Employee wellbeing falling down business agenda post pandemic, CIPD report finds

Fewer HR professionals think their senior leaders prioritise workforce health compared to last year, with many also reporting the continued impact of long Covid

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The number of HR professionals who think their organisation effectively prioritises employee health and wellbeing has decreased in the last year, the CIPD has warned.

Its latest Health and Wellbeing at Work report, in which the CIPD and Simplyhealth collected data from 803 HR and L&D professionals in November and December 2021, found just 70 per cent agreed that wellbeing was on their business’s agenda, down from 75 per cent last year.

The number of HR professionals who believed their senior leaders embodied good wellbeing practice also dropped from 48 per cent last year to 42 per cent, while the percentage who agreed that managers had bought into the importance of wellbeing fell from 67 per cent to just 60 per cent.

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Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said that given the continued significance of Covid-19, it was a “concern” to see a drop in the focus on health and wellbeing, “particularly when the last two years have proven how important it is to organisational resilience”.

“Senior leaders have a defining influence on their organisation’s culture and it’s in their gift to shape an environment where people feel safe to speak up about health issues and seek support,” she said.

Despite the evidence that health and wellbeing is less of a priority than it was last year, two-thirds (66 per cent) of people professionals polled still said they were concerned about how the pandemic had affected employee mental health.

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Just 3 per cent of respondents said their organisation had not suffered from any pandemic-related absence, while nearly half (46 per cent) of organisations had staff members who experienced long Covid in the last 12 months.

The report also found that stress-related absence remained high this year, with almost four in five (79 per cent) organisations reporting some level of this, rising to 90 per cent in larger organisations.

According to the respondents, the most common reason for stress in the workplace is workload, with 60 per cent of respondents reporting this.

A quarter (27 per cent) of respondents also said that non-work factors such as relationships and family were a top cause of workplace stress, while a similar proportion (26 per cent) acknowledged that management styles affect stress levels.

Unhealthy workplace trends were also commonplace; 67 per cent of respondents said that they had seen ‘leavism’, where employees use annual leave to catch up on work. Similarly, 81 per cent witnessed ‘presenteeism’ behaviours among those working from home.

Angela Sherwood, chief people officer at Simplyhealth, said senior leaders need to buy into the importance of health and wellbeing, adding that line managers particularly have a role to play given that they set workloads and are usually “the first port of call when someone has a concern”.

“If they are to be a positive influence on people’s wellbeing they need the right training, support and expert guidance – and need to be given enough time and space to devote to people management,” she said.