2 Public health need and practice
Work (both paid and unpaid) is a health-promoting activity and the benefits have been well documented (Acheson 1998; Waddle and Burton 2006).
National surveillance schemes identified approximately 6400 new cases of work-related mental health problems in Britain in 2005 alone. However, this is almost certainly an underestimate. In 2006 and 2007, 530,000 people in Britain believed they were suffering from stress, depression or anxiety due to work at a level that made them ill. An estimated 13.7 million working days (full-day equivalents) were lost as a result. In a survey of work-related illness, 242,000 people reported that they had experienced work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the previous 12 months (Health and Safety Executive 2008b).
Employees in public administration, defence, education and health and social work had some of the highest rates of self-reported stress, anxiety and depression (Health and Safety Executive 2008b).
People in lower paid jobs are more likely to experience poor working conditions, such as a lack of control of their workload, lack of job security, limited support and exposure to physical hazards. Consequently, improvements in the quality of work and working conditions may help to reduce health inequalities (Siegrist and Marmot 2004).
Several diseases and disorders (including coronary heart disease, musculoskeletal disorders and mental illness) are related to social and psychological conditions in the workplace (Marmot et al. 2005).
There is evidence to suggest that investment in healthy working practices and the health and wellbeing of employees improves productivity and is cost effective for businesses and wider society (Coats and Max 2005, Dunham 2001, Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project 2008). Research suggests that successful organisations share the characteristics of a healthy working environment (Pfeffer 1998).