016 survey. 

This supports the findings of Developing managers to manage sustainable employee engagement, health and well-being, our research report published in February 2017. The report found that:

‘Manager behaviour not only impacts on employee health and well-being, but also on employee engagement, as demonstrated in both academic and practitioner research.’

Managers therefore need to understand the impact their management style has on employees and the wider organisational culture at work.

Occupational health

Occupational health (OH) is a specialist branch of medicine focused on health in the workplace. For this reason, OH practitioners are likely to work closely with HR practitioners and those responsible for health and safety in a workplace. 

Employees

Employees need to take some responsibility for their health and well-being, and employers should communicate the behaviour they expect of them. People will only benefit from well-being initiatives if they take care of their health and well-being outside work and participate in the initiatives on offer. Employers can encourage employees’ involvement by clearly communicating how staff can access the support and benefits available to them. It’s also important that the organisation seeks employee feedback about its current offerings so it can learn how to shape existing initiatives and plan new ones.

Contacts

Acas – Health and the workplace

Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Council for Work and Health

NHS Health and Work Network

Workplace Wellbeing Charter

Books and reports

CHEN, P.Y. and COOPER, C.L. (2014). Wellbeing: a complete reference guide. Volume III: Work and wellbeing. Oxford: Wiley.

NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR HEALTH AND CARE EXCELLENCE. (2015) Workplace health: management practices. NICE guidelines, No NG13. London: NICE.

NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR HEALTH AND CARE EXCELLENCE. (2017) Healthy workplaces: improving employee mental and physical health and wellbeing. Quality Standard QS147. Manchester: NICE.

WADDELL, G. and BURTON, A.K. (2006) Is work good for your health and well-being?. London: Stationery Office

Journal articles

JUNIPER, Bridget. (2016) Time to look beyond cash returns? Occupational Health & Wellbeing. Vol 68, No 7, July. pp10-11.

SILCOX, S. (2016) Building an employee wellbeing programme. Occupational Health & Wellbeing. Vol 68, No 2, February. pp12-14.

SILCOX, S. (2016) Encouraging employee participation in wellbeing activities. Occupational Health & Wellbeing. Vol 68, No 5, May. pp16-17.

SOANE, E., SHANTZ, A. and ALFES, K. (2013) The association of meaningfulness, wellbeing, and engagement with absenteeism: a moderated mediation model. Human Resource Management. Vol 52, No 3, May/June. pp441-456.

CIPD members can use our online journals to find articles from over 300 journal titles relevant to HR.

Members and People Management subscribers can read articles on the People Management website.

This factsheet was last updated by Rachel Suff.

Rachel Suff

Rachel Suff: Employee Relations Adviser

Rachel joined the CIPD as a policy adviser in 2014 to increase the CIPD’s public policy profile and engage with politicians, civil servants, policy-makers and commentators to champion better work and working lives. An important part of her role is to ensure that the views of the profession inform CIPD policy thinking in ER areas such as health and well-being, employee engagement and employment relations.

As well as developing policy on UK employment issues, she helps guide the CIPD’s thinking in relation to European developments affecting the world of work. Rachel is a qualified HR practitioner and researcher; her prior roles include working as a researcher/editor for XpertHR and as a senior policy adviser at Acas.

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Transcript: Professor Lord Layard's interview with the CIPD

Well, it's what Iife is all about, isn’t it? I believe that the way we should judge our society is by out how much people are enjoying their lives. And that applies just as much of workers in the rest of life.

So I think well-being is an issue for individuals but it's also a business issue. For individuals, we know a lot about how they feel about their life at work and it's not terribly good news. The new science of happiness has led to people to study how people experience, say, the previous day of their lives, so they may write down what they were doing, who they were with, and how they felt, and the depressing story is – this comes from a large number of surveys now – the time of day that people most disliked is the time which they spend with their boss.

This is a pretty serious situation. I would say that managers are not doing a great job and-and-and-and in our modern society in terms of promoting the well-being of their people and are not obviously inspiring them. There’s an element of fear and so on associated with work which may not be functional. For the following reason: look at it from the point of view of the business. We can follow the stock price of companies according to how good they are places to work, so if you take the 100 best places to work in 1985 in the United States and compare them with the rest of the stock market, you will find that the stock price of the 100 best places to work over the following 25 years rose by fifty percent, compared with the rest of the American companies.

So it pays off, it's good for the bottom line, and it’s good for the workers, so that has got to be a serious priority for business.

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