All work and no wellbeing?

How can employers boost physical and mental health in the workplace? Chris Pinner considers the costs of poor wellbeing at work and how to address it.

Reading time: 5 minutes

Health and wellbeing at work matter; not simply because taking care of employees is the right thing to do, but because it boosts the bottom line.

91% of UK adults experience work related stress (Perkbox 2018). UK employees lose nearly 14% of working hours to absence and presenteeism (Vitality 2018), translating into around 36 days of productive time per person annually.

Aon’s recent investigation showed 96% of employers see a direct correlation between wellbeing and performance.

Providers who help companies boost wellbeing in the workplace are increasingly seeing organisations take corrective and preventative action on mental health, and enjoying business benefits as a result.

The rise of mental health issues

Common mental health disorders have been on the rise for years. Studies like Twenge et al., 2010 and Hidaka, 2012 highlighted this as a problem.

Modern pressures are not making the situation any better.

Stress is a particular challenge today. Added to modern external stressors, employees at every level are under constant pressure to perform. Too much stress can impair every facet of our working lives: our ability to concentrate, understand, make good decisions, interact and engage. 

Social interaction and mental health are closely connected (Dour et al., 2014, Bekele et al., 2015). Employees need to work well with everyone they encounter, this is challenging at best if an individual is suffering from stress.

The consequences personally and professionally are potentially disastrous.

Traditionally, businesses deal with stress reactively, struggling with lack of staff, reduced productivity, effects on colleagues, recruitment and additional admin. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. Businesses who approach this proactively can achieve a positive outcome.

96% of employers see a direct correlation between wellbeing and performance

More businesses are now understanding that implementing a wellbeing programme is not only far more effective, but it is financially astute. 

How physical and mental health are linked

It’s easier to understand physical health; symptoms are visible and we can empathise. 

Mental health is different; we fail to recognise symptoms in ourselves, let alone others. 

The truth is, the two are closely linked. 

Evidence shows there is a strong causal link between mental and physical health (Ohrnberger, Fichera and Sutton, 2017). 

Stress and other mental health issues often manifest as physical and/or physiological symptoms, from muscle tightness to far more serious problems.

Physical and physiological issues in turn, impact our mental health and the cycle continues (Nabi et al., 2008, Surtees et al., 2008).

The World Health Survey of 2007, for example, has also produced evidence that people with long-term physical health conditions are far more likely to experience mental health disorders. 

It makes sense that by keeping physically healthy, we are safeguarding our mental health.

How exercise impacts mental health

  • A natural high – When we exercise, we release chemicals including serotonin, endorphins and dopamine. These act as natural antidepressants, they lift our mood and make us feel good. 
  • Increased blood flow – Our heart and breathing rates increase when exercising – delivering fresh, oxygenated blood around our body and our brain, stimulating clear thinking and creativity.
  • Increased energy – It is true that the more you do, the more you can do. As you get fitter and healthier you will benefit from more energy, powering your day.
  • Quality sleep – Exercise is proven to improve sleep quality and quantity and to reduce snoring!
  • Reduced anxiety – Regular exercise is linked to reduced sensitivity to anxiety and depression, studies indicate that those doing at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week see the biggest benefits. 
  • Improved memory – Improved circulation and clarity of thinking bring with them an improved memory. Exercise enables us to rest our brains and organise thoughts.
  • Cognitive performance – All the factors above contribute to improved performance.

Supporting mental health through physical health

More employers and HR professionals are switching on to the health and financial benefits of wellbeing in the workplace, and not before time. 



Supporting mental health through physical health can be an easier and more enjoyable process than you may think. We recommend trying a GROW framework:

  • Goals: What does success look like? Begin with defining goals, achievable, realistic, measurable.
  • Reality: What is your reality today? Look at what you already offer: workplace ergonomics, employee engagement, talks, lunchtime walks, fitness sessions.
  • Options: What could you offer? Consider the opportunities available, such as employee assistance programmes, free apps (Headspace, Aura, Mapmywalk etc).
  • Will: What will you actually commit to? Start with small steps if necessary, and be prepared to review and adapt over time.


About the author

Chris Pinner is the founder of Innerfit



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