11 September 2018

  |  CBI Press Team

Update

Time for employers to place workplace health & wellbeing front of mind

Every day last year that someone was absent from work due to ill health cost UK companies on average £720.

Time for employers to place workplace health & wellbeing front of mind

With the average number of days lost to ill health per employee at 5.2 days, there’s a clear impact on business, which is why firms must better prioritise the health & wellbeing of their staff. That’s according to new survey analysis by the CBI, in partnership with Bupa and HCA Healthcare.

In a new guide, Front of mind: Prioritising workplace health & wellbeing, 347 businesses – employing nearly 1.7 million people - of all sizes across the UK were surveyed or interviewed to understand what steps they are taking to improve workplace health & wellbeing.

The survey found that companies are motivated to play a greater role supporting people, with 63% seeing workplace health & wellbeing an important business issue. 52% of business leaders are recognising the need to focus on prevention, not just the cure. Yet worryingly, 71% of firms say they are finding it hard to take practical action because they are not clear on what works and can’t see the benefits for others that have invested.

To support the thousands of firms seeking to improve health & wellbeing for their employees, Front of mind includes case studies from companies demonstrating good practice and makes recommendations including:

  1. Making health & wellbeing a leadership priority and training line managers to support their teams effectively
  2. Creating a culture where physical & mental health have equal focus - raising awareness of what poor mental health looks like, the techniques to help improve it and encouraging staff to have open conversations
  3. Target action on early interventions by offering fast and confidential access to treatment through health insurance where possible to minimise the time that employees take as sick leave and using technology to promote health & wellbeing.

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said:

“People spend on average 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime, so businesses should prioritise and promote health & wellbeing in their workplaces.

“Companies perform better when their staff are happier, healthier and more engaged. There are great examples of firms leading the way, but we’ve also found that most businesses don’t yet know how to realise the full potential of taking action.

“To invest in better supporting staff health & wellbeing, firms don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There’s lots to be gained from adopting the good practice that’s already out there.”

The scale of the UK’s mental health challenge is considerable and growing

Almost 1 in 3 people of working age have a long-term health condition, estimated to cost the UK economy £100 billion a year. 1.3 million people suffered from a new or longstanding work-related illness last year alone, and up to 5 million workers are thought to be experiencing a mental health condition this year.

New CBI survey data reveals that there has been a four-fold increase in the number of UK firms with 5% or more of their workforce disclosing a mental health condition – from 11% in 2013 to 40% in 2017. Yet more than four in five businesses (84%) say that they feel their employees are less comfortable talking about mental health compared to physical health at work.

Encouragingly, 69% of businesses say workplace mental health is one of the issues they are currently looking at as part of their health & wellbeing strategy. And 83% say raising awareness of mental health and the techniques to improve is an effective way to build a culture where the issue is discussed. Over the last five years, 42% of respondents have trained line managers to spot signs of mental illness and talk about available organisational support.

Other steps firms can take to support workplace mental health include:

  • Working with external organisations to raise awareness of mental health
  • Considering the needs of individuals inside and outside the workplace when developing their approach to health and wellbeing
  • Giving people the option to work flexibly to help those experiencing poor health return to work.

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said:

“Everyone at some point in their lives will be affected by poor mental health, whether that’s experiencing it personally or supporting someone else.  

“It’s encouraging that as a country we are more vocal about mental health, and that this includes telling our employers. But disclosure is not enough. Employers need to do more to discuss the issue, helping to remove the stigma which still exists and can prevent people from seeking support. This is both a business and social issue, and one where employers play an important role.”

Alex Perry, CEO, Bupa Insurance, said:

“It’s encouraging to see more businesses are supporting the health and wellbeing of their employees, with an increasing focus on mental health. More can be done, from creating an open work culture through to offering early diagnosis and fast access to support, and we’re committed to leading a positive change to support all businesses.

“We understand the impact poor mental health can have on peoples’ lives as well as the huge cost to business, and we know early access to treatment is likely to improve the recovery and management of a mental health condition. We launched the most comprehensive cover available in our business health policies, so businesses can support employees with access to the right mental health support and care when they need it. Within Bupa's UK insurance business, we are also training all of our people managers to better recognise and support mental health conditions with colleagues.”

Michael Neeb, CEO of HCA Healthcare UK said;

“Valued employees deserve quick access to high quality care, and the research out today shows how far the business community has come in recognising their role in supporting their employees.

“The partnerships we have with businesses to provide workplace health programmes have delivered positive outcomes, increasing productivity, improving the wellbeing of employees, and alleviating pressures on the NHS.

“It is vital that the Government seeks out policies and initiatives that support businesses investing in the health of employees, rather than deterring them from doing so.”

Government can do more to help employers offering health benefits to staff

While businesses can and should step up and continue to improve workplace health & wellbeing, the Government can also support employers to offer health benefits that make a difference to staff.

Survey respondents confirmed that health insurance is the most commonly available provision in all sectors, currently offered by 79% of UK firms. Employees also expressed how much they value health insurance - rated as a very popular intervention by 89% of companies surveyed.

To ensure that health insurance remains accessible to employees, the Government should avoid any further increases in the Insurance Premium Tax rate for this Parliament. They should also assess how health-related benefits such as health insurance can support health & wellbeing in the workplace and alleviate pressures on the NHS.

Alex Perry, CEO, Bupa Insurance, said:

“The Government has expressed a desire to create a healthier workforce and health insurance plays a vital role here by enabling people to get fast access to support when they need it. However, very high rates of taxation, including recent increases in Insurance Premium Tax, have made it more expensive for businesses to support their people, and are acting as a disincentive to them taking action. We urge the Government to freeze the current rate of IPT in the short term and review how health insurance is treated in the tax system in order to encourage employers to do more to safeguard their people’s health & wellbeing.”