Survey shows shift in employers’ attitude to workers’ health

Less than half of businesses believe they have a duty of care to employee health, with only 46 per cent of firms regarding staff health as an employer’s responsibility, new research has found.

Yet that 82.8 per cent believe business performance and staff wellbeing are connected, according to the research, which was carried out amongst heads of HR or board director level staff at 250 businesses by Morgan Redwood. Employers surveyed were drawn from across the UK and from a mix of sectors and a range of company sizes, with two thirds employing over 250 people, and none less than 50.

The finding that just 46 per cent of businesses believe they have a duty of care to employee health is in contrast to a previous Morgan Redwood study conducted in 2009, where 95 per cent of businesses believed they had such a duty.

The research found 25.6 per cent believe that business performance is ‘very closely connected’ to staff wellbeing, with a further 57.2 per cent seeing them as ‘quite connected’. Only 6.8 per cent of the business leaders questioned regarded performance and wellbeing as ‘not at all connected.’

The report also found that helping staff to achieve a better work-life balance was low on the list of HR priorities, as it ranked joint tenth, with only 6 per cent of those questioned seeing it as a key aspect of their HR strategy. Employee wellbeing featured even lower, with just 5.6 per cent of businesses considering it to be a priority, putting it at twelfth on the list. ‘Attracting better talent to the business’ was a priority for 39.2 per cent, followed by ‘reducing staff churn’ on 36.8 per cent and ‘reducing staff costs’ at 34.8 per cent.

Morgan Redwood managing director Janice Haddon says: “The latest findings really do indicate a startling shift in employer opinion. A swing from 95 to 46 per cent is a huge difference. What has caused such a sea change? In 2014 the CIPD reported that 40 per cent of employers are seeing a rise in stress related absence and reported mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, so the fact that companies are less inclined to see wellbeing as within their remit of responsibility is perplexing.

“With the majority of businesses seeing a connection between wellbeing and performance, why do so few place importance on fostering wellbeing? Surely the correlation between the two would give businesses the impetus to put measures in place to improve employee health?

“Is the rise in reported issues found by the CIPD down to a change in employer attitude? It would be tempting to blame an increasing belief that work-life integration is more appropriate than work-life balance, but our report findings indicate that a poor work-life balance is regarded as the most adverse impact on morale.”

“Perhaps employers are putting recruitment ahead of the need to tend to existing employee needs, which means they’ve taken their eye off the wellbeing ball. Businesses need to remember that looking after employees is just as important as striving for new business and growth. Burnt out, poorly treated employees will end up becoming detrimental in the long run, so employers need to ensure they allocate sufficient resource to cater to the full spectrum of employee needs.”