Despite the growing understanding of, and focus on, workplace wellbeing, current practice built on the legacy of occupational health and individual wellness is simply not delivering results.
Employee participation in workplace wellbeing initiatives is low, and key indicators of how employees are faring at work are alarming. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), for example, published research showing that approximately “one in four workers report that their job has a negative impact on their mental or physical health … One in five say that they always or often feel ‘exhausted’ at work, a similar proportion say they are under ‘excessive pressure’ and one in ten say they are ‘miserable’.” Such figures are highly concerning, not just for those individuals but also for the organisations they work for. As a consequence, these organisations are likely to be performing significantly below their full potential. Organisations work tirelessly and invest substantially in ensuring their technology and machinery works to optimal efficiency. Yet they so often overlook or fail to apply the same strategic focus on the wellbeing of their employees.
At WellWise we have spoken to many leaders who are experiencing ‘wellbeing paralysis’. They are overwhelmed by the wealth of information and guidance available, and despite years of investment are not seeing the results they expected. They are rooted to their current position and are not clear on how to navigate forward.
While absenteeism rates in the UK almost halved between 1993 and 2008, there has been little change in absenteeism rates over the last decade. Rates of presenteeism are climbing steadily, jumping from 20.3 days per employee in 2014 to 35 days per employee in 2019. Several experts believe that lower reported absenteeism rates may actually be a result of the increase in presenteeism rather than a genuine decline in illness, and the associated costs in the workplace.
Moreover, presenteeism is a much more serious issue facing employers. It is estimated by Unilever to account for three times as much lost productivity as absenteeism. Some of the reasons for presenteeism are explored in a Chartered Accountants’ Benevolent Association (CABA) report into wellbeing in the accounting profession. It states that 35% of employees admitted they are scared to take sick days and 21% terrified to arrive late even when they have a legitimate reason. A control and fear-driven culture of this nature is highly damaging to organisations and yet, often an unseen threat.
A further indication that the increased focus on workplace wellbeing is failing to achieve genuine change is found in the soaring rates of ‘leaveism’. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘always on’ culture made possible by the rise of digital technology. A survey by the insurance company Aviva, found that leaveism can result in as much as 2 hours 29 minutes additional out-of-hours work each day for some employees. This equates to an additional 16 days of work each year. Unfortunately, leaveism is now becoming entrenched at epidemic levels. Seventy-three percent of respondents to a CIPD survey reported that they had observed leaveism in their workplace over the previous 12 months. More concerning still is the finding from the same survey, that only 32% of organisations who had observed leaveism had taken any action to address the issue.
Employers may feel they are getting more ‘bang’ for their salary buck, however, like presenteeism, leaveism presents a significant hidden risk to overall organisational performance. Those who regularly participate in leaveism or presenteeism are more likely to suffer ‘burnout’ and pose a significant financial burden. Burnt-out employees are less productive and engaged, and make more mistakes. As result, they are estimated to cost their employers 34% of their annual salary. Both presenteeism and leaveism, if left unaddressed, risk becoming cultural norms that spread throughout the organisation.