The true cost of illness to employers

May 9, 2019

The MyEva team brings you insightful content on workplace financial wellbeing

The true cost of illness to employers
Losses in productivity are costing the country billions per year, what can we do about it?

The ONS found that a loss of productivity due to health-related issues is costing the UK economy around £77.5 billion per year, and an average London firm of 250 employees loses around £250,000 a year due to employees’ ill health.

There is also evidence to show not only that employers’ lose money by not investing in employee health and wellbeing initiatives, but that they can benefit financially from them, with the potential to see a significant return on their investment.

Bupa’s ‘Healthy Work – Evidence into Action 2010’ report found that the return on investment for some workplace health initiatives can range from £2 for every £1 spent (1:2) to £34 for every £1 spent (1:34).

So, what can you – the employer – do to help?

Here are some ideas for measures you can take and initiatives that you consider in order to provide a healthy, clean, and safe working environment, aiding (as much as possible) the positive health of your workforce.

Stress less

Stress not only makes it more challenging for employees to do their job, but it also reduces resistance to colds and flu – and that can mean more days missed from work.  Help your employees ease their stresses as best you can. Why not consider holding a stress management workshop where experts demonstrate techniques such as meditation, yoga or tai chi? Perhaps set up a library of books and audiotapes on stress reduction techniques that employees can access during their breaks and lunch hour. You could hire a massage therapist to come in once a month, or perhaps hold yoga sessions in your office. It’s also helpful to offer flexitime for your employees which can be especially useful for those dealing with stressful issues at home.

Work/personal life balance is important

No one should be burning the candle at both ends, so do what you can to help with this. If your company doesn’t pay extra for overtime, consider giving that time back to your employees in lieu. Consider offering flexible working hours (as above) – when employees feel a greater sense of control and ownership over their personal and working lives, it’s shown that they are better at compartmentalising.

Hygiene

It's very important here. If an employee is ill with something infectious (e.g. flu) then send them home. It is likely that this will lessen their recovery time, and prevent others from catching illness, too.

Hydration

is key to maintaining healthy employees. Staying hydrated aids mental and physical workplace performance, offsets potential safety risks and increases work productivity. Research shows that even a reduction in dehydration levels of as little as 2% of body weight can influence mood, lead to greater feelings of fatigue and reduced alertness. In order to create a healthy hydration culture for your employees, consider the following: Do your employees have access to clean, safe drinking water? Do you give your employees time to drink water? Do you remind your employees to drink water?

Support regular fitness

Consider providing free or discounted health and fitness subscriptions, to encourage a healthy lifestyle, while also improving the financial wellbeing of your employees. Worrying about money can often be the cause of wider health problems that in turn can also negatively impact performance at work. If you have the funds and the space for a basic onsite fitness centre then consider building one – this would be convenient for your employees, and may save you money in the long run. If you don’t have that luxury, search out discounts on local gyms in the area. Cheaper still, why not start up an office running club, or fitness group? There are plenty of options, so get creative. For more on the ways that exercise can directly benefit your office workers, click here.

Promote healthy eating

The more you make healthy eating an option, the less likely it is that your employees will engage in poor eating habits. Consider a free-for-all fruit bowl, offering up healthy snacking alternatives, and distracting from the inevitable biscuit trolley! Source local healthy food outlets offering business discounts in your area. Another option is to gamify the healthy eating process, as many people thrive on competition and respond to tangible rewards. Come up with games and challenges – both individual and team-based – to get people motivated.

Encourage frequent breaks

Breaks are essential for de-stressing and re-charging. They can also help prevent eye strain, headaches, blurred vision, and employees potentially having to take time off work – these are symptoms often incurred from using a computer, laptop or mobile device for extended periods of time.

Excellent ergonomics

Ergonomics is all about having a healthy working environment that works for you and your staff. There are lots of elements that contribute to great ergonomics, such as having the correct chairs and computers/desk which, in turn, can prevent issues like back and neck strain. Height adjustable of 'stand up desks' are a great idea to help with posture, fatigue, energy levels, etc. Consider hiring an occupational health consultant to come to your office and assess your working environment. For a holistic view around ergonomics and how you can make them work for you and your company, click here.

Maintain a good office temperature

An office that’s too cold or too hot could result in ill employees. According to HSE regulations, the minimum temperature in a standard workplace should be 16 degrees Celsius, or at least 13 degrees Celsius if the work involves rigorous physical input, but it’s important to consult with employees to ensure they’re happy with the temperature and conditions.

As the saying goes, ‘health is wealth’, and this couldn’t be more true than in an office environment. According to the ERS Health at Work: Economic Evidence Report 2016, an unnamed professional services company invested £75,000 in a health adviser, who delivered healthy lifestyle advice, fitness classes and relaxation classes into their workplace. This investment may seem pricey, but it resulted in a 10% reduction in staff turnover, resulting in savings of £464,000 and absenteeism savings were calculated at £23,000 (a benefit-cost ratio of 1:6.5).If this is beyond your budget then think about what you can do to help reduce illness at work, not only for the benefits to the bottom line but also for the human benefits. Health is a state of body and wellness is a state of being. Invest in both.

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