Blog Wellbeing

Workplace wellbeing: The impact of poor physical health at work

The nineteenth annual Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey by the CIPD, in partnership with SimplyHealth, surveyed over a thousand organisations across the UK. 61% of respondents agree that employee wellbeing is on the agenda of senior leaders, up from 55% in 2018. Today, we're going over the importance of physical wellbeing and the facts about poor health at work.

Workplace wellbeing is a very broad concept. It can mean a lot of different things. It can also be affected by a wide variety of factors from in and outside of the workplace.

That's why we're following up on our recent piece about why organisations should care about the wellbeing of their staff. We'll be discussing five different areas of employee wellbeing over the next few weeks:

  • Physical wellbeing
  • Mental wellbeing
  • Financial wellbeing
  • Social wellbeing
  • Digital wellbeing (added in 2022)

How common is poor health at work?

Physical wellbeing is probably the best understood area of workplace wellbeing in general. When someone takes an unplanned absence from work, your first assumption (bar skiving) might be that they are probably sick or injured. Some professions come with a higher degree of physical risk. HSE found that of the 147 workplace deaths reported from 2018 to 2019, the most deaths (32) were attributed to agriculture, forestry and fishing combined. This was closely followed by construction at 30.

But dangerous workplaces aren't the only ones with issues

Measures to ensure physical wellbeing can be found in all kinds of workplaces. It's not all heavy safety gear and luminescent signage. Even in office environments, you'll find monitors that reduce eye-strain, and ergonomically designed equipment to lower the risk of RSI.

Fancy chairs and computers might not seem that important. But musculoskeletal disorders cost businesses 6.9 million working days from 2018 to 2019, according to government stats. This accounted for 37% of work-related illnesses in that time-frame. The construction industry had the highest rate of musculoskeletal disorders, with over 2,000 out of every 100,000 workers.

The CIPD's survey found that this type of disorder was in the top three causes of long-term absence. The other two were poor mental health and stress, which we'll be discussing in later instalments.

Poor health at work often starts with injuries

However, another growing issue in the UK workforce related to physical wellbeing is that of "presenteeism." This is the practice of working while ill or working more hours than required. According to the CIPD's findings, four fifths of respondents said they had witnessed it in the previous twelve months. A quarter of those said they believed it had increased in that time.

On the other hand, almost none believed it to have decreased. Only a third of organisations where presenteeism was witnessed were taking steps to discourage it despite the negative impact of poor health at work.

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Why physical wellbeing is important

Presenteeism poses a real threat to workplace health. If someone continues working while they're sick, they will inevitably take longer to recover. And if they're contagious, bringing them into the office is a sure-fire way to infect the rest of your staff.

A US study found that millennials are the most likely age group to work while sick. 39% of employees aged 25 to 40 reported coming to work ill whenever they felt symptoms. Of the overall sample, 9 out of 10 reported working while ill at least once, with a third never taking sick days.

When asked about their reasons, the most popular one given was having too much work. The second-most commonly given reason not wanting to use up an allotted sick day.

Similarly, there is also the issue of "leaveism." This is the practice of using allotted holiday time to recover from illness or deal with workloads.

Almost two thirds of the CIPD's respondents said they had witnessed this at work. Half had observed colleagues working out of contracted hours. And finally, over a third had seen coworkers use allocated time off while unwell.

Only around a quarter of organisations where leaveism was a problem had taken steps to discourage it in the twelve months leading up to the study's publication. But leavism is a serious issue that puts physical and mental wellbeing at risk. Staff need the proper time away to recuperate effectively, meaning it risks your bottom line too.

Photo by Sage Friedman on Unsplash

But wellbeing is about more than physical health

The CIPD has stressed the importance of a holistic approach to workplace wellbeing. Physical wellbeing is probably be the most well-understood. But it's important to understand the extent to which different kinds of workplace wellbeing can overlap and influence each other.

Prolonged periods of stress can exacerbate pre-existing conditions, and will reduce the body's ability to fight off infection. That's just one way in which poor mental health can bleed into your physical wellbeing.

Poor financial wellbeing can limit someone's ability to take care of themselves, inviting poor physical health. One in fifty households in the UK used a food bank from 2018 to 2019, for example. There is a large body of evidence suggesting food banks do not meet the dietary or accessibility needs of those using them.

But it can be difficult to make allowances for poor physical health without proper communication. Digital platforms can enable businesses to manage poor health at work more effectively. Our weekly check-in feature is the perfect tool to make sure your employees have everything they need to work healthily and effectively.

Flexible working arrangements, particularly remote working, can be very useful for managing physical workplace wellbeing. That's true whether it's for contagious illnesses or long-term health conditions by reducing the risk of infection, or just taking away the additional stress of daily travel. Weekly10 uses smart goals and OKRs to keep staff in the loop and able to contribute no matter where they are.

If you think your business might benefit from any of our services, then we have a variety of demo options for you to check out!

Interested in learning how Weekly10's habit-forming employee check-in can help keep wellbeing at the forefront of all you do?