Effective initiatives become essential for sick UK workers

If Britain’s workforce were an individual human being, they would be in pretty poor health: tired, overweight and depressed, with poor nutrition – and unproductive, or on sick leave, for seven weeks out of the year elapsed.

It’s the workforce snapshot provided by Britain’s healthiest workplaces survey this year, as the country emerges from two years of the pandemic in worse shape. It offers disturbing results for individuals, employers and the country as a whole.

The findings, based on responses from more than 8,500 workers from 251 private and public sector organizations between March and September this year, offer insight into habits, feelings and practices – with lessons for the nation’s health. and the outlook for the economy. The survey and associated prizes are funded by Vitality, in partnership with Aeon, Rand Europe, the University of Cambridge and the Financial Times, who jointly help oversee the analysis.

Most striking is the poor mental health of employees. More than a tenth reported symptoms of depression – double the proportion in the same survey in 2014, and the figure had risen steadily even before the pandemic. Twenty percent said they had experienced burnout.

Although individual respondents vary from year to year, the results are supported by sample size and similar data. A survey for the charity Business in the Community, carried out by pollster YouGov, showed that 36% of employees suffered from poor work-related mental health.

This affects employers and the wider economy as staff turn out to be less productive, with some dropping out of work altogether. “We are in a situation for the first time, probably, since the industrial revolution, where health and well-being are in decline,” Andy Haldane, former chief economist at the Bank of England, said in a speech. last month. “After having been an accelerator of well-being over the past 200 years, health now serves as a brake on the rapid growth and well-being of our fellow citizens.

Lack of sleep and musculoskeletal problems featured in the survey – both are linked to poor mental health and stress. Thirty percent of respondents said they slept less than seven hours a night, and more than four-fifths reported at least one musculoskeletal disorder.

The good news – insofar as cause and effect can be identified – is that those who were able to work in a hybrid way between the workplace and home had the lowest total number of nonproductive days, at 47 .

People who worked from home thought they had a better work-life balance than other workers and had less burnout – although they also had a higher rate of long Covid symptoms and were less satisfied with their work than hybrid or office-based workers.

But the reality is that these numbers, like others in the survey, vary widely between workers when broken down by factors such as sector of employment, age, gender, income and region. from the United Kingdom. Many have little latitude in choosing their work habits. For example, people earning over £120,000 a year reported significantly fewer days lost to unproductive time.

Worryingly, productive time lost to illness or presenteeism – when people are at work but not doing much real work – was much higher for younger staff (under 30), more than 61 days. These groups reported higher levels of depression, financial insecurity, burnout, and job dissatisfaction than their elders. They also drank less alcohol.

Women had higher absence rates than men, and respondents who said they were neither male nor female reported a significantly greater loss of productive days, more sleep problems, depression, and mental health issues. chronic health conditions, more job dissatisfaction and poorer work-life balance.

A surprise was that the level of financial insecurity – a factor in poor health – was only 10% on average. “Most people have come out ahead during the pandemic,” given government support programs, says Chris van Stolk, executive vice president of research firm Rand Europe and advisor to Britain’s Healthiest Workplace. Brittany. But, now that the UK appears to be leaving the worst of the pandemic behind and heading into a period of slow growth and austerity, the situation is likely to get worse.

“We know that this next period will be even more difficult. It’s a platform on fire,” says van Stolk.

Some 78% of respondents said their manager cared about the health and wellbeing of their staff, but only a third thought their employer should take a more active role in helping them maintain their health and wellbeing .

Many employers reported offering interventions on diet, physical activity, mental health, financial well-being, alcohol, smoking, and sleep. Yet aside from mental health issues and days lost from work, physical well-being remains poor: nearly two-fifths said they were physically inactive, meaning they spent less than 150 minutes a week doing physical activity. More than half do not eat at least five servings of fruit or vegetables a day, and a quarter are obese (with a body mass index above 30).

One of the questions is to what extent line managers are sufficiently empowered to meet the needs of their staff. Another is the level of awareness, use and effectiveness of the proposed interventions. The survey showed that between a quarter and a half of workers were unaware of the programs offered by their employers; and the proportion of staff who used them and found them effective varied considerably.

The reality is that evidence for specific interventions remains limited. Professor Dame Carol Black, a doctor and government health adviser and chair of Britain’s healthiest workplace, says the data points to continued failure, despite growth in workplace activity. “It tells us that the interventions we thought were helpful weren’t done,” she says.

The challenge for public health specialists and employers in more difficult times ahead is how to better identify, test and implement interventions that demonstrably improve physical and mental well-being in the workplace. work.

Without such efforts, the health of employees will continue to weigh more and more heavily on their organizations.

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