A guide to creating healthy workplaces

Work has an enormous impact on our health. Work that we enjoy can improve our health and wellbeing while work that is stressful can have the opposite impact. The industrial diseases of the past are in decline but there are new and emerging health and wellbeing challenges now facing employers.


The incidence of long-term sickness is going up, and one of the major causes is stress and mental illness. Acute medical conditions and musculoskeletal injuries are also common reasons for long-term sickness absence. Long-term sickness absence is also isolating, it can cause a downward spiral of depression, social isolation and delayed recovery that makes returning to work less likely.

Staff absence is costly. Large companies spend around £620,000 on average each year on sick pay, replacement staff salaries and recruitment costs for replacement staff. And long-term sickness costs businesses an estimated £3.1 billion a year. The CIPD 2015 Absence management survey put the overall annual median cost of absence per employee at £554.

Why employee health and wellbeing matters to your organisation

Employee health and wellbeing has long been recognised as contributing to improved performance at work, and therefore improved business performance. In 1895 the Cadbury family started work on building the new Bourneville Estate in Birmingham for the Cadbury factory workers and their families.

Families not only got a place to live but also access to education, extensive sports fields, kitchens for heating up food and medical facilities. Many of the facilities the Cadbury family gave their employees access to were simply unheard of in Victorian times.

And it’s just as relevant today!

An employee health and wellbeing strategy contributes to better business results. The NHS’ Creating healthy NHS Workplace guide highlights the most common benefits of investing in the health and wellbeing of your staff as:

  • Increased productivity 
  • Reduced sickness absence
  • Reduced staff turnover
  • Increased retention of skills
  • Improved staff morale
  • Reduced recruitment and training costs 
  • Improved company reputation as a ‘good employer’
  • Improved financial performance and competitiveness.

Evidence shows that, when organisations proactively promote health and wellbeing amongst employees, all adverse health-related outcomes, including absence and injuries, decrease.

More resilient

Healthier employees are, in general, more resilient and better able to cope with the change, uncertainty and ambiguity.


Staff with high levels of engagement are less likely to report suffering from work-related stress.

Reduced turnover

Highly engaged organisations have the potential to reduce staff turnover by 87%.

What does a healthy workplace look like?

A healthy workplace should be based on five domains of wellbeing according to the CIPD. These are:

1) Health

  • Physical health such as health promotion, health checks, wellbeing benefits, health insurance protection, and an employee assistance programme.
  • Physical safety such as safe working practices, safe equipment, and personal safety training
  • Mental health such as stress management, conflict resolution training, training line managers to have difficult conversations, and managing mental ill health.

 2) Work

  • Working environment such as ergonomically designed working areas, and an open and inclusive business culture.
  • Good line management such as training for line managers, and sickness absence management.
  • Work demands such as good job design, managing workload and working hours, job satisfaction, and work-life balance.
  • Autonomy such as giving people control over their work and empowering innovation.
  • Pay and reward including fair and transparent remuneration practices, and non-financial recognition.

3) Values/principles

  • Leadership including values-based leadership, clear mission and objectives, and a health and well-being strategy.
  • Ethical standards including corporate social responsibility, community investment, and volunteering.
  • Diversity such as valuing difference, cultural engagement, and training for employees and managers.

4) Collective/Societal

  • Employee voice including communication, consultation, genuine dialogue, and involvement in decision-making.
  • Positive relationships including team working, healthy relationships with peers and managers, and respect.

5) Personal growth

  • Career development including mentoring, coaching, performance management, performance development plans, and succession planning.
  • Emotional such as positive relationships, personal resilience training, and financial wellbeing.
  • Lifelong learning including performance development plans, access to training, and challenging work.
  • Creativity including an open and collaborative culture, and innovation workshops.

Creating a healthy workplace

While an employee wellbeing strategy needs to go further than a series of initiatives, it’s content should be based on the needs of the individual organisation and the people working for it. HR professionals need to put a lot of thought into how they can implement a wellbeing strategy to create a healthy workplace. But where do you start?

There’s a lot of legislation, guidance and advice out there on how to create a healthy workplace, yet at the same time it can be a challenge to find practical advice. The following guide focuses on health promotion issues you can implement in your organisation that can make a big difference to your organisation and the people that work for it.

Carry out a targeted health promotion

There are a number of targeted health promotions you can run in the workplace such as a stop smoking, weight loss or get moving programmes. By leading the way and supporting your employees with their personal health and wellbeing it demonstrates care for your employees.

Help employees make friends at work

Workplace friendships can help reduce some of the negative impacts of stress. Encourage your employees to develop friendships by arranging lunchtime or post-work social events. Team building events can also help employees develop more meaningful friendships at work.

Implement an employee recognition programme

An employee recognition programme that shows your employees that you appreciate their efforts and that their contribution is valued helps create a healthy workplace and improves employee engagement. Consider implementing a peer to peer recognition programme and empower your employees to recognise their colleagues.

Manage workloads

In order to achieve a work-life balance, managers need to ensure that their employees’ workloads are matched to their abilities and the resources they have available. Training managers to in soft management skills and employees to prioritise their workload on a daily basis can make a positive impact on employee stress levels.

Have a break

Encourage employees to have a short break away from their desk, especially if they are looking as if they are getting stressed. Managers need training to identify the symptoms of stress and how to deal with them. Managers also need to lead by example and take their breaks and leave work on time.

Offer incentives and rewards to employees

An incentive and reward programme can improve employee motivation and job satisfaction, which has a positive impact on stress in the workplace.

When employees are working hard to meet targets and business goals offer incentives and rewards to encourage them to meet those targets. It will help increase employee motivation and job satisfaction, which can reduce stress in the workplace.

Offer benefits that support your wellbeing strategy

Employee benefit schemes can make a positive contribution to your health and wellbeing strategy. There are numerous cost-effective benefits you can offer your employees such as a cycle-to-work scheme, subsidised gym memberships and baskets of fruit in the office. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are an excellent way to help and support employees identify and resolve both work and personal concerns that may affect their job performance.

Communication and engagement

To really benefit from a healthy workplace you need to engage your staff in your wellbeing initiatives. Engage with your employees to find out what their health challenges are and then design your programme around those challenges. And when they are launched communicate with employees to let them know what initiatives are taking place and how they can get involved, and what employee wellbeing benefits are available to them and how to get access to them.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to employee health and wellbeing but promoting an effective employee wellbeing strategy is a win-win for both your employees and your employer, because as well as boosting people’s health it will also have a positive impact on employee and business performance.

This article was provided by Sodexo.


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