There is good evidence that work is good for health and wellbeing. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) commissioned a review of this topic in 2006, which found that: 11

  • employment provides economic resources and therefore material wellbeing
  • work meets important psychological needs because work is a social norm, and because it is central to individual identity, social roles and social status
  • employment and socio-economic status are the main drivers of social gradients in physical and mental health and mortality.

Employment also has more direct impacts on health and wellbeing.  For people with long-term health conditions, work can be therapeutic and promote recovery and rehabilitation. 12  More generally, most working age adults spend a lot of their time at work, which means that the workplace is an important setting for promoting and enabling positive health and wellbeing.  There is growing evidence of the effectiveness of workplace health interventions in addressing a range risk factors for long-term health conditions – including smoking, physical inactivity, diet and obesity. 13

Conversely, a person’s job can expose them to risks to their health, which will vary according to their occupation (e.g. manual or non-manual work), working environment (e.g. fixed office location or flexible/mobile setting) and working patterns (e.g. part-time or full-time, temporary or permanent, daytime or shift work).  The latest national estimates show that annually, between 2013/14 and 2015/16, an average of 622,000 workers were injured in workplace accidents and a further 528,000 workers suffered a new case of ill health which they believed to be caused or made worse by their work. 14  Moreover, jobs that are insecure or poorly paid are rarely good for wellbeing.  A specific example is the growing concern regarding the negative impact of zero hours contracts on peoples’ health and wellbeing,B although there is an argument that some workers benefit from the flexibility that these contracts offer. 15

Stress and anxiety, and musculoskeletal disorders, are major causes of absence from work. 16  At a national level, stress/depression/anxiety accounted for 11.7 million days lost due to work-related ill health in 2015/16 (almost half of the total days lost); musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 8.8 million days lost (one third of the total). 17

In 2014, the London Health Commission reported that in London employers lose 6.63 million working days each year due to stress, anxiety or depression.  At a £30,000 annual wage, this equates to £1.1 billion in lost output.  18

There are, therefore, significant benefits for employers, as well as employees, from addressing health through the workplace. 19 20

Notes

  1. A zero hours contract is one where the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours and the worker is not obliged to accept any work offered.
  2. A zero hours contract is one where the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours and the worker is not obliged to accept any work offered.

References

  1. Waddell, G., Burton, K., “Is work good for your health and well-being?,” The Stationery Office, London, 2006.
  2. Waddell, G., Burton, K., “Is work good for your health and well-being?,” The Stationery Office, London, 2006.
  3. Collaborating for Health, “Workplace-health initiatives: evidence of effectiveness,” Collaborating for Health, 2011
  4. Health and Safety Executive, “Costs to Britain or workplace fatalities and self-reported injuries and ill health, 2014/15,” Health and Safety Executive, 2016
  5. ACAS, “Acas warns of the negative impact of zero-hours exclusivity clauses,” ACAS, 2014
  6. Burtin, W. N., Chen, C., Conti, D. J. et al., “The Association of Health Risks With On-the-Job Productivity,” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, no. doi: 10.1097/01.jom.0000169088.03301.e4, 2005
  7. Health and Safety Executive, “Working days lost,” Health and Safety Executive, [Online]. Available: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/dayslost.htm. [Accessed November 2016
  8. London Health Commission, “Better Health For London,” London Health Commission, 2014
  9. Collaborating for Health, “Workplace-health initiatives: evidence of effectiveness,” Collaborating for Health, 2011
  10. GLA Economics, “London’s business case for employee health and well-being,” Greater London Authority, 2012
  11. Waddell, G., Burton, K., “Is work good for your health and well-being?,” The Stationery Office, London, 2006.
  12. Waddell, G., Burton, K., “Is work good for your health and well-being?,” The Stationery Office, London, 2006.
  13. Collaborating for Health, “Workplace-health initiatives: evidence of effectiveness,” Collaborating for Health, 2011
  14. Health and Safety Executive, “Costs to Britain or workplace fatalities and self-reported injuries and ill health, 2014/15,” Health and Safety Executive, 2016
  15. ACAS, “Acas warns of the negative impact of zero-hours exclusivity clauses,” ACAS, 2014
  16. Burtin, W. N., Chen, C., Conti, D. J. et al., “The Association of Health Risks With On-the-Job Productivity,” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, no. doi: 10.1097/01.jom.0000169088.03301.e4, 2005
  17. Health and Safety Executive, “Working days lost,” Health and Safety Executive, [Online]. Available: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/dayslost.htm. [Accessed November 2016
  18. London Health Commission, “Better Health For London,” London Health Commission, 2014
  19. Collaborating for Health, “Workplace-health initiatives: evidence of effectiveness,” Collaborating for Health, 2011
  20. GLA Economics, “London’s business case for employee health and well-being,” Greater London Authority, 2012