Are employee wellbeing programmes at risk of being mothballed?

employee health and welfare

COVID-19 has brought into stark relief the importance of working environments that are physically safe for employees. But it’s also reminded employers how important supportive colleagues and a comfortable working environment are for employee wellbeing.

Twenty years ago, ‘employee health and wellbeing’ wasn’t a thing. Employers were more concerned with litigation from health and safety violations, than optimising the health of their staff.

Employee mental health wasn’t a consideration. In 2000, when the CIPD (Chartered Institute for Professional Development) launched its first ‘Employee Absence’ report, poor mental health wasn’t included as a potential reason for sick leave. ‘Presenteeism’ also wasn’t a concept back then. In CIPD’s 2020 report, almost nine in ten people (89%) report people coming in to work when they’re ill.

Employee welfare in 2020

A lot, and also very little has changed in 20 years. According to the CIPD, mental health is now a key concern. “In 2020, mental ill-health (such as anxiety and depression) is the top cause of long-term employee absence and 60% of people professionals say common mental health conditions have increased in their organisation.”

Stress is a major cause of both short and long-term absence. “37% said work-related stress had increased. Twenty years ago, stress was the second main reason for absence among non-manual workers.”

The CIPD suggests better work-life balance policies are still needed. “In 2000, over a quarter (27%) ranked ‘home/family responsibilities’ as a leading cause of absence. Today, around the same proportion (24%) cite caring responsibilities for children as a top reason for short-term absence.”

Right now, technology is what’s keeping business moving but 24/7 connectivity is also contributing to employee stress. It’s having both negative and positive effects on wellbeing. The CIPD report that “by far the most negative impact is the inability to switch off out of work hours (86%)”.

On the flip side, they say “there’s now more expectation on employers to support people’s health.” There’s also recognition that “good work can be good for people’s health.”

Making the case for wellbeing in the workplace

According to the London School of Economics (LSE), higher employee wellbeing is associated with higher productivity and firm performance.

Last year, the LSE published its report ‘Employee Wellbeing, Productivity, and Firm Performance’. They examined data from independent studies accumulated by the American analytics and advisory company, Gallup, which covered the wellbeing and productivity of almost 2 million employees in 73 countries.

They wanted to find out if investing in employee wellbeing leads to higher productivity and if it also has tangible benefits for the bottom line. The LSE focused on the key performance indicators they considered most important from a business perspective:

  • Customer loyalty
  • Employee productivity
  • Business unit profitability
  • Staff turnover

The report concludes that their work “is suggestive of a strong, positive correlation between employee wellbeing, productivity, and firm performance. The evidence-base is steadily mounting that this correlation is, in fact, a causal relationship (running from wellbeing to productivity).”

The authors suggest that interventions aimed at raising productivity should “target the key drivers of wellbeing at work, such as social relationships, making jobs more interesting, and improving work-life balance”.

Employee wellbeing post-lockdown

Employee health and wellbeing is a competitive differentiator for forward-thinking businesses. What was once considered too ‘touchy-feely’ for many employers is more widely accepted as a driver of productivity and employee retention.

But as businesses return to work post-lockdown the focus must turn to productivity and profitability. Beyond hygiene and infection control, are employee wellbeing programmes at risk of being mothballed, or will employers have a renewed focus on the all-round health of their staff? We hope for the latter.


Our drinking water dispensers are available through selected partners