HR health and wellbeing special 6/6: better physical and mental health delivers benefits for both the employee and employer

Ivan Robertson , 17 Apr 2012


Workplace health and wellbeing do not remain constant. The focus of attention for organisations shifts and changes as technology, working practices and societal expectations and norms develop.

Musculo-skeletal problems (especially back pain and strain injuries) have been important for decades and seem likely to continue to cause problems for working people.

Work-related stress and mental health represent other major health and wellbeing issues and, for the first time, absences from work due to work-related stress have overtaken musculoskeletal problems to become the top cause of long-term absence, even for manual workers. As the items covered in this supplement demonstrate, the framework for employers contains a mix of psychological and physical health issues. Much research evidence emphasises the close connection between mental and physical health, with a growing body of research demonstrating correlations between psychological well- being and health outcomes, ranging from the common cold through to early death.

Evidence on the business case for health and wellbeing is powerful and shows how better physical and mental health delivers benefits for both the employee and employer. Specific gains for employers include the fairly obvious outcome of lower levels of sickness absence, but there is also evidence of improved customer/user satisfaction, performance and productivity and all-round business performance. The various government-led initiatives, such as Steve Boorman's report on the wellbeing of staff in the NHS and David Macleod and Nita Clarke's taskforce on employee engagement, all provide impressive evidence on the gains that employees who are engaged and well deliver for themselves and their organisations.

Realising these benefits is not always straightforward. For example, introducing flexible working arrangements can create tensions and difficulties when it is not made available to all. Well-intentioned initiatives can have unintended effects and create more problems than they solve. A piecemeal approach is not as effective as a more holistic solution.

The latter requires organisations to bring together health and wellbeing at a strategic level - or a full range of business benefits may not be realised and competitive advantage lost.

The danger with a piecemeal approach is that initiatives will not be joined up properly nor potential benefits be realised. Building a resilient workforce through initiatives to prevent or tackle health problems early (such as better workstations or fast treatment for musculo-skeletal pains) training and development (eg resilience training programmes) and better working practices (eg flexible working) can deliver wide-ranging gains. If these initiatives are tackled through a series of separate initiatives, delivered by different functions, such as occupational health, learning and development or HR, synergies and wider gains may be missed.

Introducing such initiatives may improve the reputation of the organisation as a place to work - and provide capacity to use this to attract better talent. But if talent management is not on the agenda, potential benefits may never be realised.

A strategic approach to wellbeing starts with the overall goals of the organisation and an examination of the extent to which existing and proposed wellbeing initiatives can support the goals.

An important aspect of a strategic approach involves establishing clear indicators and measurement metrics that can be used to identify the goals of a wellbeing programme and to monitor progress. Although there is more interest than ever in the benefits of improved wellbeing, it is essential to be able to clarify and quantify the gains to be made.

Ivan Robertson (pictured) is professor of organisational psychology at Leeds University Business School and a founding director of wellbeing consultancy Robertson Cooper


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Good health begets good performance

Peter Marno 17 Apr 2012

This series of six articles will help employers understand why it is necessary to manage their employees well - and with particular reference to their health. No two organisations are the same and no two employees will be identical. Therefore, as this latest article from Professor Robertson articulates so well, there must be a strategy that allows the best to be achieved using the most pragmatic 'health management tools' - sickness absence management, occupational health, EAPs, insurance and, most importantly of all, training. It is oft quoted but true that employers who look after their staff will achieve a good return on their employee investment.

Healthy means wealthy in business

Joao Bocas 17 Apr 2012

Firstly many thanks Prof. Ivan, in my professional experience many companies still very reluctant to invest in health and wellbeing. A culture of treatment still prevails, as an example with musculoskeletal health this is the wrong approach. The costs are significantly higher in treatment than in prevention. Stress is more less the same if we can reduce it before it manisfests the better, it will save money but will enhance people's quality of life, after all is not about money. Change the culture and the approach is in my humble opinion the way forward, then we can start to talk about change of behaviours, until then employees are not supported enough to work on prevention and we create a vicious circle. Healthy regards Joao

Defining Scope of Well Being


As the author says..."A strategic approach to wellbeing starts with the overall goals of the organisation..." It is important that this step include conversation about what is well being for our people? Certainly this can include physical and mental health, but it must also include those aspects of life that creates personal energy and engagement. What is important to individuals such as their families, careers, financial stability and spiritual focus (to name a few)may contribute. Then HR can audit if/how current workforce support efforts of the organization are coordinated and measured against these broad areas. TO do so is to tryuely address the well-being of employees and the business overall.

In this issue: August 2015
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Stand and deliver: Fresh austerity measures are on the way – but can public sector HR seize the strategic opportunity?

Eureka moment: HR at engineering firm AMFW

Going for gold: Maintaining the Olympic legacy

On the money: Providing innovative rewards

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