Action by employers

How employers influence health

Employers can influence the health of their employees, for better or worse, in many different ways. Workload, the work environment, communication, working relationships, hours worked and working patterns can all make a difference – with stress and musculoskeletal disorders (like chronic back pain) some of the more common avoidable reasons for staff sick leave.

For instance, millions of employees spend long hours sat at work stations, check outs and in meetings. That’s bad for their health. Yet there are many low-cost ways employers can encourage more physical activity at work.

For employers interested in taking action to improve health at work there are now accrediting bodies for health and well being at work in England. Scotland and Wales.

This should be a win-win for employers – as fitter staff are likely to take less sick leave and be more productive.


How employee health influences the bottom line

The Health and Safety Executive reports that over 11 million days are lost at work because of stress at work. And 40% of all work days lost due to ill-health in 2014/15 were attributed to musculoskeletal disorders - pain or injury which impacts the joints, bones and muscles, as well as back problems. Common risk factors include repetitive strain, sitting or standing in awkward positions and heavy lifting.

Meanwhile, in their 2020 report, Deloitte calculated that poor mental health is costing UK employers up to £45 billion a year.

In addition, 17 million sick leave days each year are attributed to alcohol, while smokers claim more sick days than non-smokers each year and take more breaks during the working day.


Checklist for employers

What are you already doing to encourage Health and Wellbeing at Work? Here are some questions, to help you see how far you are down the road and where some further action might be needed.



1. We have a Health at Work Policy and this includes mental health



2. We have Health/Wellbeing Champions



3. We arrange regular staff wellbeing surveys – and act on the findings



4. We help employees manage factors that may influence health – including workload, the work environment, communication, working relationships, hours worked and working patterns


5. We undertake health risk assessments for all employees, including what is needed to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal problems


6. We provide a Smoke Free environment



7. We ensure lighting and temperature can easily be controlled by employees


8. We encourage employees to contribute to Health at Work initiatives, including taking their suggestions on board


9. We encourage and support employees wishing to take part in physical activity (for instance through cycle to work schemes, gym membership discounts, sports teams etc.)


10. We suggest practical ways employees can avoid spending all day in sedentary activities or staring at computer screens


11. We identify and address the common causes of chronic stress and work-related mental health issues


12. We encourage employees to be open about mental health and support them if issues arise


13. We ensure all employees have clearly defined roles and clear expectations about what the role involves


14. We provide clear, achievable routes for career development



15. We provide a forum where employees can raise job or work concerns



16. We ensure line managers offer the employees they are managing regular meetings to discuss work-related issues


17. We regularly measure job satisfaction across the organisation and take action where issues are identified


18. We offer flexible working where feasible



19. We actively encourage work-life balance, rather than a long hours culture


20 We are aware of the health implications of night shifts/working through the night and are taking action to minimise adverse health effects


21. We arrange training for HR staff on mental health



22. We invite dieticians or reputable weight management organisations to talk to employees about healthy eating


23. We provide Return to Work interviews following sickness absence, where appropriate putting reasonable adjustments in place.



24. We arrange external Health checks for employees at least once every 3 years


25. We provide access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), an Occupational Health service or a counselling service



How much you can afford to do will, of course, depend on your circumstances as an employer. However, many of these initiatives require little budget commitment. If they reduce sickness absence and staff turnover, while increasing staff engagement and productivity, then they are likely to prove a sound investment.