The importance of wellbeing at work in the 21st century

The importance of wellbeing at work by Dr Adrian Massey

Written by Dr Adrian Massey, Chief Medical Advisor at retailTRUST

Work and health are inextricably linked. The social status, financial security, interpersonal interactions and daily structure provided by work are all vital contributors to our self-esteem, fulfilling our innate need for a sense of purpose and belonging. When we meet someone new invariably the second question we ask will be what they do; it helps to define how we see ourselves and how others see us.  In the last couple of decades, research has led us to appreciate the strength of this association between employment and wellbeing. Those people who fall out of work score less well in practically all metrics of health: rates of mental illness, and drug and alcohol misuse, in particular are appreciably higher amongst this group. Quantity as well as quality of life is affected; long-term unemployment is associated with early death.

The role of work, and the workplace, as a tool for improving health is increasingly recognised. Once, when we thought of health and work, it was in the negative sense of wanting to protect people from the harms of potentially dangerous jobs. Great progress has been made; between 1974 (when the Health and Safety at Work Act was introduced) and 2004, workplace fatalities fell by over 80%. The workplace can still be the scene of tragedy, and the cause of chronic illnesses such as industrial deafness, vibration white finger and occupational cancers. But, mercifully, on a scale that is much, much smaller than was once the case. Now, in today’s heavily service-sector dominated economy, the focus has shifted.

We aspire to create workplaces that are not merely ‘safe’, in the sense that they should not pose a hazard to life or limb, but as places which are instrumental in improving the quality and richness of people’s lives. 

The rewards of positive, life-changing jobs are not simply for the individual. Successful progression in a meaningful career is the engine for social change, with positive effects for the employee’s family and – through their contribution to the exchequer – for wider society. Employers derive the productivity gains, and commercial advantage, that an engaged and motivated workforce offer. There are even advantages for our health service, since people who are happy, fulfilled and productive enjoy better health. The mission for healthy workplaces can even help to reduce the pressures on our much loved, but immensely strained, health service.

Wellbeing at work means that everyone stands to gain: individuals, families, employers, and wider society.

Forward-thinking employers are embracing the challenge, not simply because provision of healthy workplaces is something that health and safety law requires them to do, and not just because there is a competitive advantage to be gained by doing so, but because being part of this quantum shift is the most exciting opportunity that exists today to truly improve people’s lives.

This is the reason why retailTRUST, the trade charity for the 4.5 million people involved with retail, is raising awareness of the importance of employee wellbeing during October through its Wellbeing Awareness Month. retailTRUST will be marking awareness days including National Work Life Week (7-11 October 2019) and World Mental Health Day (10 October 2019), as well as sharing a range of wellbeing content throughout the month. 

Preventative self-help resources to support businesses and their employees

retailTRUST recently diversified their offer to include digital wellbeing support through myrtwellbeing.org.uk. The confidential site contains expertly curated digital content which can be personalised to support the wellbeing of retail employees.

This life-changing initiative offers individuals proactive and preventative self-help resources, so they can get timely support before any issues escalate, which reduces the impact on both the employee and employer.

Employees can access over 350 pieces of digital content covering 85 different topics to support their emotional, physical, vocational and financial wellness. The content is tailored to their evolving needs and interests, and all the information is totally confidential which makes myrtwellbeing.org.uk a true one-stop shop for health and wellbeing support. 

Wellbeing at Work Forum on 28 November 2019

The Trust is also planning its first Wellbeing at Work Forum which is taking place on 28 November 2019 at the iconic Science and Industry Museum in Manchester. The one-day event showcases best practice and key trends in the workplace. Delegates will learn about the strategic and practical elements of developing wellness programmes, managing stress and building resilience amongst their colleagues. More information can be found here.

About the author

Dr Adrian Massey is a consultant occupational physician who has worked in medical practice for 22 years. He is the renowned author of ‘Sick-Note Britain’, Medical Director of Duradiamond Healthcare, and Chief Medical Advisor at retailTRUST.

You can hear Dr Adrian Massey speak at the retailTRUST Wellbeing at Work Forum on 28 November 2019.