Stress and inactivity: 27 days lost per employee per year


We are seeing these studies over and over again, but what we are not seeing are the solutions. Workplace stress is deeply damaging and corrosive for business in terms of retention of talent, ...

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The national average is 23.5 days of productive time per employee lost

Workers' high stress levels and lack of physical activity are causing some UK industries to lose almost 27 days of productive time per employee each year, according to research from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace (BHW).

The survey of more than 32,538 workers across all UK industries was conducted by VitalityHealth, Mercer, the University of Cambridge and RAND Europe. It discovered a national average of 23.5 days of productive time per employee is lost this way. Healthcare and financial services lost the most days (26.6 and 24.9 days per employee a year respectively), while high tech lost just 18.9 days per employee per year.

Work-related stress was found to play a significant role, with 73% of employees nationally suffering from at least one kind of work-related stress. The industries with higher productivity losses typically had higher levels of work-related stress.

The financial implications of this productivity loss could be huge, with the ONS calculating that the UK could lose out on £57 billion a year on average in lost productivity.

Chris Bailey, partner at Mercer, explained that modern working practices and the make-up of roles within the UK workforce has affected the health of individuals. “Technology has allowed a more sedentary working life to become the norm, while the rise of the UK’s service economy has reduced the number of manual workers and [roles with] physical activity,” he said.

He added that entrenched ways of working were also to blame. “Individual employers can, and do, act to buck these trends and create competitive advantage within their peer group by doing so," he said. “It’s no surprise that new tech firms without legacy working practices have lower levels of stress, and lower lost productivity, while more established industries sometimes struggle to implement change and create a healthy working environment."

Shaun Subel, strategy director at VitalityHealth, said he was encouraged that employers are working to decrease stress and improve wellbeing levels in their workplaces. “Encouragingly we note that on an individual company basis, where there is an increased investment in health promotion, the proportion of employees in good or excellent health grows while the costs to productivity associated with absenteeism and presenteeism reduce,” he said.

“We would urge all companies, and especially those in sectors suffering from acute productivity loss, to invest in the health and wellbeing of their staff. Reducing workplace stress and encouraging employees to stay physically active should help increase productivity levels and protect the bottom line.”


We are seeing these studies over and over again, but what we are not seeing are the solutions. Workplace stress is deeply damaging and corrosive for business in terms of retention of talent, performance, absenteeism, efficiency, and cost. So why aren't more public and private employers investing in structured programmes (such as the initiative currently delivered in NW England and Nordics via a Finnish company using ACT therapy)? It's good that this is being recognised, but let's hope that the interventions are structured and meaningful, rather than just well meaning mindfulness or yoga taster sessions. It would be great to see HR Magazine lead a profile of effective and evidenced interventions.


Great point, Kieran. I am actually looking to collect information from employees regarding their thoughts on the state of their workplace in an attempt to refine our solution to this problem. If anyone is interested in a quick phone call, it would be incredibly helpful and I would share insights! Email me: or follow me on Twitter to share thoughts / view a collection of information on improving the workplace: @giftchatter_wrk.


Kieran - one of the best things we did in our office was get a ping pong table through a scheme called #InTheLoop, it's ran by Table Tennis England and is designed to help businesses get more active. It's had a really positive impact in our office!


I think you all made some interesting points, its all very well looks at facts and stats but the problem is most HR directors/teams don't have the resources or the time to implement strategies. What do you think is the best strategy to overcome this challenge and what strategy would you implement.


The events and behaviours that run the risk of causing stressful reactions in people are caused by people. In organisations, which are controlled communities, it is leaders and managers who have the reposnibility for creating the conditions that squeeze out the possibility of such evebnts and behaviours occurring in the first place. The issue here is that, in my experience, most leaders and managers become people 'in authority' having been successful doing something else. They are likely to have been doing work that is technical in nature. Managing people requires leaders and managers to deal with uncertainty, and the difficult to measure. Most leaders and managers are project managers, and not people managers. To address this whole issue, the WellBeing and Performance Agenda focuses on developing a leadership and management process that inspires people at work to feel they own the organisation and are responsible for its future success. They, also, need to create the conditions in which people feel psychologcally well, and this is about the culural values and corporate values they embed into the fabric of working. Therapy of any kind is too late; it is about the past. In order to eliminate the adverse events and difficult behaviours that trigger the risk of stress and psycho-presenteeism the approach needs to be about the future and the management practices of the organisation, for any substantial change in the prevalence of stress to occur. o to for much more on this and a load of programmes and resources to help organisations bring to life a healthy organisation.

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