UK employees work some of the most prolonged hours in Europe but produce 30% less per hour than workers in France, Germany and the US (according to the London School of Economics). Low productivity has been a thorn in successive Governments’ sides, and predictions for any future change aren’t optimistic. The productivity puzzle doesn’t look so complicated from a health and well-being perspective.

Productivity Puzzle

The more brutal employers push their staff to be productive – focusing on new efficiencies in practices, cost-savings from digital working, ‘always on’ availability – the less they get from people over time. All the changes are sensible on a rational level, but they are also mechanical. People wither under the combination of pressures, and productivity suffers.

As the CIPD Health and Wellbeing survey report 2021 argued, employers need to think more holistically about what impacts productivity, not just try to pull levers that ratchet up what employees do in the time available.

Employee well-being is based on inter-relationships between work and home life and physical and mental health. The work we’ve been doing at Bluecrest with our employer partners is based on this understanding of the importance of taking a ‘public health’ approach: making low-cost health screenings available to all staff; providing comprehensive anonymised data to inform well-being strategies; and spending time with employers to explain trends and what they could be doing to improve organisational health.

The issues raised by research evidence on employee health and productivity can be grouped into three overlapping areas.

Workplace Culture and Environment

This can be the root of poor mental well-being due to unrealistic time pressures and targets, strained relationships and bullying. Furthermore, it has the potential to be the basis of a positive culture of wellness, supporting health and well-being initiatives.

Personal Dimension

Whether employees look after their health – at the basic level of getting sleep, eating well, or exercising – is fundamental. There’s also the issue of their values, beliefs and attitudes to work and their ability to cope with demands from relationships, finances and responsibilities like caring for the family.

Impact of Risks on Health

Ongoing medical conditions (such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease etc.) decrease productivity. Undiagnosed physical and mental conditions can lead to more severe health problems. Early recognition and flagging any increased risks to health is vital to help employees avoid chronic long-term conditions.

Critically, organisations need to move away from simply viewing an investment in wellness as purely about cost reduction (the Return on Investment) and towards a focus on the Value of Investment by looking at a broader set of outcome metrics: absenteeism, worker morale, employee turnover, presenteeism costs, workers compensation, disability, employee loyalty and tenure. All of these factors add up to a significant impact on productivity.

Employers that adopt a public health and well-being culture will help to improve productivity. When the University of Birmingham looked at workplace well-being programmes and their impact, it pointed to the importance of interventions targeting whole organisational cultures and practices; running sustained programmes, such as annual health screenings, and tailoring staff’s health and well-being offerings.

Health and well-being benefits shouldn’t be perks but separate from business performance issues. Join up the thinking, and there’s a solid platform for turning productivity levels around for the long term.