Wellbeing and work: the facts

Wellbeing at work needs to be positioned as a strategic boardroom issue. For wellbeing to be embedded into organisational culture, a ‘whole-systems’ approach needs to be taken, as demonstrated in the Business in the Community Workwell Model. Through taking this approach, the culture of silence surrounding mental and physical health issues, absenteeism and presenteeism can be reduced. This leads to improved recruitment and retention, attendance, engagement, brand image and sustainable productivity amongst employees. The challenges and pressures faced by business today mean that a strategic focus on wellbeing is more essential than ever. Demographic change, global competition, and changing expectations of the workforce, coupled with reduced public spending, have all placed employers at the forefront of challenging the public health crisis. Below, we set out some of the key facts and issues around wellbeing at work facing employers today.

The two most common causes of sickness absence in the UK are musculoskeletal disorders (MSK) and mental ill health. MSK leads to 30.6 million days lost compared to 15.2 million lost days due to stress, anxiety and depression.1 These are the two major workplace health issues that affect employees in all industries.2

Key statistics:

  1. 1 in 6 people of working age have a diagnosable mental health condition3
  2. 1 in 8 of the working age population reporting having an MSK problem4
  3. 1 in 5 adults say they have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives 5

Mental health costs the UK £70 billion per year and MSK issues cost £100 billion a year;this is money the UK economy is losing. It is also unsustainable for the NHS to manage the number of cases of MSK and mental health problems. Each year 20% of people in the UK see a doctor about a musculoskeletal problem, and the NHS in England spends £5bn each year treating these conditions.7 Only 55% of mental health trusts have reported increases to budgets since 20128 when ‘parity of esteem’ with physical health was promised by Government. This shows massive under-funding in the NHS.

69% of individuals still feel there is a stigma around mental health and 54% fear colleagues would judge them for having mental ill health. Men are nearly three times more likely than women to die as a result of suicide, but the female suicide rate in England is at its highest since 2005. As suicide is now the leading cause of death among young people aged from 20 to 349 so for employers, it is increasingly likely that your organisation will be affected by suicide.

MSK and mental health are linked; mental health conditions can increase the likelihood of developing some MSK problems and MSK problems can have a significant impact on mental health. For example, depression is four times more common among people in persistent pain compared with those without pain. Additionally, there is a link between MSK problems with suicide and the main risk factors for suicide are depression and other mental health issues.

Early intervention support and rehabilitation could reduce the average length of absence by 17% for MSK problems, and this figure is slightly higher for mental health.

We are working with business to confront these issues and remove the culture of silence surrounding mental health and MSK and encourage business to take a proactive and preventative approach. 




1 The NHS Atlas of Variation in Healthcare, Reducing unwarranted variation to increase value and improve quality








9 https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/suicide

10 http://landing.unmum.co.uk/early-intervention