Sick days and poor productivity from employees with job-related mental health issues and burnout are costing UK businesses over £6bn a year. With more workers than ever suffering from the effects of workplace stress, now is the time for businesses to put solid wellness plans in place.

Well-being at work, however, is often much more than allowing sick leave and making accommodations for physical and/or mental health issues. Considering how to improve well-being at work is no small task, and it is not as easy as adding a few social events to a company calendar. It will take repeated effort on the part of management to introduce a scheme that comprehensively covers the areas that employees highlight as needing support.

What does a poor work-life balance look like?

Nowadays, many employees wish to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Plenty of people want to work to live rather than live to work, and employers need to be prepared to support this. CIPD’s 2023 Good Work Index showed that 43% of the survey’s respondents considered a job to be just a way of earning money, an increase from the 36% of respondents who thought this way in 2019.

Employees’ stress levels and working environments can affect their overall mental health and well-being, and this can then result in an imbalance between their work and personal lives. CIPD’s research also showed that mental health is among the top 3 causes of short-term absences (under four weeks) and is the top cause of long-term absences (over four weeks).

A poor balance can manifest in various ways, but some commonalities exist across many people with such issues. Typically, we can expect to see:

  • Mismanaged work: Constant overtime and overworking, including past company closing hours and at the weekend, missed deadlines (even despite overworking), poor attention to detail
  • Impacted personal and social life: No time allocated to rest and relaxation, ignoring personal and social commitments in favour of work, neglecting hobbies
  • Physical and mental impact: Poor sleep hygiene, aches and pains, emotional burnout, skipping lunch in favour of working, choosing quick unhealthy options over nutritious food when choosing to eat

Living in such a state cannot be maintained for very long, and will result in a period of burnout and potentially even the need to be signed off work if not managed correctly. 1 in 5 UK workers have felt “unable” to manage stress levels at work, and employers need to take a proactive stance against it before this statistic increases. Ensuring that there is a good well-being at work environment in place will give employees the tools they need to manage their working lives as effectively as possible, no matter what might be thrown their way.

What is well-being at work?

Workplace well-being tackles a wide range of areas. Such initiatives can be used to provide support and understanding to employees in areas such as:

  • Mental health
  • Physical health
  • Financial health
  • Emotional health

Employees should be motivated to come to work, deliver their tasks efficiently, and hold a high level of job satisfaction. If the business as a whole undergoes a period of stress and difficulty, there needs to be a robust network in place to help employees with stress management both during this time and after. In fact, 73% of employees affected by change report experiencing moderate to high stress levels.

A healthy workplace will always support its employees. A company with a good employee well-being plan will have the necessary tools in place to help employees through any difficulties they might be facing, while also rewarding them for loyalty, dedication, and efficiency through the good times and the bad.

What is the difference between Employee Well-being and Employee Engagement?

Some managers might make the easy mistake of thinking that employee well-being and engagement are the same. This strictly isn’t true. Though there are some overlaps between the two, they are separate workplace initiatives that should both be undertaken as part of a wider health and well-being strategy.

So, what does employee engagement typically entail?

It is usually institution-based. The organisation as a whole will commit to a certain standard for employees. This can involve reducing turnover, introducing productivity initiatives to improve job performance, and creating employee-led safe spaces where workers can connect with like-minded colleagues.

This is vastly different from employee well-being. Maintaining a work-life balance is going to be different for every individual, and so they need a personal plan tailored to their specific mental health needs. Though there are standardised well-being benefits that can be introduced across all employees, only some of them may opt into certain areas.

In fact, many employee well-being initiatives will most likely include employee engagement in some form or another. However, by including them all under the same umbrella, there will be some crucial areas that could be forgotten. By all means, include employee engagement as part of your overall health and well-being strategy, but ensure that this is not the only way you choose to encourage employees to think about their health and well-being at work.

Why should you invest in workplace wellness?

Whether you are a C-level executive, a department head, a line manager, or anyone else who supervises employees in some capacity, you need to care about employee well-being.

Investing in a workplace health and well-being strategy will put you in the position of actively offering employees the help that they need. A little social after work or a team lunch are nice things to do for employees, but they should not be the only way you make your employees feel valued.

What are some examples of employee well-being initiatives?

No two businesses will have precisely the same employee well-being strategy. When creating a staff well-being plan, it needs to actually address your employees’ concerns. For example, having a cycle-to-work scheme can be good in a city with excellent public cycling links, but is it the best option for a team that mainly works remotely?

There are plenty of options out there for employee assistance programmes, and each one could make a marked difference to employee well-being if included in a plan.

Mental health

  • Occupational health support: access to qualified and reputable counsellors and referrals within work
  • Stress management: workshops and ongoing support to deal with stress
  • Conflict resolution training: training for all to manage difficult situations and de-escalate issues before they get out of hand

Physical health

  • Healthy eating: access to healthy snacks in kitchen or larder spaces, varied and healthy options for provided meals, cooking classes
  • Employee clubs: sports leagues such as football or tennis during lunch or after work hours, walking groups, yoga or stretching
  • Work equipment: access to standing desks, ergonomic chairs, breakout spaces, and other equipment needed for safe and productive work
  • Health and fitness: offer private health insurance, subsidised gym memberships, and other schemes to promote healthy lifestyles

Financial health

  • Personal development and career growth: internal and tailored support from leadership to help employees work towards their career goals, mid-year reviews
  • Pay transparency: honest discussions about salaries both during recruitment and throughout the length of employment
  • Fair pay and good benefits: in addition to pay transparency, ensure fair pay practices are in place, and that all roles can access a fair and flexible benefits scheme
  • Retirement planning: offer pension transparency and access to external retirement planning support

Emotional health

  • In-house support: high job satisfaction with attentive and understanding management
  • Flexible working: allow employees to work around issues outside the office and maintain a positive work/life balance
  • Collaboration: foster a collaborative culture, listen to ideas from every level of the company, introduction of a no-blame culture
  • Paid volunteering hours: allow employees to take a little of their time and give back to the causes and communities they care about the most

Workplace commitments

  • Active leadership: clear avenues of support, corporate social responsibility and social governance plans
  • Diversity and inclusion: supported and ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion within the workplace, with a promise to improve lacking areas as soon as possible
  • Change management: leadership and executive coaching, change fatigue management

4 Thoughtful ways to promote well-being at work

Though many employees may already have access to some forms of well-being activities, there is a chance that nothing might yet be formalised. Leadership needs to sit down and make a concentrated effort to improve employee well-being in the workplace, even if this involves upending a lot of current systems and procedures.

Wellness in the workplace needs to be embedded in every layer of the organisation. It is no use just preaching about it at board meetings or at the end of internal comms. It is something that should be built into a company culture from the ground up and given the space and respect that it deserves. Creating a well-being strategy should be employee-led, as it should match their needs.

1. Find out what employees actually need

It is easy for employers to leap in and make plans to tackle mental health issues and improve employee well-being, but are the changes made addressing the concerns and issues workers actually have?

For example, it can be a nice idea to run a five-a-side lunchtime game every Friday. On paper, it is great for physical health and well-being, it gets people out of the office, and it can be great for building teamwork!

However, it might just be popular because the office manager likes football and no one wants to say no to them. Maybe people would rather have their lunch hour for themselves, and it might be better for everyone to move the game after work hours. This small adjustment allows workers to still capitalise on the benefit of the in-house team, but it offers more benefits for the team overall! With the new time slot, they might even be able to pick up a few new players, too.

An employee well-being strategy has to be tailored to those who will use it the most – your employees. If you have multiple offices spread across the country, the employee well-being strategies might even differ slightly from office to office. Though there could be a core pillar of universal benefits across all offices, each might also offer a subset of benefits targeted directly to the needs of that office.

So, how do you determine the needs of employees and what they would like to see from a well-being strategy? Just ask them.

Hold a meeting, launch a survey, ask them to drop you an email, whatever it takes for management to get ideas flowing in that they can then use to tailor an effective strategy designed to actually improve employee well-being.

2. Make it happen

When management has the list of requests and adjustments from employees, now it is time to go through it and try to make things happen. Some requests might be easy to build into existing initiatives, whereas others might take more work.

As an example, if you wish to restructure one-on-ones and employee development, that might be as simple as setting up scripts and procedures to follow. You potentially might have to engage with the slightly more daunting task of creating an employee developmental budget, too.

You might also need to outsource various tasks if they are beyond your company’s abilities. For example, you might wish to introduce a Monday stretch session at lunch. Even if you have a yoga enthusiast on the team, you should not ask them to lead the sessions; instead, you should find a professional instructor to come in.

Placing the burden on an employee could end up negatively impacting them as they are forced to allocate part of their week’s work to planning the stretches. Giving the task to a professional means that they can just absorb it into their existing workload with little to no stress.

Outsourcing certain tasks related to supporting employee well-being allows you to call on actual expertise. As an example, asking a professional advisor to work with senior managers for leadership and executive coaching guarantees that useful procedures will be embedded into your organisation and proven techniques will be passed on. This is going to have a more lasting, positive effect than just asking one manager to work it out for themselves and then coach the rest of the team.

3. Encourage engagement

Of course, with all of these new well-being in the workplace initiatives, you need to encourage employees to engage with the new system. At first, workers may be hesitant to try new things. They may have to actively make room in their schedules for some activities, or just simply make time in their diaries to go through the onboarding for new tasks and procedures.

Management needs to ensure that they offer adequate support at this time. Make sure that there is adequate signposting to the changes, perhaps through internal comms channels, and provide deadlines where necessary to help communications stay as clear and as open as possible.

4. Evaluate and refine

With the new well-being initiatives launched, it is not enough to just sit back and let employees just explore them. Senior managers need to keep a close eye on what is often being used, and what some employees simply aren’t engaging with. For example, if no one turns up to that Monday lunchtime stretch session, then there is little point in keeping it on the calendar. Instead, it is better to find another potential activity that employees are more likely to engage with.

Likewise, it is important to ensure that new internal procedures are being carried out correctly. Take this evaluation as a chance to check through the various new processes that have been introduced. Are there any with unnecessary steps? Could some areas be streamlined and simplified? This is the perfect time to ask such questions.

Workplace well-being during organisational change

A well-established employee well-being strategy is needed to protect workers from stress no matter where it might occur. It is easy to think stressful periods only occur through interactions with difficult clients or a blurring between home and work life, but this isn’t true.

Organisational change can be a very stressful undertaking for employees. Workplaces encountering prolonged or turbulent periods of change can run the risk of employees developing change fatigue. Ensuring management is trained to help alleviate stress throughout the team is crucial, and to ensure that everyone’s well-being gets the extra attention it might need in this difficult time.

With 70% of change initiatives likely to fail (WTW), a good well-being strategy can be key in preventing the fallout from overly affecting employees.

Improve employee well-being with ChangingPoint

When it comes to employee mental health and well-being, employers need to step up and ensure that they have a robust network of schemes that can make workdays much easier to deal with.

ChangingPoint helps senior management navigate successfully through changing times. We offer techniques and strategies built using the latest insights from behavioural research to help change leaders learn skills to empower and engage their teams during seasons of change.

Book a discovery call today to see how we can help you foster a positive working environment built on open communication and the ability to deliver on the precise needs of your workforce.

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Written by Jayne Ruff

Jayne Ruff, Occupational Psychologist & Managing Director at Changing Point. To find out more about how Changing Point can help you align minds to transform your business, get in touch.

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