What Londoners need to know about workplace health

With long working hours and lengthy commutes, workplace health is an important issue for London’s employees and businesses. A key aspiration of Better Health for London was to make work a healthy place to be and significant progress has been made; since 2012 the number of working days lost due to sickness absence in London has reduced by 3% from 16.9 million to 13.9 million in 2017.

PHE London’s most recent Employee Health and Wellbeing report outlines some of the major issues in more detail.

What are the risks of poor workplace health in London?

The percentage of London-based employees who work fewer hours due to illness is above the national average. In addition to the higher cost of living in the capital, large numbers of people are employed in the gig economy or work long hours, sometimes with multiple part-time jobs.

These factors have an impact on material wellbeing and on increasing stress levels, which may fuel unhealthy coping strategies such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

And this is not just bad news for employees – the cost to the economy of an unhealthy workforce has been estimated at over £60 billion per year, and an average London firm of 250 employees loses around £4,800 per week (or around £250,000 a year) due to sickness absence.

What are the main health issues facing working Londoners today?

Perhaps surprisingly, musculoskeletal problems (MSK) provide the most common reason for absence, followed by minor illnesses such as the common cold. In addition to these two areas, mental health problems such as stress, depression and anxiety account for over 7% of working hours lost.

Long term absence follows a similar pattern. The majority of Londoners on incapacity benefit have preventable or treatable conditions, with almost half (47%) accounted for by mental health problems, and a further 15% suffering from MSK issues.

What can employees do to look after their health at work?

PHE’s One You has advice on maintaining a balanced diet which can have a positive impact on many aspects of health. As well as helping to increase resilience to illness, good nutrition improves mental wellbeing too.

Excess weight and obesity are known to place undue stress on joints, so eating healthily can also help to reduce the risk of MSK problems.

With so many people working sedentary jobs, it’s more important than ever to make sure you get enough exercise. Around a third of adults in the UK are damaging their health through lack of physical activity, so think about how you might incorporate more movement into your daily life.

Ensuring you get enough sleep is another key way to look after your physical and mental health. If you are struggling with sleeplessness or insomnia, have a look at our guide to better sleep.

Stress, anxiety and depression shouldn’t be suffered in silence. In London, our free digital mental health resource ‘Good Thinking’ offers tools to support and promote mental wellbeing.

What can London employers do to ensure their workplace is healthy?

Understanding the health and wellbeing of your staff is key, for example it is important for employers to support their staff by creating a culture where mental health and wellbeing are valued.

A workplace health needs assessment is a simple way to gather anonymous information about the health of your workforce and provides a baseline of data to track progress against. It also helps employers understand where to organise investment in staff health and wellbeing.

The London Healthy Workplace Charter, backed by the Mayor of London, provides clear and easy steps for employers to make their workplaces healthier and happier. You can read case studies of businesses who signed up to the charter.

PHE has worked closely with Business in the Community to offer a range of free evidence-based toolkits for employers which are full of advice, tips and case studies, promoting simple actions that every business can take whether an SME or a multi-national and whether your business operates in the public, voluntary or private sector.

These toolkits cover a range of issues including sleep, mental health and musculoskeletal health.

NICE has also issued guidance on how to improve the health and wellbeing of employees with a focus on organisational culture and the role of line managers.

The workplace itself can be a great place to share information about how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s also an environment where health and wellbeing initiatives such as smoking cessation clinics can be offered. In the City of London, for example, Business Healthy is working to equip business leaders in the Square Mile to improve the health and wellbeing of their workforce.

As well as encouraging best practice when it comes to hygiene, diet and exercise, and advocating interventions such as the flu vaccine, employers can do a lot to create a healthy environment at work.

Ensuring that the workplace is safe, clean, well ventilated and an appropriate temperature can help prevent the spread of minor illnesses, and providing employees with ergonomic chairs and adjustable monitors can help diminish the risk of MSK problems.

Similarly, planning a workspace so that people have to move around and interact with each other is another good way to promote physical activity, which could have an impact not only on musculoskeletal health, but also on mental wellbeing.

PHE London will continue to work to improve workplace health in collaboration with key partners including local authorities, Business Healthy, and the GLA. We support Mayor of London’s Good Working Standard and London Living Wage strategies.

All of us can do more to help create a healthier and more productive workplace, and the resources signposted are a great place to learn more.

Read more blogs from the London region on the collection page.

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