Healthy workforce, healthy business

New insight from the Financial Times and Vitality has spotlighted the relationship between employee health and productivity showing that in 2023, UK employers lost nearly 50 days of work per employee to ill health.

Whilst health interventions and support are provided by many businesses, the research has highlighted the need for workplace change. In particular it shows the need to remove individual barriers, promote a nurturing culture and empower people to reinforce both their health and their career.

1. Identify productivity problem areas

If businesses are to introduce workplace change that champions worker wellbeing, the factors inhibiting productivity need to be determined first. For instance, a lack of investment in upskilling staff has contributed to the UK’s low productivity. Other productivity barriers include a failure to acknowledge employees who are not performing and presenteeism – where people continue working despite ill health.

With numerous productivity barriers at play, businesses will need to outline the biggest offenders and understand the extent of their impact on the workforce to inform meaningful change.

2. Change ways of working

Modifying ways of working can be a fruitful avenue to deliver positive business change and support employee mental health. For example, hybrid working models are popular for the flexibility they grant workers. The ability to work in different environments allows people to strike a more harmonious balance between their personal and professional lives. This is undeniably to the benefit of individual mental health.

Hybridity also removes performance barriers. As a result, workers can choose where they want to complete certain tasks and group work can be conducted in person. Similarly, tasks that require more focus, such as complex administrative work, can be undertaken in a quiet home setting. This can help the health/productivity relationship to flourish. After all, the better workers perform, the greater their sense of achievement and self-esteem.

4. Address individual barriers

Health is incredibly subjective, so it is essential businesses understand individual experiences when tackling productivity problems. For example, this could involve considering the impact of physical and psychological menopausal symptoms on employees. Honest, two-way, communication is a must to support this endeavour. To what extent are symptoms affecting individuals’ capacity to work? What change initiatives can be implemented to support workers through the menopause?

Businesses should couple this with an assessment of existing support measures to determine where improvements can be made. Increasing workflow flexibility or shaping a culture that prioritises employee wellbeing can make all the difference to employee performance.

4. Encourage cultural change

A compassionate, open work environment that seeks to understand and support individual health experiences is without doubt more likely to bring out the workforce’s potential.

Effective cultural change can start with top-down encouragement to make time for self-care. This could be as simple as leaders taking their team for a 30-minute walk at lunch or introducing informal, virtual catch ups throughout the week to break up siloes and stressful periods. Other steps for positive cultural change include:

  • Nominating a health champion
  • Establishing group discussions to share and problem-solve barriers
  • Clearly signposting support measures

Developing this culture will make it easier for businesses to recognise and address the health and productivity challenges facing employees.

Above all, people are a business’ powerhouse. Workplace change should be viewed as a tool to look after it.