Wellbeing: Proactive or Reactive?



04 October 2021

Research and analysis published by The Department for Work and Pensions in July highlights some interesting trends and differences in how employers shape their approach to workforce health and wellbeing issues.

The research was published alongside the Health is everyone’s business consultation response, and reflects a survey of employers undertaken before the arrival of COVID-19 in the UK.   And although the findings may have been somewhat overtaken by the health crisis that followed, it still provides a useful indicator as to employer attitudes and actions in this increasingly important area.

So what does this research tell us?

Proactive or Reactive?

One of the key findings is how employers perceived their approach to workforce health and wellbeing issues, with more than half (55%) of the employers surveyed describing their approach as “reactive”. 

This indicates that the majority of employers are perhaps not taking the challenges of health and wellbeing as seriously as they should.  Yet the research also highlighted a significant difference in the support offered to workers.  Indeed the report states;

“A proactive approach was more common amongst large (72%) than small employers (44%)”

And then suggests that this disparity in employer support might stem from the more regular encounters of sickness absence within larger organisations.  The document goes on to say that;

“large employers are more likely to have experienced long-term sickness absence than their smaller counterparts”

And this assertion is supported by the experience figures of 86% and 15% for the two employer groupings respectively. 

Incidence v Impact

Of course the above findings are only to be expected.

After all an organisation with 50,000 employees will encounter long-term absences on a daily basis, so it makes sense that many large employers are combatting these regularly occurring problems with investments in health and wellbeing initiatives and support.

Whereas an employer with just 50 workers might well go many years without a long-term staff absence issue arising. 

Yet, paradoxically, when a long-term absence does arise a smaller employer may feel the impact to their business and bottom-line far more acutely than their larger counterparts.  This is because an employer with fewer resources and personnel will often find it far more difficult to cover the workload of a long-term absentee.

Protecting your workforce

The reality is that employers of all sizes face real challenges in the area of long-term sickness absence, and therefore have good reason to invest time and money in policies and practices that can support health and wellbeing in the workplace. 

And the need to do so is now probably even greater than it was when the research was first undertaken.  Many UK businesses are desperate to bounce-back to full productivity after eighteen months of restrictions, and that goal is only likely to be achieved if employees are fit, well, and (of course) able to work. 

So we would urge many more employers to engage with workforce health and wellbeing initiatives for the first time, or to revisit what is already available to ensure that the offering remains fit for purpose.  Tools that can be deployed include remote access to a GP, the better use of the humble Fit NoteGroup Income Protection policies, and (of course) company-sponsored private healthcare.    

For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options.  

Published 04/10/21

Steve Herbert

Steve Herbert

Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.

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