In the City, we spend a great deal of time discussing the financial health of our companies and industries, focusing on how it could be improved to ensure their long-term success. Rarely, however, do we pay the same attention to the workers on whose performance that success depends.
The City has a unique set of health challenges which need to be addressed. Despite only having 9,000 residents, more than 400,000 workers pour into the Square Mile every day, giving us the UK’s highest daytime population density. And these workers have very different health needs to those of our residents.
Everyone knows the cost of days lost to illness, but the figures are still striking: employees in the UK took 131m days off sick in 2013, an average of 4.4 days per worker, which PwC calculated cost businesses £29bn. With job insecurity still high, these figures mask those who struggle to work while still unwell, potentially prolonging their illnesses or making others ill. This obviously benefits neither businesses nor individuals.
Smoking is a big problem. On average, smokers report the worst health of all City workers and a study we conducted in 2012 showed that almost a quarter of City workers smoke. These figures are higher than those for the rest of London and for England as a whole. I want to see those figures go right down.
In the same survey, 18.5 per cent of City workers reported stress for several months of the year. Stress is one of the leading causes of prolonged absence. It is better for all if workers can be prevented from becoming stressed, and for strong support networks to be in place for workers who do experience periods of stress.
That is why a focus not just on physical health but also on mental wellbeing is so important for the City. Employers say that investing in their employees’ health and wellbeing results in a productive and motivated workforce who feel valued and cared for. This in turn helps with staff recruitment and retention.
Small steps such as providing healthy food in the staff canteen, workplace gyms, encouraging staff to cycle to work, and training managers to help support their staff in times of stress are all ways that employers can transform their employees’ health and wellbeing. The Square Mile is also home to around 200 green spaces; taking time to enjoy these during the working day is another way to improve your wellbeing.
The same is true for volunteering, which has been shown to improve health, reduce stress and cut sick leave. A recent study showed that 94 per cent of people who volunteer say that it improves their mood. It’s clear that there is a huge economic benefit to volunteering – it could well be in the tens of billions – and more needs to be done to clarify the precise impact.
Last year, the City of London Corporation established Business Healthy, a programme to support businesses to promote the health and wellbeing of their employees. We’re helping firms to tackle these challenges head on, because when the City’s workers are healthy, the companies they work for will have the greatest chance of success.