Workplaces are facing “a perfect storm” when it comes to wellbeing at work, with sickness absence having barely improved since the pandemic, a report has argued.
UK employers lost the equivalent of 50 days of work per employee last year because of poor physical and mental health, according to the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey by Vitality and the Financial Times.
The survey of 4,787 employees at 59 organisations polled in the year to October 2023 found that on average 43.6 days of work were lost due to presenteeism.
That was in addition to 6.1 days of sickness absence. Together, the amount of lost work was a 2% improvement on the previous year.
Professor Dame Carol Black, chair of Britain’s Healthiest Workplace and chair of NHSE/I Health and Well-being Advisory Group on employee health, said of the findings: “It’s clear from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace findings that the UK is facing a perform storm when it comes to wellbeing at work. The survey is an important step in any organisation’s journey towards cultivating healthier, more productive workplaces.”
Absence and presenteeism
The rates of absence are only slightly down on peak levels in 2022 at the tail-end of the Covid-19 pandemic, indicating that UK employee health has barely improved in this time.
The survey also highlighted continuing high levels of obesity, excessive drinking, and lack of sleep, even though most indicators had shown a slight improvement on 2022.
Overall, businesses are still losing thousands of hours of productivity to ill health and poor wellbeing.
Productivity has been dropping steadily since 2014, the survey found. In 2023, employees lost 20% of working hours, representing a loss of 49.7 productive days per employee per year. This was worse among lower income and younger workers.
On the plus side, hybrid workers are thriving, at least from a health and wellbeing perspective. Hybrid employees had the lowest loss of productive days, were generally more active, less likely to be obese, and sleep better than office-based employees or those working full-time from home.
Hybrid workers also had better mental health than non-hybrid workers. They were less likely to suffer from depression or burnout than those who work full-time in the office or at home.
However, conversely, younger employees are struggling to adapt to the new workplace, especially in terms of their wellbeing. Younger employees were more likely to suffer from depression, more likely to report significant financial concerns, and more likely to be dissatisfied with their jobs.
In fact, employees under the age of 35 lost 48% more productive time because of absence and presenteeism than their older colleagues.
The survey also found more than half (58%) of employees reported being overweight, 56% said they had a poor diet, 23% were obese, and 37% disclosed a lack of physical activity.
Some 29% reported poor length of sleep and 22% poor sleep quality, while 10% said they were depressed. A total of 9% said they smoked.
“Line managers are fundamental,” Cary Cooper, organisational psychology professor at Manchester University told the FT in response to the survey findings.
“Wellness needs to be a strategic issue linked to metrics and accountability, with responsibility taken by a board director.”
Rand Europe, Aon and the University of Cambridge were also all partners for the survey.