Fri 03 May 2019

Workplace wellbeing - CIPD health and well-being survey

April was stress awareness month, and the recently published CIPD health and well-being at work survey has found that mental health is becoming a stronger focus in organisations well-being activity.


April saw the publication of the nineteenth annual survey carried out by the CIPD in conjunction with Simply Health, and with responses from over 1,000 organisations across the UK in reference to 3.2 million employees it can be seen as a fairly accurate reflection of workplace wellbeing.   

Key points from the survey are:- 

  • Presenteeism (staff turning up when they are ill) and leavism (staff using holidays when they are unwell) are on the rise. 

  • More than 80% of respondents reported presenteeism within their organisation, very few believe it has decreased in the last 12 months and a quarter believe it has increased within their organisation.  Similarly nearly two thirds of respondents reported some form or leaveism, albeit this is actually a small improvement on last year

  • Average absence has dropped to 5.9 days per employee per year - the lowest ever recorded by the survey. However, this figure may well be affected by presenteeism and leavism.  These two trends are identified as potentially artificially dropping the absence rate while at the same time masking deeper seated organisational issues that could be undermining employees' health.

  • As in previous years, the absence rate is falling more in the private and non-profit sectors than in the public sector and larger organisations tend to have higher absence rates than smaller ones.  This may be connected to the availability of occupational sick pay in larger organisations and the public sector.

  • Minor illness remains the most common cause of short-term absence with musculoskeletal injuries and stress also being among the top causes.  A third of organisations include mental ill health among their top three causes of short-term absence.

  • Mental ill health, stress, musculoskeletal injuries and acute medical conditions remain the top causes of long-term absence.  Work-related stress has increased over the past 12 months, with heavy workloads remaining the most common cause of workplace stress.  However, the survey also shows an increasing proportion blaming poor management style for workplace stress.

  • Financial well-being is identified as a significant cause of stress for employees.

  • Of those who responded to the survey, 98% reported taking proactive steps to manage absence. Amongst the most commonly used methods were monitoring of absence, supportive policies providing leave for family circumstances, changing work patterns, employee assistance programmes and the involvement of occupational health.  However, a quarter of organisations that give line mangers primary responsibility for managing absence do not provide any training for them. 

Despite the high percentage monitoring absence, the fact that stress and poor mental health are a growing problem suggests that the steps being taken to address workplace wellbeing are falling short of what is required.  The increase in presenteeism also indicates that the level of absenteeism cannot be taken as a completely accurate indication of the health of the workforce.  The survey highlights that employers need to move towards a more pre-emptive and less reactive approach to well-being to more effectively deal with the issue.   

Recommendations as to how to achieve this in practice include (1) identifying the main risks to employees' health and well-being so that action can be targeted accordingly, (2) taking a holistic approach and ensuring that financial well being receives adequate attention and (3) evaluating and improving well-being initiatives.   The message to be taken from this year's survey is that prevention is better than cure for both the workforce and the employer. 


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