Fostering employee well-being is good for people and the organisation. Promoting well-being can help prevent stress and create positive working environments where individuals and organisations can thrive. Good health and well-being can be a core enabler of employee engagement and organisational performance.
This factsheet focuses on well-being in the workplace, explaining why it matters, and exploring 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 a healthy workplace.
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 understand the impact on people’s health and well-being. When people are happy and well, businesses can thrive and societies flourish.
At the CIPD, our internal Health and Well-being Champions support and drive change, especially in increasing awareness and understanding of mental health. As well as training line managers in good people management and mental health awareness, we hold regular well-being days to promote healthy living and preventative actions. We also offer our staff on-site fitness classes, massages and mindfulness sessions, healthy eating options in our canteen, and an autumn flu vaccination.
Watch our video on why well-being matters
CIPD President Cary Cooper and CIPD staff highlight key findings from our 2018 Health and well-being at work survey, produced in partnership with Simplyhealth.
For a transcript of this video, please scroll to the end of the page.
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What is well-being at work?
In our Growing the health and well-being agenda report, we show that healthy workplaces help people to flourish and reach their potential. This means creating an environment that actively promotes a state of contentment, benefiting both employees and the organisation.
There’s now 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 to full effect. These organisations could benefit from greater investment in the well-being of their workforce.
Investing in employee 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 promotion
- a good working environment
- flexible working
- positive relationships
- opportunities for career development
- an open and supportive 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.
The relationship between work, health and well-being
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:
- The prevention of illness and promotion of health and well-being
- Early intervention for those who develop a health condition
- 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.
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. Although the occupational health assessment part of the service is no longer available, employers, employees and GPs can still use the Fit for Work website and advice helpline.
A holistic approach to well-being
The importance of employee health and well-being has become more widely recognised in the UK over the past decade.
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, and it’s well recognised that in many cases the main risks to people’s health at work are psychological. Our Health and well-being at work 2018 survey report, in partnership with Simplyhealth, found that almost two-fifths of organisations had seen an increase in reported common mental health conditions 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 health and well-being.
The survey report also found evidence of a range of unhealthy working practices such as ‘presenteeism’ (people working when unwell), with almost nine in ten respondents observing this type of behaviour among employees. Over two-thirds of organisations also reported ‘leaveism’, such as people using their annual leave to catch up on work. This is not the sign of a healthy workplace and employers need to look beyond absence statistics to understand the underlying factors, such as unmanageable workloads, that are driving unhealthy working practices.
Complex changes in the world of work mean that people now face other organisational and wider environmental pressures. Our UK Working Lives survey found that 55% of employees feel under excessive pressure, or exhausted or regularly miserable at work. This points to an intensification of work for many people.
Employers also need to think carefully about how their well-being strategy builds on, and aligns to, an organisation’s health and safety policies.
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 such as the cost of sickness absence. Recent thinking reflects 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 Health and well-being at work 2018 survey identified the top three benefits of employers increasing their focus on employee well-being:
- better employee morale and engagement
- performance healthier and more inclusive culture
- lower sickness absence.
The 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's role in fostering employee well-being
We have 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 fulfils its mission and carries out its operations, and should not consist of one-off initiatives. It’s about changing the way business is done.
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.
The CIPD well-being pyramid model
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.
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 CIPD's five domains of well-being
The five domains of well-being model
Our 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 unique needs and characteristics of the organisation and its workforce.
Initiatives and activities
The underlying elements include examples of workplace initiatives and activities to support people’s health and well-being.
Health promotion, good rehabilitation practices, health checks, well-being benefits, health insurance protection, managing disability, occupational health support, employee assistance programme.
Safe working practices, safe equipment, personal safety training.
Stress management, risk assessments, conflict resolution training, training line managers to have difficult conversations, managing mental ill health, occupational health support, employee assistance programme.
Ergonomically designed working areas, open and inclusive culture.
Good line management
Effective people management policies, training for line managers, sickness absence management.
Job design, job roles, job quality, workload, working hours, job satisfaction, work-life balance.
Control, innovation, whistleblowing.
Communication, involvement, leadership.
Pay and reward
Fair and transparent remuneration practices, non-financial recognition.
Values-based leadership, clear mission and objectives, health and well-being strategy, corporate governance, building trust.
Dignity at work, corporate social responsibility, community investment, volunteering.
Diversity and inclusion, valuing difference, cultural engagement, training for employees and managers
Communication, consultation, genuine dialogue, involvement in decision making
Management style, teamworking, healthy relationships with peers and managers, dignity and respect.
5. Personal growth
Mentoring, coaching, performance management, performance development plans, skills utilisation, succession planning.
Positive relationships, personal resilience training, financial well-being.
Performance development plans, access to training, mid-career review, technical and vocational learning, challenging work.
Open and collaborative culture, innovation workshops.
The role of different stakeholders in encouraging well-being
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.
HR professionals have a key part 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 are typically responsible 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 policies and practices are implemented consistently and with compassion.
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.
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 surveys consistently suggests that ‘poor management style’ is one of the top three causes of work-related stress.
This reflects the findings of our 2017 report Developing managers to manage sustainable employee engagement, health and well-being which stated 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 (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 also have a responsibility for looking after their own health and well-being, and will only benefit from well-being initiatives if they participate in the initiatives on offer and take care of their health and well-being outside work as well. Employers can encourage employees’ involvement by 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.
Useful contacts and further reading
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
JUNIPER, Bridget. (2016) Time to look beyond cash returns? Occupational Health & Wellbeing. Vol 68, No 7, July. pp10-11.
KIRTON, H. (2017) One in four workers doubt their organisation takes wellbeing seriously. PM Daily. 7 July.
SCANIOLA, L. (2017) Financial wellness: why it’s a priority now for employers. Workspan. Vol 60, no 5, May. pp34-38. Reviewed in In a Nutshell, issue 68.
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.
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: Employee Relations Adviser
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The CIPD’s first comprehensive survey of the UK workforce under our new Job Quality Index
Hello, we're delighted to be bringing you our new health and well-being at work survey report in partnership with our sponsor Simplyhealth. This survey used to be called the CIPD Absence management report and it's now in its 18th year, but it has developed to become much more holistic and have a broader take on employee well-being. This reflects wider developments in the world of work but also the CIPDs recommendation to employers to develop a more holistic approach to health and well-being in the workplace.
The report finds that ‘presenteeism’ (or people coming in to work sick) has more than tripled since 2010. We also found that 69% of respondents reported that ‘leaveism’ (or people using assigned time off in order to get work done) has occurred in their organisation in the last 12 months. Despite these alarming findings, only a minority of organisations are taking steps to challenge these unhealthy working behaviours.
I'm really quite worried to see that, within the space of eight years, the number of people suffering from presenteeism is tripled and that is really very worrying, but not surprising. People are feeling really insecure about the future, the uncertainty of the future. So they were worried about presenteeism from 2010 to 2016 because of the recession. Now they're worried about ‘Will I have a job’? ‘Will Brexit lead to job loss? ‘Will the finance sector go off to Frankfurt’? All of that thing factors in, so I better turn up, I better on my HR record show that I'm there, I'm present whether I'm delivering or not is irrelevant, I'm there. Leaveism is a real problem because people need RNR, they need rest and recuperation, they need holidays, they need time off from work. Work is more intensive than ever before, heavier workloads, deadlines that are sometimes unmanageable and therefore they need the break, So if you're using your leave time to actually get your work done, that's not good news for the health and well-being of individuals and for the productivity of the company or organisation itself.
Where should employers and HR be focusing their efforts to best effect to encourage healthier workplaces? The quality of leadership, and people management, and culture will have the strongest impact on how healthy a workplace is. Take leadership - it's really important that senior leaders are fully on board with this agenda. They will have the influence to make sure that health and well-being is taken seriously throughout the organisation and they also serve as very important role models for health and well-being. One of the main themes that emerges from the report is how crucial how integral people managers are to people's health and well-being. Their management style will have a big impact on people and they're in the front line of implementing people management policies but also being the first port of call if someone isn't feeling well or is under pressure at work. But what we're finding through the report is that more investment is needed in line managers in their capability, training and support. Then the culture. Is it open? Is it inclusive? What are the day-to-day relationships like in that workplace? Are they based on trust? Do they give people a good sense of well-being? Is there openness around issues like mental health? And then finally, organisations need to get beyond their absence figures and really look under the skin of their attendance and the sort of behaviours and patterns that are driving well-being at work.
Our employees are our biggest differentiator in an ever competitive world therefore it's absolutely vital that the health and well-being, the body and the mind, is addressed and looked after within your company and it must be at the core of the values of the company. It's the small subtle things that can make the big difference to help how our people feel valued, and when our people feel valued then they are feeling far more engaged with you as a business. In order to tackle these healthy practices within your company, it is vitally important that you invest in a health and well-being strategy and that this strategy is at the core of your values. I'm in no doubt that if you do invest in a health and well-being strategy, you will absolutely see the benefits in tackling presenteeism and leaveism.
Thank you for listening. We really hope that you enjoy reading this report and also find it useful for your workplace.