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Poor Health at Work is Responsible for £138bn Loss to UK Economy Each Year

  • British businesses lost an average of 49.7 days per employee due to poor health, equivalent to £138.3bn across the economy.
  • Musculoskeletal conditions, depression, and poor sleep quality are among the main issues impacting productivity in the UK. 
  • Research shows the critical role that health and wellbeing in the workplace can have on employee health and productivity.

23 January 2024, London: Research conducted by Vitality, the health and life insurer, found poor health costs the UK economy an estimated £138 billion per year due to absence and impact on productivity at work. 

As part of its 2023 Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey, Vitality found UK workers lose an average of 6.1 days a year due to formal absence, with the majority of lost working hours due to employees not working effectively as a result of ill-health. On average, employees lose nearly one day per week (43.6 days annually) as a result of mental and physical health issues such as musculoskeletal conditions, depression, and poor sleep quality. 

While health remains a significant challenge for UK employers, there are positive signs that the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UK’s productivity have eased. The 2023 research shows reduced levels of burn-out (27.1% lower), job dissatisfaction (10.6% lower) and home-workers are less likely to report finding it difficult to relax while away from work (43% lower).

The impact of poor health 

Analysis shows how different health conditions, or health-related risk factors, affect productivity in the workplace – and consequently how businesses can provide effective employee support. 

Mental health issues had the greatest negative impact on productivity: those at risk of depression, fatigue and burnout lose 151%, 141% and 120% more productive days compared to those who do not report these health issues. 

However, physical health issues continue to affect productivity in the workplace and their impact should not be overlooked. Health risk factors such as a poor diet*, obesity, musculoskeletal conditions and lack of physical activity increase lost time by 14%, 54% and 28% respectively. 

The generational divide

A lack of productivity at work due to health concerns is particularly acute for those under 30, who lose an average of 59.7 days per year, whereas those over 50 lose an average of 36.3 days a year – a 64% difference. 

While younger people report better physical health, and being more physically active than their older colleagues, they have significantly higher levels of mental health concerns. The data revealed under 30s have higher levels of burnout (17.0%), depression (14.6%) and fatigue (55.6%) compared to other age groups. They are also 224% more likely than older employees (over 50) to suffer from depression, although this number increases to 257% if they are dissatisfied with their jobs regardless of their age.

The role of the employer 

Despite the clear correlation between health and productivity, employees do not feel workplace culture supports their wellbeing. One in five feel their manager doesn’t care about their health, with employees earning less than £30,000 per annum being 86% more likely to feel unsupported than their higher-earning colleagues compared to employees earning more than £60,000 per annum.

Companies are making efforts to tackle this although it is clear a targeted approach is required to ensure both employees and employers receive the mutual benefits of a healthy workforce. Amongst the companies surveyed, there was an average of 47 'interventions’ offered to tackle health issues, but only 25% of the individuals surveyed said they used the measures offered by their employer. 

The benefits of engaging with the available health interventions are clear: on average 85% of those who did use them found them useful, demonstrating an issue with awareness and engagement, rather than with efficacy. 

Our research clearly shows the impact of health and wellbeing on productivity in the UK, and the implications for the UK economy are concerning. The data highlights the complexity of the problem facing UK employers, but also the opportunity for benefit if it can be addressed. Businesses must recognise the importance and impact of facilitating a healthy workplace, one that acknowledges employees' mental and physical health needs. Action needs to be meaningful and informed, and employees need to feel that their wellbeing matters and be educated and encouraged to use the support available. If health at work is properly managed, business and the wider economy stand to gain significantly. Neville Koopowitz, CEO of Vitality. 

Notes to editors

*Poor diet was defined as not eating the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day


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Vitality surveyed more than 4,000 individuals, and their employers, to find out how much productive time they lost due to absence and presenteeism, and what factors drove their behaviour. The financial cost figure here has been calculated by looking at the average number of days lost to employee absence or poor productivity, the number of full time and part time employed people in the UK, and the median daily wage, to create an estimate of the cost to the economy of that lost productivity.

About Vitality Global

Vitality is part of Discovery Limited, a worldwide insurer and investment manager impacting more than 40 million members in over 40 markets worldwide, across Europe, the United States, Australia, Africa, Canada and China.

Vitality pioneered the ‘shared-value’ insurance model, a unique approach based on the scientifically proven principles of behavioural economics. Through this model, Vitality helps members take a more active role in managing their own wellness, encouraging them to develop healthy long-term habits that are good for them, good for the company and good for society. The effect is positive for all stakeholders – members benefit from better health, financial rewards and additional incentives; employers’ benefit from healthier, more productive, and more engaged employees; and Vitality benefits from a healthier membership base.

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