UK businesses are planning to roll back employee wellbeing policies such as mental health support and flexible working despite an urgent need for them. Most managers and HR professionals expect that many of their current employee wellbeing initiatives will not continue once the pandemic is over. Almost two thirds (66%) think remote working will be rolled back, with 57% saying the same for flexible working. More than half (56%) believe mental health initiatives will be cut and 63% think their company will withdraw occupational health services.

This is despite the significant impact of mental health-related absences on the UK workforce. In 2021, poor mental health accounted for 17% of all lost working time across the country, with employees taking 56 million days off work at an estimated cost to employers of £7.8 billion. During the first two working weeks in February 2022 when WFH guidance was lifted, UK businesses experienced 14 million lost working days due to staff illness at an estimated cost of £2 billion. Of this:

  • 574 thousand days were lost due to staff suffering from musculoskeletal issues
    • At an estimated cost of £79 million
  • 495 thousand days were lost due to staff suffering from mental health-related issues
    • At an estimated cost of £68 million

The new findings are taken from Why Employee Wellbeing Isn’t Working. And What You Need To Do About Ita report from wellbeing and performance experts GoodShape, in conjunction with Ipsos. Gathering insights from over 750 managers, HR professionals, and C-level executives at medium and large sized UK organisations the report explores the major challenges UK employers are facing, why many employee wellbeing programmes are not effective and what can be done to fix it.


The wellbeing paradox

The findings expose a wellbeing paradox in UK business. Despite plans to roll back wellbeing initiatives, many of those currently used are seen as “much needed”. Mental health initiatives are top (71%), followed by remote working initiatives (66%), flexible working hours (65%) and occupational health services (64%).

“Employee wellbeing should be for the long-term, not just for the pandemic,” said Alun Baker, CEO of GoodShape. “It isn’t a boardroom priority today and many wellbeing programmes are simply not fit for purpose. A lack of strategy, training, data-led insight and measurement is holding UK business leaders back from reaping the full benefits of employee wellbeing on productivity, financial performance and the overall health of the company.” 


Wellbeing not a board issue

Eighty per cent of managers and HR professionals believe senior leaders take the issue of employee wellbeing seriously, yet there is little definition or ownership of wellbeing and insufficient training. Almost a third (27%) believe employee wellbeing initiatives have no effect on financial performance.  And very few managers and HR professionals have reliable data to measure the true impact of mental and physical illness on an organisation with only 16% citing insights as their biggest priority.


Lack of training and expertise 

Forty-five per cent of middle managers, the ‘first line of defence’ in many organisations, said they hadn’t received any training to support their employees’ wellbeing. And despite poor mental health being the UK’s leading cause of lost working time in 2021, only around a third of managers (36%) have been offered mental health first aid training. Nearly half (48%) would like to see more training or information to ensure they’re better prepared, and a similar proportion want more support from specialised staff and specific training (45% for both).


Business leaders’ perspective

Oliver Mennell, Co-Founder and CEO of NEOM: “There’s often a fundamental misunderstanding that high employee wellbeing and strong performance cannot co-exist. Wellbeing is the single biggest contributing factor to productivity. If we are stressed, tired, or in need of a boost, we simply aren’t at our best. We are much less likely to find innovative ideas or go out of our way to support our colleagues.”


Dr Carolyn Lorian, Head of Clinical Transformation at SilverCloud: “Employee wellbeing programmes need to be 100 per cent data and insights driven. If we just provide a menu of benefits and options for people to look after themselves – we are taking a stab in the dark about what support our people need. We’re also potentially not addressing the root cause of why people are struggling. It’s a bit like taking a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to our health – we wouldn’t go and prescribe certain medication to someone without understanding if they need it first.”


Gill Wetherill, Head of People at Progeny : “Organisations need to make wellbeing a priority and embed it into their culture in order for their employee programme to be successful. Otherwise, it is likely to slip into arranging token wellbeing initiatives that will not make any demonstrable difference. Employee wellbeing should always be a priority for businesses and not just within the context of a global pandemic.”


About GoodShape

GoodShape transforms the way organisations manage their employee health and wellbeing using a unique mix of clinical expertise and technology. With over a billion data points and 22 million days of absence data, GoodShape’s proprietary database is the largest single resource of insight into work-related illness and wellbeing in the UK.  GoodShape partners with big-name businesses across the UK – from FTSE 100 companies to NHS Trusts – to help leaders take a proactive and preventative approach to workforce wellness.  GoodShape is part of MARCOL, an investment company that has a special focus on global healthcare services. For more information, please visit