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

23 January 2024

Vitality identifies the economic impact of poor health


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.  

Neville Koopowitz, CEO of Vitality, said: “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.” 


Notes to editors 

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

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