Prioritising wellbeing in the workplace

Andy Briggs, Chief Executive Officer, UK Insurance

Aviva’s Andy Briggs, Chief Executive Officer, UK Insurance, writes about the importance of prioritising health and wellbeing in the workplace and the benefits healthy and happy employees can bring to a business.

Many of us have shuffled into work with a runny nose and a headache. There’s something in the British psyche about soldiering on because it’s ‘just a cold’. But should we be doing it? Should we be dragging ourselves into work when actually a day’s rest would be more effective for our recovery?

Aviva’s latest Working Lives Report found that 7 in 10 people have gone into work when they are unwell. It’s known as ‘presenteeism’ and surprisingly three times as many people have done it compared to the number of people who have ‘pulled a sickie’ — taking a day off work when they weren’t really ill.

When I first saw those findings I was surprised. Traditionally, there has always been much more focus on encouraging employees not to skip work. But our report found that people are much more likely to work through an illness.

This presents a challenge that all businesses have to meet head on. While no employer wants to see widespread absences, having people forcing themselves into the office when they really should be taking time off may be an indication that an ‘always on’ culture is embedded in an organisation. The Working Lives report also found that two in five employees said they felt that taking time off with an illness would result in their work piling up.

Investment in health and wellbeing in the workplace is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but is now a priority. Keeping employees healthy and happy will benefit the business. It can help with retention and recruitment of talented people, it can improve performance, it can create a positive atmosphere and culture — the list goes on.

Aviva employees photographed working in London.

Our Working Lives report showed that employers themselves admit that only 13% of businesses had more of a focus on employee health and wellbeing over the past year. And employees are noticing. 43% say that their boss puts business performance ahead of looking after their staff.

However, our findings also suggest that those businesses who do invest in their employees’ health and well being are reaping the rewards. Of those that offer health and wellbeing benefits, more than three in four (77%) believe this has had a positive impact on the workforce. Employers also reported increased happiness levels (41%) among employees with improved morale (32%) and productivity (30%) as a result of having initiatives in place to keep employees healthy.

While every business wants the right level of resource in place, having employees who are unwell at work is a false economy. Businesses need to ensure they create a working culture whereby people do not feel pressurised into coming to work when they are unwell, safe in the knowledge their absence can be effectively managed.

I want to empower line managers at Aviva so they feel comfortable recognising when members of their team are unwell and should be taking a break. Employers need to take the lead on communicating proactively to employees that it’s important to take a step back when unwell and it can be in everyone’s interest.