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Employees are navigating a perfect storm this winter

Published: 14/12/2022

As the UK continues to face the fall-out of the pandemic, low productivity levels and a cost of living crisis, employers will play a crucial role in supporting the health and wellbeing of staff over the coming months, writes Vitality at Work Director, Jill Pritchard.

The pandemic was a watershed moment for the way we work in the UK, catalysing shifts such as remote and hybrid working, changing employee expectations as well as driving greater awareness of the importance of health and wellbeing.

As we continue to grapple with the fallout from the pandemic and with the country now heading into recession amid a worsening cost-of-living crisis, strong economic headwinds and a shrinking workforce, employees are likely to find themselves navigating a perfect storm this winter.

The recent publication of our 2022 data for Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, the UK’s largest employee wellbeing survey, paints a detailed picture of the state of the British workforce today. Uniquely this year, the results also give us an insight into the impact of many of the changes brought on as a result of the pandemic.

As well allowing us to assess the health and wellbeing challenges faced by UK workers, the research and associated awards also serve to highlight the opportunities that exist for businesses to drive positive change and offer meaningful support for their employees, at a time when it is more needed than ever. 

“As the UK enters a perfect storm of pressures facing employees this winter, there has never been a more important time to place health and wellbeing on the business agenda,”

- Jill Pritchard, Vitality at Work Director

Health and wellbeing impacting productivity

Whilst good health and wellbeing is clearly important to individual employees, there are also wider economic imperatives for why this needs to be on the agenda. According to the latest Britain’s Healthiest Workplace findings productivity losses are up 39% since the previous survey in 2019 – an economic cost to the UK of around £30bn.

Health issues are a significant reason for the UK’s poor levels of productivity and shrinking workforce, one of the factors impacting growth. One in five of respondents to our survey indicated they were suffering from burnout, typically losing 93 productive days as a result. Meanwhile, 10% of respondents reported symptoms of depression, impacting their productivity even more at 110 productive days lost on average per year, double the productivity loss compared to those not at risk.

Driving change

While the outlook may appear gloomy, businesses can be at the forefront of driving change through placing a greater emphasis on employee health and wellbeing. Understanding what measures actually work, though, is clearly crucial and they should be more than just a sticking plaster.

Staff health and wellbeing is an issue that needs to be addressed at both management and board level and one that requires serious attention, more so than ever. According to the latest Britain’s Healthiest Workplace findings productivity losses are up 39% since the previous survey in 2019 – an economic cost to the UK of around £30bn.

All this can play into conversations that employers of all sizes are having around meeting organisational environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards. Whilst much of the focus has tended to be on environmental issues, employee health can form a key component of a business’s ‘social’ ESG strategies.

Those who do provide sufficient health and wellbeing support will be able to offer a tangible demonstration that they’re looking after their people at a time when it’s needed the most. This is not only good for staff, but it can also provide obvious benefits to the business too and help society, by making people healthier, more productive and easing our national health burden.

Given what’s on the horizon for employees - from poor mental health exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis to ongoing pressures on the NHS - supporting staff wellbeing and providing fast, seamless access to healthcare will be more warmly welcomed by staff than ever. This too will offer significant retention benefits to employers at a time when recruiting talent is still proving a challenge.

End-to-end care

Alongside many of the benefits that group private medical insurance (PMI) cover can provide, primary care such as access to private GPs and mental health support can be particularly valuable. Our own findings highlighted that where businesses offered flexible primary care solutions, employees reported lower than average productivity days lost per year.

But long before a claim needs to be made, a key element of improving employee health and wellbeing has to start with prevention. Of the illnesses which made up the overall UK disease burden, around half are preventable and a staggering 90% of these down to lifestyle choices.1

Delivering effective solutions that help employees maintain good physical and mental health can drive improved overall wellbeing. In the past it may have been considered enough to provide fruit in the office or healthier food options in the canteen, but there is a growing recognition that more wide-ranging measures are needed.

For wellbeing support to be truly effective, it also requires engagement and with this comes behavioural change for the better for employees. We believe this can be achieved through incentivisation and rewarding people for making positive lifestyle changes and health improvements. Furthermore, at a time of tightening budgets, rewards and discounts through partner services can also help people save money and deliver immediate value.

Accessible and Engaging Solution

The good news for employers is that comprehensive, highly effective and engaging health and wellbeing support can be delivered all in one place and it doesn’t need to cost a fortune.

By providing employees with a complete end-to-end service of preventative personalised wellbeing support, alongside primary and secondary healthcare, businesses can help drive better health and wellbeing outcomes for their people.

This can all be delivered through a digitally led solution, that connects the various health and wellbeing benefits and services. Digitisation also helps to drive greater employee engagement by supplying them with the tools needed outside the confines of the workplace, alongside nudges and incentivisation, which in turn drives up productivity through positive lifestyle changes.

Insights into engagement and effectiveness of support services can also provide valuable information for HR and business leaders, particularly in understanding the overall health and wellbeing of the employees and where further interventions or support may be required.

We believe such a simple and accessible solution can be the key that unlocks more than just retention benefits, through an evidence-based health promotion programme that incentivises and rewards better lifestyle choices in a way that helps keeps employees healthy and improves productivity.

As the UK enters a perfect storm of pressures facing employees this winter, there has never been a more important time to put health and wellbeing on the business agenda. As our research has highlighted, this not only makes sense for employers, but it is valued by staff and provides benefits to the economy too.

Find out more about how Vitality can support provide employees fast, seamless access to care and help your client’s business improve their employees’ physical and mental wellbeing.

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1 Global Burden of Disease database; Williamson, E., Walker, A. J., Bhaskaran, K. J., Bacon, S., Bates, C., Morton, C. E., ... & Cockburn, J. (2020)