Workers' health and wellbeing needs to be placed firmly at the top of the executive's agenda

Posted On: 
13th December 2018

The British Safety Council introduces its new literature review, Not just free fruit: wellbeing at work, published this week.

Wellbeing at work is here to stay. It means physical, emotional and mental health, says British Safety Council.
Credit: 
PA Images

A ubiquitous ‘catch-all’ term, ‘wellbeing’ is nowadays used to refer to everything: from a good diet, to a positive experience, to the protection of those suffering serious mental health conditions. While occupational safety remains a key priority for employers across all sectors, there is growing public awareness of the impact health and wellbeing has on individuals, organisations and society as a whole.  The latest research estimates that over 5 million UK workers could be suffering from a mental health condition each year.

Examining current literature on occupational health and wellbeing, Wellbeing at work seeks to define ‘wellbeing’ in workplace contexts, exploring the term’s varying connotations and applications. Furthermore, it serves as a call to action for all senior leaders and executives, no matter the size or sector of their organisations. Workers’ health and wellbeing can no longer be relegated to the bottom of managers’ ‘to do lists’, absent from strategy meetings, exempt from financial forecasts. The Centre of Economic and Business Research predicts that the cost of sickness absence will increase to £21bn in 2020.The link between wellbeing and productivity is undeniable and calculable. It cannot be ignored.

At the British Safety Council, we believe ‘no-one should be injured or made ill through their work’. This means protecting workers from hazards and risks, and providing an environment which enables them to address issues arising in the workplace and elsewhere. These steps include not only traditional health benefits but, crucially, the conditions characterising the working day: workload, collegiality, autonomy and salary, to name a few.

Calling for the government to ‘place equal importance on the quality of work as it does on the quantity’, last year’s Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices recognised that ‘“quality of work” needs to be more clearly understood, defined and measured’. In February 2018, the government’s Good Work Plan committed to enacting the Taylor Review’s recommendation that it ‘should identify a set of metrics against which it will measure success in improving work, reporting annually on the quality of work on offer in the UK’. Alongside physical injury and mental health, these measures include, among others, ‘job security’, line manager relationship’ and ‘satisfaction with pay’, all of which, this review argues, constitute wellbeing at work.

Covering such topics as ‘types of wellbeing interventions’, ‘health, wellbeing and productivity’, ‘good work and wellbeing’, ‘workplace bullying’ and ‘mental wellbeing’, Wellbeing at work includes a number of case studies, from BAE Systems to our own British Safety Council. Our aim is to demonstrate the ways in which organisations currently implement initiatives designed to protect and improve workers’ wellbeing, with examples of best practice.

Wellbeing at work also offers information about two major schemes, VitalityHealth’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, and the Workplace Wellbeing Charter, which have been established to help organisations carry out successful wellbeing interventions and evaluate their impact.

Only about 1 in 6 (17%) organisations evaluate the impact of their health and wellbeing initiatives. Both Britain’s Healthiest Workplace and the Workplace Wellbeing Charter provide easy, supportive ways of addressing this problem.

The review ends by examining the work being carried out on the public policy front. The ‘wellbeing premium’ is a proposed wellbeing grant, championed by Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb. The grant aims to free up resource for organisations to invest in wellbeing initiatives, which may prove significant for some companies, especially micro-firms and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The ‘wellbeing premium’ is currently being trialled in the West Midlands, under the Thrive at Work programme

Wellbeing at work is here to stay. It means physical, emotional and mental health. This review interrogates the physiology and psychology of the working environment, with the twin aims of directing the employer to arrangements which protect wellbeing, while also helping all workers. Keeping your workers healthy means keeping your company healthy, creating the conditions for successful economic growth and productivity. Alongside their safety, workers’ health and wellbeing need to be placed firmly at the top of the executive’s agenda.

Not just free fruit: wellbeing at work is free to download and available here.