Author Bio ▼

Heather Beach is Founder and Managing Director of The Healthy Work Company and has been running businesses in health and safety for over 20 years. Having run Barbour, SHP and Safety and Health Expo, she is now running her own business. The Healthy Work Company provides solutions which drive the wellbeing agenda to enable thriving in the workplace at all levels. Offering more than simply training, it delivers strategic support for your wellbeing programme. "We are driving the mental health agenda towards how human beings thrive in life – often through work, not in spite of it!"Heather can be reached on [email protected].
July 10, 2024

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Ten reasons: Burning platform for organisational wellbeing 

Heather Beach, Founder of The Healthy Work Company explains why organisational wellbeing – and why at this scale – makes a greater, positive impact to an individual’s mental health. 

Over the next few months, you will find me at events, running debates entitled “Wellbeing isn’t working”. 

Credit: Unsplash/Bethany Legg

Despite growing recognition of their importance, the success of wellbeing programs goes largely unmeasured.  In my view this is because they “seemed like the right thing to do” rather than being targeted at addressing a specific workplace issue.   

If we were intending to destigmatise conversations about mental health, we are seeing some success; if we were intending to educate people on looking after themselves better – well if my experiences with organisations are anything to go by, we are better educated.   

However, if our aim was to improve sickness absence, tackle poor engagement, improve health and improve safety (for example) then we are abjectly failing. 

Unsurprisingly, for example, the most recent Deloitte report highlighted the importance of addressing the root causes of poor wellbeing rather than relying solely on perks and programs. 

 Effective wellbeing strategies often involve systemic changes, such as leadership training, creating supportive work environments, and embedding wellbeing into organisational culture. 

 Across a series of three articles, I will review:

  • Ten reasons why there is a burning platform for organisational wellbeing – and how there must be a multidisciplinary approach 
  • What current approaches are achieving and are not achieving 
  • Ten steps to an organisational wellbeing strategy in your organisation 

To make a meaningful impact, these programs must adopt multidisciplinary approaches that cater to the concerns of multiple stakeholders.   

A mature framework for wellbeing should ultimately enable other strategies within the business (people and culture, safety, ESG, EDI) and therefore cannot be owned and controlled by one individual or one department.  Whilst “ownership” has bounced between Health and Safety, HR and a Wellbeing manager and it makes sense for someone to own the project plan, a comprehensive, cultural approach influenced by a steering group of senior leaders, can address the varied levers that can translate these efforts into tangible benefits for different stakeholder groups.  

Here are ten key reasons highlighting the urgency of addressing the shortfalls of current organisational wellbeing programmes, which also demonstrate the drivers for wellbeing for different stakeholder groups within the organisation: 

1. Employee engagement and wellbeing

The Gallup report 2024 reveals stagnating global employee engagement, with the US at a decade low. In Europe, engagement is alarmingly low: UK (9%), France (7%), Italy (5%), and Germany (16%), with Romania at 33% being the exception. 

 Poor wellbeing and engagement are interlinked through factors like stress, burnout, and physical health issues, which impair focus and productivity. A supportive work culture and recognition systems enhance engagement by improving mental and physical health and fostering a balanced work environment   . 

2. Sickness absence

Sickness absence levels across Europe vary, but the trend of increasing absences due to mental health issues, stress, and other health problems is prevalent in many countries, mirroring the situation in the UK 

In the UK, sickness absence rates have reached a decade high, driven largely by mental health issues, musculoskeletal injuries, and acute medical conditions. For instance, the CIPD reported that the average rate of employee absence now stands at 7.8 days per employee per year, a significant increase from pre-pandemic level 

Similarly, other European countries are experiencing high sickness absence rates. In Norway, the sickness absence rate for both men and women has increased, with a notable rise in absences due to stress and mental health issues. Sweden and Slovenia have also seen substantial increases in sickness-related absences over recent years. For example, Swedish employees took an average of 11.4 days of sickness absence in 2022, up from 6.7 days in 2010 

3. Safety (H&S) 

 Poor wellbeing impacts safety, with mental health issues like stress and anxiety increasing accident proneness. Research shows that compromised mental health leads to impaired concentration and cognitive function, undermining safety protocols. As well as other, generic research, many studies from the aviation sector specifically highlight that untreated mental health issues contribute significantly to operational safety risks  

4. Productivity and performance (all including operational managers) 

 Wellbeing and engagement are crucial for productivity and performance. Engaged employees deliver higher quality work and contribute to better financial performance, lower turnover, and fewer safety incidents. Post-COVID, organisations focusing on employee wellbeing reported improved morale and productivity, while those neglecting it faced increased absenteeism and decreased performance  . 

5. Retention  

High turnover rates are often linked to poor wellbeing and engagement. Disengaged employees are more likely to leave, leading to higher recruitment and training costs.  organisations investing in health and wellbeing saw improved staff retention, with four in ten companies reporting better retention rates . 

6. Attraction  

As staff attraction becomes a global challenge, a strong wellbeing program within an organisation can significantly influence this trend. The Gallup 2024 report indicates that organisations with high levels of employee engagement, closely linked to wellbeing, report superior talent attraction. Moreover, companies investing in extensive health and wellbeing programs witness enhanced staff retention and attraction, with 40% of companies observing an increase in staff retention following such investments). A supportive workplace culture that fosters mental and physical health not only boosts current employee satisfaction but also draws in prospective talent looking for a balanced and inclusive work environment (American Psychological Association; World Health  organisation).  

7. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) 

 ESG initiatives can enhance employee wellbeing and align with broader social responsibility goals: 

 Environmental:   Creating healthy work environments, reducing carbon footprints, and promoting sustainability. 

Social:   Comprehensive health programs, community engagement, and robust diversity policies to foster an inclusive culture. 

 Governance:   Transparent implementation of wellbeing programs and stakeholder engagement to tailor initiatives to employee needs, improving engagement and effectiveness   . 

8. Legal and regulatory compliance   

Global regulations mandate employer responsibility for workplace health and mental wellbeing with an equivalent of the Equality Act, covering disability discrimination (where poor mental health may sometimes be deemed a disability) in most countries around the world. 

Increasingly proactive measures such as Organisational Psychosocial risk assessments (SRAs) are increasingly required to prevent job-related stress. Non-compliance can lead to significant fines and legal repercussions in certain parts of the world.  Specific European regulations relating to aspects of mental health can be punitive in countries such as France where executives have been held accountable for extreme outcomes linked to workplace practices.  In general, there is a move to regulate and enforce both generalities and specifics when it comes to wellbeing,  with Spain for example having recently introduced menopause leave.

9. Moral

Directors have several compelling moral reasons to address wellbeing in an  organisational context: 

Ethical Leadership: Prioritizing wellbeing sets a moral standard within the organisation, promoting a culture of respect, empathy, and support. This improves employee trust, loyalty, and productivity 

Social Responsibility: Addressing employee wellbeing contributes to societal health and welfare, reducing issues like mental health disorders and stress-related illnesses. 

The Right Thing to Do: Ensuring employee wellbeing is morally imperative as employees spend significant time at work. Supporting their health and happiness is simply the right thing to do. 

Impact on Team Morale: No one wants to lead a miserable team. Addressing wellbeing enhances team morale, reduces conflict, and improves job satisfaction. 

Workplace Suicide and Trauma: Addressing wellbeing can prevent workplace suicides and mitigate trauma, supporting employees’ mental health and preventing tragic outcomes. 

 10. It makes financial sense

Heather Beach

These statistics highlight the economic benefits of strategic wellbeing programs and the importance of integrating them into core business strategies to maximize ROI.

Deloitte Insights (2023):
 - Comprehensive wellbeing programs can yield an ROI of up to 5:1, with each dollar spent resulting in five dollars in improved productivity, reduced absenteeism, and lower healthcare costs.
 - Companies focusing on high-impact areas like leadership training and preventive interventions achieve higher ROI compared to those using ad hoc measures

 RAND Europe :
 - Wellbeing initiatives can lead to a 15% increase in employee productivity, translating to significant financial benefits, including reduced presenteeism and absenteeism.
 - Investments in mental health and wellbeing programs can return 4 to 6 euros for every euro spent

 Aon Global Wellbeing Survey :
 - Strategic wellbeing approaches can reduce absenteeism by 20%, leading to substantial cost savings.
 - Robust wellbeing strategies result in a 32% decrease in employee turnover and a 30% improvement in employee engagement, directly boosting productivity and performance

Further References 


What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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