The link between mental and physical health is well recognised and studied. For example, we know that stress can lead to heart attacks and strokes and anxiety can weaken the immune system. But when it concerns employee health and wellbeing, the importance of this is often overlooked.
Even though 82 percent of employees agree that mental health and physical health are interconnected, only 58 percent say their employers share that view. Clearly, many workers are not receiving adequate care. And that means that their productivity, and your business, are suffering.
Workplace health and wellbeing are equally important
Physical and mental health go hand in hand. Mental health conditions are not only causing physical illnesses but vice versa.
Consider the high rate of musculoskeletal disorders as an example. This condition affects 17.8 million UK workers. As worrying as this is, those affected are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety or a mood disorder.
So what does that mean for your business?
There are a number of issues that arise when we don’t support employees’ whole health. We’ll explore a few of them below.
According to ONS statistics, the average worker took 3.6 sick days in 2020. That’s a drop to 1.8 percent in absenteeism at the height of the pandemic.
However, you cannot assume your employees are working at maximum capacity merely because they’re present. Working despite a medical condition reduces productivity and increases human error.
Hybrid and remote working has made the problem more serious. Over instant messaging, employees who are too sick to commute to work seem just fine. So even aware companies will have difficulty addressing the problem.
As a culture, we encourage and applaud the attitude of ‘grinning and bearing it.’ However, this attitude is often just a nice way to say that you shouldn’t show your true emotions and feelings.
In fact, a whopping 51 percent of UK employees said they hide their mental illness at work. Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that only 16 percent reported that their mental health was well supported at work.
Employee wellbeing and health depend on a good work-life balance. But we’re seeing more and more instances of employees taking annual leave to either catch up on work or manage a medical condition (rather than taking sick leave).
Technology advancements and remote working have paved the way for leavism to become a relatively recent phenomenon. It’s not uncommon for an employee to check-in with work, catch up on their emails, or get some extra work done while they’re on holiday. You can probably think of many instances where you’ve witnessed this first-hand. You might see it as an example of an employee being dedicated, helpful or as an act of duty, but it’s really important that you allow your employees time to decompress out of hours. If your business has a culture that supports fast work turnarounds, extreme deadlines and high workloads, leavism is likely to be occurring within your teams.
The problem is that one in five workers reporting feeling incapable of handling workplace stress. This means that employees are more likely to suffer from burnout, which can negatively affect their physical health.
Despite that, only a third of organisations aim to address presenteeism and its underlying causes. Even though it costs businesses up to £29 billion a year. The fact remains, however, that even those employers who invest in health and wellbeing face obstacles when trying to address both.
How can you develop strategies that support individual needs?
Whole health support is not, and cannot be, one-size-fits-all.
An individual may only require episodic care when ill or injured. Another might need ongoing support when managing a long-term health condition such as diabetes. 63 percent of employees, however, report that their benefits from work don’t offer a whole health solution.
And what of preventative care? Although fitness programs and mental health helplines seem wildly different, both contribute to employee health. In the end, our physical and mental health depend on each other. So wouldn’t it be convenient if employees could take care of both in one space?
Can you fully support mind and body?
The number of employee health and wellbeing platforms is growing rapidly. And that’s where the problem lies. Mental health may be supported by one while physical health may be supported by another. There may be one that provides helpful articles and another that functions as a support line. Even though many of these applications are useful, they can get lost in the crowd. And most of the time, they don’t work well together.
And when it comes to reporting on their efficiency and making improvements, it can be extremely difficult to prove the impact with multiple systems with different engagement and adoption levels. It’s not an easy task, but it is possible.
If you’re working with multiple systems, mining the right data and making improvements is doable, but you’ll need to put in some legwork yourself. You should be supplementing your tools with employee wellbeing surveys that ask poignant questions about wellbeing, challenges at work and happiness levels – you can use this feedback and map it against the metrics that your providers’ supply.
How to make improvements
If your data is showing cases of burnout, declining wellbeing and instances of pleasanteeism, making changes is critical. Happy employees are more productive, which benefits your business output, culture and your bottom line.
Finding the right solution (or solutions) is key. Whether it’s discounted gym memberships, EAP support, health insurance, medical/clinical access, wellbeing days or in-office perks or a wellbeing app, you’ll know what’s right for your employees. But as we’ve already discussed, to answer the challenges of today’s workforce you’ll need to consider support across the whole health spectrum. Don’t forget to consider the impact of physical health when making your assessments – and try to think outside the box. Employees may live with a range of conditions or experience events that adversely affect their physical health, which in turn, impacts their mental health. Some areas you may want to consider include:
- Menopause support
- Parental/caregiving support
- Fertility, baby loss and pregnancy
- Men’s health
- Nutrition and diet
- Finances and debt
- LGBTQIA support, including supporting transgender or transitioning individuals
It’s easy to see how an EAP alone or a membership discount portal wouldn’t offer real, tangible impact for an employee who encounters any of the areas above. You need to consider the physical care and support you offer too.
You should think about how your add-ons and benefits could help address some of the mental and physical challenges present in your workforce and how these benefits can drive an improvement in wellbeing overall.
Adopting a wellbeing strategy that encompasses both physical and mental health is a critical component of success. It goes without saying that employee health and wellbeing affect the health of your organisation as well. HealthHero has developed Symbio to streamline your health and wellbeing offering. Combining proactive mental and physical support with on-demand access to GP and counsellor booking, it helps employees manage their whole health, anytime, anywhere. With tailored pathways for conditions, life events and more, it’s full employee support, done differently. Plus, it provides insightful data on wellbeing, engagement and usage trends to help you improve. If you’re interested in learning more about Symbio, you can reach the team at
Carmelita Lubos, Chief People Officer at HealthHero, is an international senior HR Leader with 25 years’ experience building world-class employee populations for major global brands across sectors, including tech, media, digital and luxury retail.