CIPD, a not-for-profit organisation that unites over 150,000 HR professionals worldwide, released its nineteenth annual survey exploring trends and practices in wellbeing and absence management in UK workplaces.
Despite the increased focus on employee wellbeing, there is still no consistency in how proactively companies are pursuing it. Most of the surveyed 1,078 organisations provide one or more wellbeing benefit to employees, but only a third adopted the continuous improvement approach to their wellbeing programmes and only 22% critically assess the impact on those who participate in activities. The companies that put effort in evaluating and constantly improving the programmes are much more likely to achieve positive outcomes such as better morale and engagement, a healthier and more inclusive culture and lower sickness absence.
The absenteeism at 5.9 days per employee per year, or 2.6% of working time lost, is the all-time low. However, a quarter of respondents said that “presenteeism” (people coming at job sick) grew up in comparison with the previous year and two-thirds of respondents experienced “leavism” (people working during the holidays, sick leave or outside of working hours). In both cases, the companies rarely discourage these behaviours.
Despite the wider acknowledgment of mental health importance, there is worrying growth in both short- and long-term absence caused by mental health and workplace stress.
For many companies, wellbeing programmes remain one-off effort, instead of being integrated within the overall company’s strategy. It should be a collective effort, with every group of employees to play its distinct role, but HR professionals are in the unique position to lead the implementation and warrantee the success of the programme. The report suggests to focus on three steps:
- Identify the main risks to people’s health and wellbeing and target action accordingly. It is an important step not to end up with an endless “menu” of incoherent initiatives that don’t address the actual needs of employees, but just waste efforts and money. Factors such as job type, health issues, organisation size and structure all need to be taken into account, as well as the underlying patterns of absence, working overtime and other unhealthy trends and the degree to which they are caused by promoting workaholism, long-hours culture, unrealistic expectations from managers or any other organisational factors.
- Be holistic and ensure that financial wellbeing receives adequate attention. There is much more to a healthy workplace than an advanced health policy – employee wellbeing includes diversity, empowerment, degree of control, engagement and work-life balance. Last but not least, the financial wellness should be on your agenda as financial struggles directly contribute to the stress level of an employee and can lead to alcohol or drug abuse. If you offer financial benefits, make sure they are clearly communicated to the employees.
- Evaluate and improve wellbeing initiatives. It is equally important for both securing future investments from the leadership team and finetuning the existing programme to better cater to the needs of employees. The most common methods of evaluation are surveys, focus groups, one-on-one interviews and observation, while the most common metrics are sickness absence rate, staff retention levels, employee engagement levels and employee turnover. The public sector, which experiences a higher level of stress and related occupational burnout, is most likely to use incidence of mental ill health/stress as a measure.
“A healthy workplace is one that also includes effective policies for dealing with all of the ‘people’ aspects of employment such as diversity and inclusion, communication and consultation, engagement and work–life balance.”
Stress and mental health are among the top reasons for both short- and long-term absence, particularly in the public sector and in companies with over 250 employees. In the private sector, they are tightly connected to the increase in “presenteeism” and especially “leaveism”. A heavy workload is by far the most common stressor, but an increasing number of employees blame management style.
The number of organisations that take measures to address stress has raised from 56% to 71% over the last four years, the public sector and non-for-profits leading the effort. The most common methods to reduce stress are flexible working options/improved work-life balance and employee assistance programmes, followed by training for line managers to manage stress. The public sector is also considerably more likely to use training aimed at building personal resilience, written stress policy/guidance, greater involvement of occupational health specialists and the Health and Safety Executive’s Management Standards, compared with the other sectors.
Across all sectors, fewer organisations are using staff surveys and focus groups to identify causes of stress and similarly, fewer are using risk assessments/stress audits. It is a concerning sign, and the report recommends the Talking Toolkit, the practical guidance for managers on how to start a stress-related conversation with their employees and design the best policy to prevent and tackle stress.
Less than half of the respondents think that their company’s efforts to deal with stress pay off, while 17% report they are ineffective.
Source: Health and well-being at work