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What is workplace wellbeing?

31st January 2024

workplace wellbeing team meeting

Workplace wellbeing refers to all aspects of working life – from the environment we work in, to our workload and interactions.

With more than a third of our lives spent at work, workplace wellbeing should be a top priority for all businesses. Having optimal physical and mental wellbeing, positive relationship interactions, a sense of fulfilment, contentment, and life satisfaction can all be considered as marks of good health. However, wellbeing is a dynamic concept which can change based on an individual’s circumstances.

Did you know that the average employee spends 50% of their waking hours at work? Increasingly often, blurred boundaries between home and working life can make it difficult to separate home and work life stressors. There can be a crossover of personal issues, worries regarding the cost-of-living crisis, mental health issues, workplace stress and burnout. Therefore, prioritising employee wellbeing should be a key focus area for organisations. Employees who feel valued and supported are more likely to be happier, motivated and more productive.

How can physical and mental health impact wellbeing?

Wellbeing can be encompassed in a theory known as the biopsychosocial model of health.  The biopsychosocial model of health is an interdisciplinary model consisting of three core factors:

  • Biological Health
  • Psychological Health
  • Social Health

These three factors include the many various areas of wellbeing stemming from biological, physical, mental, emotional, social, environmental, and even financial drivers. As the interactions of these different areas can influence the development of ill-health or disease over time, adopting healthy lifestyle behaviours such as healthy eating, physical activity, a good sleep regime and positive social interactions can help enhance health and wellbeing and reduce the risk of disease.

What is ‘wellbeing washing’ – and how do I avoid it?

The phenomenon known as “wellbeing washing” refers to the situation where businesses publicly show their interest in employee wellbeing. This may be posting on social media platforms and hosting health awareness days; but crucially, failing to implement any real internal support mechanisms for their workforce to provide genuine commitment to employee wellbeing. If meaningful support options include establishing supportive line management processes, providing an employee assistance programme, or implementing wellbeing training or workshops, then ‘wellbeing washing’ refers to companies who appear as “all talk and no action”.

An increasing number of organisations are taking steps to support employee wellbeing, with research showing that 71% of organisations are participating in wellbeing awareness days. However, employees from just one in three of these organisations reported that their organisation practices what they preach and offer good internal mental health support. This suggests that two thirds of organisations do not offer tangible employee benefits or support mechanisms that meaningfully impact their employees, despite claiming to offer increased awareness. This can lead to employee perceptions that their organisation is insincere in its efforts and can leave employees feeling undervalued.

Even with the best objectives and aims, wellbeing washing can occur unintentionally in the drive to retain talent and the reduction of staff turnover and the associated costs.

How can employers reduce the risk of wellbeing washing?

When it comes to making good employee wellbeing decisions to support your workforce, it’s important to focus on offering practical support – and importantly, embedding wellbeing into the heart of your company culture.

  • Ensure robust support mechanisms are in place by establishing supportive and family friendly policies and procedures
  • Encourage senior leaders and line managers to lead by example
  • Encourage healthy boundary setting to ensure optimum work-life balance
  • Demonstrate good psychological safety, allowing employees to feel safe opening up without fear of retribution
  • Make employees feel like they matter by giving them a voice on how best to support them by conducting engagement surveys or employee forum groups
  • Be transparent when it comes to your dedication to employee wellbeing; provide feedback outcome reports and regularly evaluate your health and wellbeing interventions to fully address employee concerns
  • Ensure that your organisation’s communication regarding health and wellbeing is genuine, both internally and externally to reassure both employees and stakeholders alike that you mean business.

Why is workplace wellbeing so important?

ACAS recently reported poor mental health costs £30 billion through lost productivity, absenteeism and recruitment costs – with absenteeism estimated to cost the average UK business £554 per employee every year!

Presenteeism – when employees are present at work but unproductive – is estimated to  cost as much as £19 million every year. What’s more, 21% of employees recently reported that they avoid taking sick leave as they don’t want to let colleagues down, and 10% reported they feel pressured by their employer to be in work. Other reasons cited were low sick pay, financial worries, job insecurity, excessive workload and loyalty to their organisation. Even more concerning, 35% of organisations reported that employees use annual leave to take time off when sick or to complete work tasks when on rest days or weekends, a new concept known as Leaveism.

Working when unwell can result in reduced productivity, employee burnout and poor customer service. That’s why it’s important for organisations to provide employees with the reassurance that they can take time off if they need to and only return when they feel well enough to do so.

Why should employers invest in wellbeing?

Implementing organisational wellbeing strategies provides employees with the necessary tools and resources, to help them prioritise and manage their own health and wellbeing. In turn, this can help reduce absenteeism rates and presenteeism risk.

Establishing clear guidance for employees regarding attending work while unwell emphasises the importance of prioritising their health. This also demonstrates that the organisation values their wellbeing and encourages them to take time off without fear of negative consequences, and therefore, presenteeism can be reduced. This helps to promote a healthier and more productive work environment.

Employees who perceive their organisation to be investing in, and genuinely concerned about their employee wellbeing, are more likely to feel motivated, engaged, more productive and have a sense of achievement. Furthermore, those who feel supported and encouraged to contribute are more likely to stay with the company. A study by Forbes found 45% of employees stay at their company longer because of their wellbeing offering. This in turn reduces the costs associated with recruitment, onboarding processes and training requirements. The same Forbes research also found that more than 50% of Millennials and Gen Z prioritise organisations who deliver wellbeing programmes and benefit packages when seeking new employment. Prioritising wellbeing not only benefits employees but also generates substantial advantages for the company, creating a more sustainable and prosperous work culture.

How can my organisation demonstrate a real commitment to employee wellbeing?

First of all, you want to consider your Employee Value Proposition (EVP). So, what is this? Your Employee Value Proposition is the package of company benefits beyond basic salary that you provide to employees in recognition of their contributions, helping to retain talent and attract potential employees.

An Employee Value Proposition may include:

  • Compensation and benefits: This includes annual salary, as well as additional rewards such as performance related bonuses, health cash plans and insurance, pension and retirement plans
  • Career development opportunities: Providing opportunities for professional growth such as training courses, coaching and mentoring workshops, and career advancement
  • Work-life balance: Encouraging a healthy work-life balance through family friendly policies, flexible working, and hybrid or remote working opportunities
  • Recognition and rewards: Informally acknowledging employee contributions, such as employee of the month initiatives, formal awards, or other incentives
  • Employee wellbeing: Offering wellbeing training and workshops that promote physical & mental health and wellbeing.

If your organisation is aiming to expand its wellbeing offering or you require assistance in developing or expanding your wellbeing strategy, Health@Work has services and expert consultants available to provide guidance and support throughout the process – including the Workplace Wellbeing Charter, a variety of training packages, employee health check services, and a range of health & wellbeing focused employee benefits.

How can I measure workplace wellbeing?

Workplace wellbeing is not only the physical and mental health of employees. It extends to the broader dimensions of working life, workplace environment, and employee perceptions of their work and their employer. Prioritising employee health and implementing wellbeing interventions helps to mitigate stress and create a positive working environment, where employees not only maintain good health but also experience fulfilment and satisfaction in their roles helping to safeguard the vitality of your business. You can find out more on our blog here.

Workplace wellbeing is a multifaceted and dynamic concept encompassing occupational and individual health. Demonstrating a genuine commitment to employee wellbeing via EVP components such as compensation, career development, work-life balance, recognition, and employee wellbeing initiatives can improve motivation, satisfaction and productivity. Prioritising employee wellbeing not only benefits individuals but also yields substantial advantages for organisations, promoting a sustainable and prosperous work culture.

If you would like some further information regarding the Workplace Wellbeing Charter or training packages, please call Health@Work on 0151 236 6608 or visit our website Health@Work – Workplace Wellbeing Experts (