By Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director, Activ Absence

A new report published by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has urged UK employers to promote a culture that not only improves the health and wellbeing of employees but encourages more healthy and productive workplaces.

The health body revealed that more than a million employees in the UK experience a work-related illness every year and that around 27 million lost working days costing the economy an estimated £13.4 billion.

The failure to look after the health and well-being of employees has been shown to contribute to stress and the incidences of stress-related absences at work are rising, impacting not just people’s health and well-being, but also business productivity and profits.

In the past two years, Stress has been cited as the top reason for long-term sick leave according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), with most businesses reporting a rise in staff stress levels.

Recent research by interim management recruiter, Russam GMS found that eight out of ten senior executives say the workplace is a more stressful place than five years ago, with three quarters blaming mobile technology for creating a more stressful environment.

The same research found that 60 per cent said their employers expect them to answer emails outside of work hours and a fifth of respondents said that “switching off from work at home” is their biggest challenge in terms of looking after their health.

Another report from Deloitte showed that companies are struggling to reduce workplace stress, simplify business processes and reduce complexity. The report found that 66 per cent of respondents believed their employees were “overwhelmed” by today’s work environment and 74 per cent cited workplace complexity as a significant problem.

The reasons for poor workplace health are widespread and endemic in many organisations, and include long irregular hours, increased technology and the pressures of being ‘always on’ as well as a lack of control over work and discriminatory practices, but what can organisations do to tackle these issues?

According to NICE, to create a better working environment, managers need to lead by example and challenge behaviour and actions that might have a negative impact on someone’s health and well-being and also improve their own awareness of health issues at work through training and development.

They also need to adopt a positive style of management, praising people for their contributions, encouraging workers to be creative and explore new opportunities that may come their way.

We would also recommend they set guidelines and expectations around the use of mobile technology and email as this is increasingly a major cause of stress in the workplace today.

The NICE guidance also recommends that line managers should be also flexible about work scheduling, giving employees greater control and flexibility over their own time.

However, to ensure that flexibility works for the employer and the employees, companies need to have the right systems and policies in place to manage it.

Managers need to be able to see at a glance when people are working flexibly, where they are working and ensure employees have the right technology in place to ensure to perform their jobs as productivity from home as if they were in the office.

Much of the recent research has focused on work related stress being a growing problem that companies need to find better ways of understanding and dealing with.

Many companies are in the dark about the extent of stress-related illnesses in their companies. The first step towards gaining some insight into stress problems would be to track and record the incidences and reasons behind sickness absence which can help managers and HRs spot key patterns and trends.

If an employee calls in sick on Mondays or Fridays then perhaps they are over doing it at weekends or if someone has several bouts of absence as a result of a recurrent illness, then perhaps there is a specific health problem they need to look at. With accurate information about employee absences Managers and HRs can more easily have conversations about someone’s health and well-being and through these conversations; they may be able to identify other key issues such as stress.

With workplaces seemingly getting ever more stressful its important companies can manage and recognise the symptoms of stress, and have measures in place to deal it before it impacts their productivity and profits.

It’s been proven that a happy employee is a more productive employee and companies need to be doing all they can to look after the health and wellbeing of employees.