Manufacturers in the UK have significantly increased their spending on workforce health and wellbeing, according to new research by Make UK.

Despite challenging economic conditions, nearly half of the manufacturers surveyed have boosted their investment in this area, seeing positive outcomes such as higher staff retention and fewer sick days.

In the past year, 48.6% of manufacturers reported an increase in health and wellbeing expenditure. The survey, “A Healthier Manufacturing Workforce – Wellbeing and Work in UK Manufacturing,” highlights that the majority (58%) of companies now allocate between £10,000 and £50,000 annually to staff wellbeing initiatives, a notable rise from previous years.

Positive Impacts on Retention and Sickness Absence

The increased focus on health and wellbeing has yielded tangible benefits. About 40% of businesses observed improved staff retention, and nearly 25% reported a decrease in sickness absence. The utilisation of occupational health services primarily involved workplace adjustments (67.4%), fitness-to-work assessments (59.4%), and access to mental health support (57.7%).

Mental health issues remain the primary cause of long-term sickness absence, with 40% of employers identifying this as the main driver. This has led to greater emphasis on employer investment in workplace adjustments, counselling, and mental health support.

Investment in health and safety technologies is a crucial component of the evolving manufacturing workplace. Nearly half (44.8%) of the surveyed companies are investing in safety display screens, 37.4% are increasing their spending on automation, and 36% are incorporating smart PPE equipment. Additionally, 24.7% of manufacturers are using software and devices to monitor health and safety risks, helping to prevent accidents and issues before they arise.

Cultural Shift Towards Health and Safety

There is a noticeable shift in employee attitudes towards health and safety, with more workers taking ownership of their wellbeing. Around 27.4% of employees are utilising incentives offered by their employers, and there is a growing culture of collective responsibility on the factory floor. Supervisors continue to enforce health and safety measures, but employees increasingly support each other in maintaining a safe work environment.

Health and wellbeing initiatives now constitute approximately 30% of company training budgets. This focus is embedded at the board level, with 40.8% of manufacturers training their senior teams in health and wellbeing issues. Over half (53.4%) of companies provide bespoke sessions aimed at integrating these principles into their company culture.

Call for Government Support

Make UK is urging the government to extend the scope of tax benefits for businesses investing in occupational health and wellbeing. Jamie Cater, Head of Employment and Skills Policy at Make UK, emphasised the critical role of workforce wellbeing in improving productivity, especially amid recruitment and retention challenges. “Our research shows increasing levels of investment, indicating that the sector understands the benefits. To avoid more people leaving work due to sickness, the government needs to act by introducing a long-promised expansion of tax relief on health and wellbeing services,” Cater said.