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Why workplace culture matters and the shifting role of employers

Published: 15/09/2021

The dynamics of workplace culture are changing in line with evolving employee expectations, so hiring line managers that help cultivate a supportive and inclusive workplace is key, writes Judy Parfitt, Chief People Officer at Vitality.

We spend a lot of time working. When not in the grip of a global pandemic, the average full-time employee works around 37 hours every week, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show1. So, as anyone who has had a bad experience knows, being unhappy at work has a major impact on our health and wellbeing.

Factors that affect how we feel about our jobs tend to include our working relationships, whether our work has meaning, and the hours we are expected to do. However, arching over all such concerns is simply the way we are treated. For employees who feel valued, work can be a fundamentally positive force.

“Unless company culture is conducive to a supportive working environment, even a first-class benefits programme is unlikely to have the desired effect."

- Judy Parfitt, Chief People Officer at Vitality
But for those who feel their efforts are not appreciated, it’s a cross to bear, not a place to shine. To encourage high levels of employee engagement and performance, employers therefore need to take a good look at their organisation’s values, leadership and culture – and act to improve them where they can.

The impact of social issues at work

Much as our working lives impact our overall wellbeing, social issues such as debt, domestic violence, and mental health also have a profound effect on our performance at work. This has been particularly true recently, as the restrictions imposed to contain Covid-19 further blurred the lines between work and home life. Statistics suggest there is still a long way to go before employees’ wellbeing needs are met.

Only 27% of UK employees feel their employer cares about their overall wellbeing, according to a recent Gallup poll2.

The good news, however, is that a growing number of employers now recognise the value of benefits programmes offering financial education and advice, as well as support for those struggling with poor mental health.

According to insurance broker Willis Towers Watson, 75% of UK companies plan to improve their mental health services in the wake of the pandemic3. The fact remains, though, that unless company culture is conducive to a supportive working environment, even a first-class benefits programme is unlikely to have the desired effect.

The power of good line managers

Employers naturally seek outperformance. But pushing people without offering them the support they need to manage the associated stress and fatigue can lead to high levels of employee burnout – now classified by the World Health Organisation as an “occupational phenomenon”.

It’s a common problem in the UK, especially at the moment. According to a Mental Health UK survey conducted earlier this year, one in five employees feel “unable to manage stress and pressure in the workplace”4.

This is bad news for employers as well as their employees, as burnouts mean absences, underperformance, and the loss of talented, otherwise highly engaged individuals to rival companies. So, it is in employers’ interests to work towards achieving sustainable performance that avoids a destructive cycle of short-term gains and costly burnouts. And the best way to do this is to ensure workers feel valued and able to voice their worries and concerns.

How can this be achieved?

Employing good line managers is a great place to start. While CIPD statistics show that 25% of employees rarely or never have the opportunity to raise concerns or share ideas to improve the organisation, among those who do feel they have a voice, the overwhelming majority use it with their line managers5.

Couple this with the fact your immediate boss, or line manager, has a massive impact on your working life, and it’s hardly surprising that research indicates employee engagement is 70% influenced by line managers6.

From signposting issues before they become crises, to promoting benefits and providing a bridge between employees and executives, line managers are a vital part of any supportive culture strategy.

Three steps to creating a more resilient workplace

By building a supportive culture, employers can cultivate the circumstances employees need to perform to the best of their ability long term. Here are three steps that businesses can take to achieve this:

  • Go beyond isolated initiatives


    Develop a business case and strategy for creating a supportive workplace environment.

  •     Listen to your workforce    


    Encourage two-way communication and give line managers the training and support they need to be your eyes and ears on the ground.

  •                    Aim high                   


    Don’t settle for a ‘do no harm’ approach, make changes that will truly help your people to flourish.

Mastering Wellbeing at Work

You can learn more about how to help employers create healthier, happier workplaces by taking our comprehensive CPD digital learning series for advisers: Mastering Wellbeing at Work.

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Where to next?

  • Measuring ROI: The case for employee wellbeing

    With no playbook for measuring return on investment (ROI) for wellbeing initiatives, where on earth should employers start?

  • Employers must embrace 'demand for different'

    Organisations need to bridge the significant gap that exists between homeworkers’ hopes and employer expectations, writes Vitality CEO Neville Koopowitz.

  •               Insights Hub                 

    Our Insights Hub brings you our range of adviser content - from video series to articles & blogs.

1. Average actual weekly hours of work for full-time workers, ONS, July 2021
2. Why UK leaders need to build trust with their employees, Gallup, June 2020
3. Emerging Trends in Health Care Delivery, Willis Towers Watson, April 2021
4. Burnout poll, Mental Health UK, March 2021
5. Health and Wellbeing at Work 2021, CIPD, April 2021
6. State of the American Manager, Gallup, April 2015