There are five key challenges set to undermine the health of employees in 2024 that employers will need to be prepared to address.
Every year, our clinical team takes stock of the wellbeing challenges employers will face during the year ahead, so we can share our expert insights on how best to navigate these.
As our predictions for 2024 reveal, ongoing NHS delays will cause employers to question how long they can support people to stay in reduced roles. While ESG pressure to make sure access to wellbeing is inclusive will lead to initiatives tailored to different demographics.
Add to that stress and anxiety linked to increasing AI adoption and financial hardship driving more people to eat ‘ultra-processed’ foods and 2024 will also pose several new health risks. Read our full blog to get our expert insights on ways to navigate the five challenges ahead.
Five employee wellbeing challenges for 2024
1. People stuck in reduced roles due to NHS waiting times
NHS waiting times caused one in three employees to miss work in 2023 and the problem is set to get even worse this year. Employers who might have once been able to modify someone’s duties, while they waited for investigation or specialist treatment, may now find they can’t justify leaving someone in a reduced role for months on end. Not only does this put individuals’ employment prospects at risk, but it will also create severe skills shortages.
Employers who want to keep skilled employees in their role will have to consider ways of preventing them from getting stuck on NHS waiting lists. For example, funding private healthcare or initial appointments, so employees can be treated more quickly. Or making it easier for employees to self-refer themselves into mental health and physio helplines, so they can get the expert advice needed to nip problems in the bud to stay in work.
2. Impact of ‘ultra-processed’ foods on wellbeing
The cost-of-living crisis is expected to cause the number of people eating ultra-processed foods to increase even further in the coming year. Although swapping canteens for vending machines and fresh ingredients for instant soups, snacks and processed meat might appear to make financial sense, the chemicals and processes used to preserve these products have been linked to a higher risk of cancer, obesity, heart disease and early death.
If employers don’t want ultra-processed foods to undermine the health of their workforce, it’s essential they educate employees on the risks and provide education on affordable healthy food. For example, by eliminating the perception that good nutrition requires cooking from scratch using expensive fresh ingredients, when batch cooking from healthy frozen and tinned food can be just as nourishing. Not to mention more affordable and less time consuming when reheating.
3. Creating more equitable wellbeing as part of ESG agendas
ESG agendas have been mostly concerned with environmental and diversity and inclusion targets. However, the focus is now expected to shift to what employers are doing to keep their people physically and mentally healthy and provide equitable access to wellbeing. Not only will this require employers to collect enough data to demonstrate that they are supporting wellbeing at work, but it will also require them to segment this data according to different demographics to show that they are being equitable and inclusive.
Critical to this will be working more closely with wellbeing providers so that instead of just analysing sickness and absence data, you can also look at how wellbeing initiatives are keeping people in work, boosting productivity, progressing EDI agendas and enhancing the reputation of the business to make it easier to attract and retain skilled people. Automated data-driven insights will be critical to achieving this so that time and effort can be put into really understanding the workforce and creating strategies tailored to different demographics.
4. Reducing impact of AI adoption on mental health
Increased adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) is set to affect even more jobs in 2024, with the World Economic Forum predicting that one in four jobs will be affected over the next five years. In total 85m roles are expected to be lost to automation and AI tools, ranging from ChatGBT to Gamma and Numerous AI, designed to carry out previously human tasks.
For a long time, technology has been evolving faster than human psychological processes can adapt to, as evidenced by the impact of social media on the mental health of young people. However, this ‘new era of turbulence’ will lead to an unprecedented surge in stress and anxiety for all workers if employers do not take stock of the risks and train employees to develop the emotional resilience skills needed to weather the change.
5. Upskilling managers to support wellbeing
With 2024 set to be an even more challenging year ahead, line managers will be more important than ever for ensuring work doesn’t make people sick. Unfortunately, research by the CIPD shows that managers remain the biggest negative impact on wellbeing, with one in two employees who have a poor manager saying work negatively affects their mental health.
This means the single most important thing employers can do to boost the health of their workforce in 2024 is to equip managers with the tools and support to manage wellbeing. This requires equipping them with an understanding of how their behaviour can impact on the emotional energy levels, sense of purpose, autonomy and motivation of others. All of which have been proven to be root drivers of wellbeing. By teaching managers how to pull on these levers in positive ways, you can help them to create a culture that empowers people to thrive.
Free training session: A framework for upskilling managers to support wellbeing 9.30am Tuesday 23 January 2024
Janet O’Neill, our head of occupational health training, will be kicking off our 2024 webinar programme by sharing a framework for upskilling managers to support wellbeing.
Join us on Tuesday 23 January to learn more about the role of your managers for boosting the health, resilience and motivation of your workforce.