Debate: Are you responsible for your employee’s health?

03 February 2016 -


Hear the arguments from both sides of the fence as we take a look at whether staff health should fall under the scope of an employer’s responsibilities

Matt Scott




“We would never tell our colleagues how to organise their lives and we much prefer to employ fat, unhealthy people with loads of character, rather than dull fitness fanatics who are devoid of personality, but for anyone who seeks a healthy lifestyle we are there to help.

“Our office has a free gym with a fitness trainer who has sessions twice a week and encourages enthusiasts to join our jogging club. We have quietly shifted our Cobblers’ Café lunch menu towards healthy eating and it no longer sells chocolate and crisps.

“But wellbeing isn’t just about eating habits and weight-to-height ratios; our most important role is to help with mental health. As someone who suffers from stress, I can sympathise with those that are frightened to acknowledge that they are living their lives between taut tenseness and misery, looking at every passerby who seems to be wandering along blissfully without a care in the world.

“Being a good listener, who can patiently help anyone hitting the wall of anxiety and depression, in an unforgiving business world, is much more important than a campaign to cut calories and raise your heart rate.

“There isn’t a certain route to avoid stress but we’ve found the best way to create a happy workplace. We call it ‘upside down management’. Our colleagues are trusted with the freedom to do their job the way they think is best. They work how they want and often where and when they want. Being given the chance to live in your own space, without having to follow someone else’s rules, has proved to be a great way to create wellbeing in the workplace.”





“In the first instance, the employer has a duty of care towards its employees. Legally, employers must abide by relevant health and safety and employment law, as well as the common law duty of care. They also have a moral and ethical duty not to cause, or fail to prevent, physical or psychological injury.

“The case for employers promoting health and wellbeing goes far beyond their statutory obligations, though. Surveys have consistently shown that the majority of employees actually want their employer to help them stay healthy, and we shouldn’t be surprised by these results.

“People spend the majority of their time in the workplace, so it’s natural that positive changes in the workplace can have the most impact in helping people to live more healthy lives. The government has realised this, and encourages employers to do more in this field, with initiatives such as its Public Health Responsibility Deal and Workplace Wellbeing Charter.

“It also makes good business sense to keep the workforce healthy and productive, as healthy employees are more engaged, more productive, happier and more loyal where they see the link between what their employer provides for them and improvements in their personal health.

“The real value of workplace health and wellbeing initiatives is in providing an easily accessible platform to make people aware of their own health status, because at the moment such awareness is very poor, and to then create a supportive and positive environment focused on promoting healthy choices.

“It’s not about interfering with employees’ personal lives but more about giving them what they want, which is access to services and tools to help them look after themselves.”





“There is no dispute that wellbeing strategies have become a huge consideration for many organisations looking to ensure employees live healthier lives and are therefore more productive. While there is an onus on the employer to provide employees with access to a range of benefits that lead to healthier living, ultimately the responsibility for an employee’s health lies with the individual.

“Organisations know that a healthy workforce is more productive. Happy, engaged employees will work harder; they will attract like-minded people to the business and create a strong, committed culture. Unhappy employees, by contrast, are not only unproductive but they can damage overall morale. Repeated sick leave demands colleagues pick up the slack – adding to their own stress, while poor leadership of the problem can result in the already stressed employee being made to feel like a scapegoat on return.

“Organisations need to put in place the management processes, business environment and leadership skills to identify and reduce workplace stress. Critically, companies need to create a culture that encourages employees to ask for help from managers with the skills and access to relevant counselling programmes required to support their staff.

“This latter point is absolutely key: one of the essential issues revealed in research is that individuals need to feel in control. Improving this perception of control increases resilience to stress and minimises adverse health issues. Day-to-day changes in working practices are therefore also important to reinforce that feeling of control and provide managers with a better opportunity to talk to employees via, for example, regular performance feedback sessions that can improve communication regarding job security and roles within the department.

“Formal wellbeing policies are becoming essential to create a resilient workforce able to cope with the demanding work environment. With economic conditions that are making it ever harder to source and retain individuals with the right skills and a society that is making it ever harder to create a viable work-life balance, the pressures on individuals continue to rise.

“The onus is increasingly on organisations to get the best from their employees. Improving the workplace atmosphere, encouraging regular breaks and creating a supportive culture is not interfering with employees’ lives – it is a positive change that will minimise lost productivity and ensure good morale and overall wellbeing.”





“The rule of thumb is that for every £1 you invest in wellbeing you get a £3 return, and that comes through in direct and indirect expenses. Direct expenses would be reduced absence costs and sick pay, and indirect costs could be improved productivity.

“The other thing businesses are starting to see is the link between employee engagement and wellbeing. If you engage your employees through good wellbeing practices they are typically more engaged, more productive and happier at work.

“Most people spend a considerable amount of time at work, so providing an environment that really engages them and their wellbeing, both physical and mental, is incredibly important.

“Wellbeing is not just about free gym membership and fruit bowls, however; we have to see it in terms of the wider work environment. Leaders have a vital role to play in defining the tone and culture of the workplace. That’s particularly important for mental health. Managers should also encourage people to speak up and ask for help.

“The use of technology in employee wellbeing is also seeing an increase in demand. Organisations see wearables as a great way to engage their staff in teams or as a whole.

“Being able to get fit, lose weight or practice mindfulness is so much easier when you do it with others, and technology enables that social networking aspect to be incorporated into employee wellbeing programmes and makes it a really fun way to engage with colleagues.”


CMI’s new Quality of Working Life report is available here:

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