Since the advent of the internet and the popularisation of mobile phones, the way business is done has changed faster than at any point in human history.

Round the clock communications means working hours are largely a thing of the past, with over 3.4 million people in the UK working more than 48 hours per week.

The long hours culture has dragged mental health to the forefront of the human resources agenda. With sickness absence on an upward trajectory year on year, businesses are slowly catching on to the idea that a healthy workforce is a productive workforce.

The Thriving at Work Report found that mental health issues alone cost the UK economy £99 billion, of which £42 billion is borne directly by businesses themselves.

The UK government ‘Work, Health and Disability Green Paper: Improving Lives’ states that an average of 1.8 million employeeshave a long-term sickness absence from work every year.

The facts are clear – sickness absence is a huge cost to business.


The Financial Case for Employee Wellness

The lost productivity days from employee sickness absence is a stark reminder that the cost to business is significant and increasing – the average number of productive days lost through an employee with moderate to severe depression is now over 30, up from 23 in 2013.

It’s not only a problem, it’s a growing problem.

Lost productivity days cost a business in three ways…

  1. Lost revenue from the absent employee.
  2. Salary paid to employee whilst they are off work.
  3. Salary paid to employee for cover.


Too many employers see employee wellness as a cost rather than an investment, not understanding the long-term return on the upfront cost.  

This isn’t the case - in a recent review of existing workplace wellness initiatives carried out by Deloitte, the researchers found every £1 invested returned between £1.50 and £9. We’ll return to the financial aspects of employee wellness later in the article.


Choosing The Right Workplace Wellbeing Initiative

Essentially there are two directions you can go in when it comes to employee wellness – an active or passive approach.

An active approach sees you take control of the situation. You bring in professional services, build facilities and make employee wellness a priority. You engage in digital health solutions, encouraging staff members to take advantage of digital health services and incentivising people to do so.

Using a digital health platform, there are significant participation incentives, boosting the uptake of the programme…

  • Staff members can access the package from an array of devices (phone, tablet, laptop, computer).
  • Participants can do it in their own time, focussing more deeply on the help.
  • Access is private, removing any social concerns they may have about participating in a mental health programme.
  • Access can be in the privacy of their own home, putting them in a more relaxed mental state, where they’ll benefit further.


An alternative is a passive approach, whereby you provide discounts to external options, such as reduced gym memberships. These schemes are typically poor performing as they only engage the staff members who would use a gym anyway.

Their success rate in creating behaviour change is very low and as such, money is lost on the scheme.

Engaging a workforce in a digital health initiative can be the cornerstone of an effective employee wellness programme. With mental health being the prime mover in the majority of employee wellness issues, taking care of this one aspect is fundamental to reducing sickness absence generally.


Implementation and Adherence Tactics For Wellness Schemes

The benefits of workplace health initiatives are felt directly by the employees who participate within them, followed by the business in the wider sense.

Any workplace wellness initiative will only be successful if it is promoted from the senior levels of an organisation. By creating a culture of wellness from the top of the organisational tree, employees will naturally engage further down the hierarchy.

Here are a few tactics to boost adherence to a workplace health initiative…

  • Give the wellbeing initiative publicity. If people don’t know about it, they won't engage with it.
  • Incentivise engagement – top performers can be rewarded with vouchers, extra holiday, bonus payments and prizes etc.
  • Bring about friendly inter-department competition. Top performing department wins a prize. Boost engagement in the programme and with each other.
  • Allow time for engagement. If it’s seen as ‘extracurricular’, it’s less likely to be followed.
  • Most importantly, make it part of the fabric and culture of the organisation.


Taking advantage of a digital solution means that the wellness package is intrinsically more likely to be adhered to, given the comfort and ease with which most of us use technology nowadays.

Employers also remove a barrier to entry – if employees can access the wellness help via the technology they use every day, it’s one less hurdle to overcome when it comes to encouraging employee engagement.


Company Benefits Of Successful Workplace Health Initiatives

The Healthy Work: Evidence Into Action report highlights a number of real-life examples of effective workplace health initiatives, their costs and associated benefits.

A snapshot of the report includes…

A 2014 report by Oxford Economics which finds that the cost of replacing a lost staff member costs £30,614. This cost is derived from two areas…

  1. Agency fees/advertising for new staff member/lost management time for interview process.
  2. Wages paid to the new starter until they reach full productivity (an average of 28 weeks before full productivity is reached).


There are also costs to a business from ‘presenteeism’ – where a staff member returns to work despite suffering from a physical or mental health problem. They operate at significantly less than full capacity, hurting their productivity.

A study by the Sainsbury Medical Centre suggests that presenteeism due to mental health costs businesses 1.8 times more than absenteeism. This figure has been backed up by further research from academics in the field.

Additionally, there are financial savings and positive returns on investment from successful workplace health initiatives. Using a physical and mental health example from the report, you can see from the figures below exactly how successful the correct initiative is…

British Gas introduced a staff wellness initiative. They saw a 43% reduction in absenteeism from injury, benefitting the business by £1,660 per employee who participated. The total return on investment was £31 saving for every £1 spent.

Using mental health specifically, the report highlights a 500 worker organisation with a mental health initiative. The cost of their programme was £40,000 and they saved £387,722 – over £9 saved for every £1 spent.


Employee Wellbeing Interventions – The Conclusion

Using data from a wide variety of reports, we can successfully conclude that employee health and wellbeing should be high on the agenda of any business. By investing the in the health of your most valuable resource, your staff, you’ll positively affect both staff morale and the company bottom line.

Encouraging adherence to the right employee health initiative could be the key to reducing sickness absence and dramatically boosting staff health, morale and productivity.

How can we help?

Evolyst are currently developing a tool to help you understand & analyse mental health in your business and assist in building your mental health strategy.  

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Written by Steve Hoyles

Steve Hoyles BSc(Hons) M.Inst.SRM.Dip previously worked in health club management and alongside the NHS for 5 years, before setting up his own business. Hoyles Fitness was established to offer Personal Training and Corporate Fitness solutions, providing both online and in-person health and fitness coaching.

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