Sustainability is key to health of workforce

The connection between the health of the planet and its people is undisputed. Now we find that involvement in developing sustainability initiatives not only boosts workplace well-being and motivation, but is key to attracting the best young talent, writes Dr Robin Clark.

When we launched the Bupa Wellbeing Index a little over a year ago, our aim was to uncover the state of the UK’s health and wellbeing. 

In that time, we’ve seen how our healthcare needs and expectations have evolved, influenced by the changing global and geo-political landscape. 

However, it seems that our physical and mental health has somewhat stagnated.

The Bupa Wellbeing Index is a nationally representative sample survey of over 8,000 UK adults.* In 2022, 51% of respondents rated their physical health positively, with 14% reporting very good health and 37% saying their health was somewhat good. 

In 2023, the percentage of respondents rating their physical health positively decreased to 49%, the number reporting very good physical health remained at 14% and those rating their physical health as somewhat good also remained similar at 36%. 

The same pattern can be seen when it comes to mental health. In 2022, 54% of respondents rated their mental health positively, with 22% saying their mental health was very good and 32% rating it somewhat good. 

In 2023, the percentage of respondents rating their mental health positively slightly decreased to 50%, the proportion of respon­dents reporting very good mental health decreased to 20%, while the percentage of those rating their mental health as somewhat good decreased to 29%

These statistics clearly show that there’s work to be done to support a healthier population. 

We know that we’re still seeing the long-term impact of the pandemic on our health and well­being, and our focus is now on finding innovative solutions to address this. 

We want to encourage people to take action, provide information about where and how they can access it and support them to stay well for longer. And encouragingly, an overwhelming 88% of respondents believe that their health and wellbeing is a priority for them in the future. 

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Key concerns causing anxiety

Wellbeing Index respondents reported climate change, social injustice, poverty and mental health as the significant concerns causing them anxiety. Increasing rates of poor mental health caused anxiety for 62% and increasing rates of poor physical health worried 59%.

The survey revealed that 60% of respondents are anxious about the negative impacts of climate change, while unsurprisingly 79% are anxious about the cost of living. 

Younger people also feel a significant sense of responsibility for facing up to ecological issues – nearly half of Gen Z (46%) agree they feel the burden of climate change on their shoulders. 

The majority of both Millennials and Gen Z (56% and 59% respectively) agree their anxiety about environmental issues will only increase in the future.

The power of prevention 

In healthcare, the importance of pioneering a more sustainable system is paramount – particularly in light of increasing pressure on the system and, as our survey reports, nearly six in ten people (59%) are currently feeling anxious about increasing rates of poor physical health.

A key focus in the months and years ahead must be on recognising the value of prevention in health­care and its positive implications for the planet. 

It’s concerning that fewer than one-in-ten (9%) people report making any lifestyle changes to contribute to preventive measures in the last three months. 

This isn’t just the responsibility of the healthcare sector, employers have a role to play here too. 

Respondents reported that initiatives associated with maintaining good health would increase their motivation at work; 53% said free gym memberships, 62% said health insurance and 40% said cycle to work schemes. 

Shifting towards a proactive approach and prioritising preventive care not only benefits individual well-being, but also yields significant environmental advantages.

Ecological footprint 

By reducing the reliance on resource-intensive treatments and interventions, healthcare systems can minimise their ecological footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future.

People are aware of the impact that the healthcare system itself has on the environment, and over half (56%) of Wellbeing Index respondents agree the healthcare industry has a responsibility to be more sustainable. 

One potential solution to explore is digital services and their role in promoting sustainability. For example, our survey reveals that in the last three months alone, nearly one in ten (9%) of people have attended a remote medical appointment. 

And 9% of people – rising to 13% of 16 to 24-year-olds – have used a wearable health tracker, with many capable of remote healthcare monitoring for markers like heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar. 

This digital transformation not only enhances efficiency but also contributes to sustainability efforts. Digital services such as telemedicine and remote monitoring reduce the need to travel, resulting in decreased carbon emissions and a smaller ecological footprint. 

Embracing these digital technologies enables healthcare providers to improve patient outcomes while simultaneously reducing their environmental impact.

Sustainability in workplaces

The latest Bupa Wellbeing Index findings also highlight employees’ growing expectations of being actively involved in shaping sustainable practices at work. 

By embracing employees’ input and buy-in, organisations can unlock the full potential of their sustainability initiatives, ensuring greater success and effectiveness.

Nearly half of employed resp­ondents (45%) say their motivation at work would increase if they had the opportunity to contribute their sustainable and eco-friendly initiatives to leadership. This rose to 56% among Gen Z respondents.

A similar proportion (44%) say the same about having the chance to recommend sustainable and eco-friendly companies to partner with.

A strong commitment to meeting sustainability targets is also imperative when it comes to attracting new talent. Nearly half of Gen Z workers are willing to leave their jobs if their employer doesn’t demonstrate action on environmental issues. 

Alongside this, nearly half (42%) express their willingness to accept a pay cut to work for a more ethical or environmentally friendly organisation. 

On average, respondents are willing to accept a 19% reduction in salary to work for a more ethical or environmentally friendly organisation, rising to 23% among Gen Z and Millennials as they continue to become a larger proportion of the workforce. 

Across the board, respondents are also more likely than ever to say that if their employer does not take action on social or environmental issues, it will have a negative effect on their mental health and well-being at work – 42% of all workers agree.


While we continue to seek optimum physical and mental wellness, exploring innovative and comprehensive approaches to prevent and treat health issues, we’re becoming increasingly aware of the strong connection between people’s health and well-being, and the health of the planet. 

Organisations across the world have recognised the vital importance of sustainability in shaping a better future, supporting the health of their workforce and fulfilling their responsibilities for future generations. This should not merely be an external commitment; it starts from within.

Against the backdrop of an evolving climate crisis, the connection between individual wellbeing and a sustainable planet has become increasingly apparent. 

Sustainability has emerged as a pivotal driver of employee engagement, with many people increasingly motivated by meaningful initiatives that make a positive difference. 

Involving people in shaping sustainable workplace practices can drive productivity, loyalty and, importantly, talent retention. 

Indeed, despite worries about the cost of living, our latest Wellbeing Index research tells us that two-fifths of all respondents (42%) say they’d accept a job on lower pay to work for a more ethical or environmentally friendly organisation. 

In recognising this link, it’s clear that organisations must prioritise sustainability to not only preserve our environment but also protect the well-being of their people. 

By weaving sustainability into the fabric of their operations, organisations can cultivate a culture of shared environmental responsibility while simultaneously nurturing the health and happiness of their workforce. 

This holistic approach not only fuels employee motivation and satisfaction, retention and productivity, but also contributes to the well-being of people and the planet as a whole.

 Read more at: ‘Sluggishness in sustainability poses risk of brain drain for businesses’ at

* Bupa commissioned Censuswide to poll a nationally representative sample of 8,002 UK adults. The data was collected between 09/06/2023 and 16/06/2023. Censuswide abides by and employs mem­bers of the Market Research Society and follows the MRS code of conduct which is based on the ESOMAR principles.

Dr Robin Clark (right) is medical director for Bupa Global and UK Insurance