Wellbeing programmes ‘could save British firms £61 billion a year’

Depression, poor lifestyle choices and stress were the cause of three-quarters of sick leave in 2018, costing UK businesses £61bn.

New research from health insurer Vitality found that British businesses lost the equivalent of £81bn as a result of ill-health related absence and presenteeism in 2018 overall, a £4bn increase on 2017.

The study also revealed that employers lose, on average, 35.6 working days per employee per year due to health-related absence and presenteeism – when staff put aside both mental and physical health problems to attend work.

The companies with the best results in the study demonstrated a 30-40% reduction in productivity loss linked to ill-health, compared with other companies in the survey. Interventions from business were shown to have a marked effect on employees’ health and these top-performing companies all showed common characteristics such as embedding a culture of health, having capable line managers who supported employees and having high awareness and participation in their health and wellbeing programmes.

Mental health was found to be a significant driver of productivity loss, accounting for £38bn of the total cost to businesses last year. Of this, £17.2bn stems specifically from workplace stress, a driver which businesses can address through various interventions and initiatives.

For example, 83% of people who used one-on-one coaching to support mental health and wellbeing found it impactful and 78% of people said the same for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Some 83% of employees who used massage or relaxation classes also said it had a positive impact on their mental health at work.

However, the research demonstrated that awareness of and engagement with such interventions was low. For instance, while 67% of employees have access to interventions in the mental health space, only 26% of them claim to have knowledge and awareness of the interventions on offer. Additionally, once aware, only 18% of employees actually participate in any of the programmes, demonstrating that not only do employers need to increase awareness, but employees need to engage with the interventions available to maximise impact.

Commenting on the data, Neville Koopowitz, CEO at VitalityHealth, said: “For the sixth year in a row, Vitality’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace data illustrates the huge cost of absence and presenteeism to British businesses. With this data showing that employees lose, on average, over 35 days each a year, it is becoming impossible for businesses to ignore the link between ill-health and productivity.

“Simply implementing intervention programmes is no longer enough. By prioritising and elevating employee engagement in health and wellbeing within the business, ideally to Board level, we can make a significant difference to productivity and the overall success of the business. Not only can this bring about a competitive advantage for companies, but it will ultimately build a stronger and healthier society for us all. With this being such an important and compelling ambition, we will be developing a number of initiatives that will support a healthier corporate Britain in 2019 and beyond.”

  • Vitality’s study, called ‘Britain’s Healthiest Workplace’, is developed in partnership with RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge.
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