The connection between employee wellbeing and productivity and measurement of absence

Employee wellbeing

The effect of employee wellbeing on productivity rates has long been suspected. Many organisations are now choosing to adopt practices to increase the wellbeing of their staff to get the best out of their business. However not all employers have woken up to this connection and have consequently suffered from lower levels of productivity and higher rates of absence. An estimated 137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the UK in 2016 – equivalent to 4.3 days per worker – it’s important that businesses take note.

What is wellbeing?

Wellbeing is all about the way people feel about their lives – about themselves, their relationships, their home life and also their job. Research has shown that employers can have an important influence on a person’s sense of wellbeing through the way they run their workplace. The work environment can affect the physical and mental health of your staff.

Positive effects on wellbeing

A recent government study on employee wellbeing and its potential impact on workplace performance found that an improvement in wellbeing results had a positive impact on:

  • Profitability
  • Labour productivity
  • Quality of output or services
  • Job satisfaction

How can better wellbeing improve job performance?

Research indicates three ‘causal mechanisms’ when workers feel high levels of wellbeing which lead to higher job performance:

  • Firstly, employees’ cognitive abilities and processes are improved enabling them to think more creatively and to be more effective at problem-solving.
  • Secondly, improved employee attitudes to work increase their likelihood of being co-operative and collaborative.
  • Thirdly, an employee’s improved sense of wellbeing and work performance leads to better general health – improving their cardiovascular health and immunity, enabling speedier recovery from illness, and greater levels of energy.

Negative effects of wellbeing

Work is generally good for people and being employed contributes to positive wellbeing. However, various physical, psychological and social aspects of work can also pose a risk to health.

This year an EU-OSHA report revealed how UK workers reported feeling exposed in the workplace to physical factors such as repetitive movements, lifting or carrying heavy loads or tiring and painful positions (find out how BMW in Germany tackled these issues to improve performance), chemical and vibrations. They also reported increased time pressures and workloads. The impact of mental health is also being increasingly recognised – the OECD estimated in 2014 that the cost of mental health issues to the UK economy was £70bn per year.

A low sense of wellbeing leads to increased levels of absence and sick leave. While there is a general decline in sickness absence, the rate in employee absenteeism remains a concern for employers. A large part of the declining rate of absenteeism will itself be due to employers improving absence management, for example by paying closer attention to staff wellbeing as well as putting in place more robust monitoring and support processes.

Assess your business

Good employers should be concerned about the wellbeing of their staff. Accepting the significant impact of wellbeing in the workplace is an important first step. After that it’s important to keep track of how your staff are doing – review your data and monitoring processes. Then you can consider how the business can encourage improved wellbeing. Good practice in this area contributes to keeping absence rates down.

Sickness absence in the labour market: 2016. Office for National Statistics
Does worker wellbeing affect workplace performance? (2014) By Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.
Impact of Work and Health – key issues (2017) European Agency for Safety & Health at work
Mental health and work (2014) OECD