Well-being: how keeping employees fit can lead to healthy profits

Presenteeism got you down? Thankfully, there's a remedy for that.

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 23 Oct 2017
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If you missed that this week [23-27 October] was Great Britain Health and Wellbeing Week, that may be because your desktop calendar has been obscured by freshly-opened tissue boxes and flasks of cold and flu remedies.

Yet workplace wellbeing is about more than seasonal sniffles, and it’s not only in the interests of your employees’ health: getting it right can boost your organisation’s vital signs too.  

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an estimated 1.3 million people who worked in 2015/16 were suffering from an illness they believed was caused, or made worse, by work. Meanwhile the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) points out that "illness as a result of work activity is just as serious as an accident".

According to the Labour Force Survey, around 80% of self-reported work-related conditions were musculoskeletal disorders or stress, depression or anxiety. And last year the CIPD reported a 41% rise in reported mental health problems, as the modern working environment continued to become more intense and pressured.

While any of these developments are of course a source of great distress for sufferers, they have a definite impact on the health of organisations too. The Labour Force Survey found the total number of working days lost due to stress alone in 2015/16 was 11.7 million days – an average of almost 24 days lost per case. 

And that’s only the cases that are reported. Absenteeism, where people miss work due to illness, has an under-recognised cousin: presenteeism, where people doggedly turn up for work in the face of an ailment, instead of taking time off.

But if you think that’s nothing to sweat over, the CIPD has found presenteeism to be twice as costly for organisations as absenteeism. Employees could be bringing anything to work – from chronic pain and gastrointestinal problems to migraines, anxiety and depression, and this can lead to reduced efficiency, selective attention, and greater risk of accidents – all of which negatively affect productivity. It can lead to low morale, loss of confidence, low engagement and higher staff turnover. And, by continuing to come to work, people rob their bodies of much-needed recovery time, thus increasing the chances of conditions getting worse. 

So the business benefits of staying on top of workplace wellbeing are as clear as a healthy sinus: wellbeing basically means if you have a happy and healthy workforce, it leads to higher levels of engagement, which means lower staff turnover and greater productivity.

The good news is there’s plenty your organisation can do by looking after the health and safety of your employees this can lead to improvements in their wellbeing…

• Change your environment. Stress is a physical response to situations, so work to improve things both physical and cultural. Run surveys to get a picture of how engaged your workforce is now; and assess the work environment and any organisational changes you’re planning, in terms of how it will affect people both mentally and physically.

• Offer support. As well as investing in career development, be specific about how you are going to improve wellbeing. Offer sessions in mindfulness, massage and yoga, or stress management and mental health awareness. Make it easy for people to exercise and eating well at work. And highlight how to get help for stress and anxiety: men, especially, have been found to be more likely to accept support if someone else has told them to do so.

• Be alert to presenteeism. Make sure your managers can spot which employees are battling flu, suppressing a migraine or shouldering stress. Stress carries physical signs just like colds and flu do: they include anger and crying, lethargy, mood swings, food cravings and fainting spells.

• Lead from the top. If the boss is shivering at the spreadsheets, it’ll send the message that others must follow suit. So they have to take a day off. Wellbeing, through good health and safety leadership has to be embedded in the culture, so if top-brass still need convincing, show them how it can make their P&L more healthy.

Workplace well-being is just one of the issues on the agenda at IOSH 2017, the international conference for health and safety professionals

Image credit: Ferobanjo/Pixabay

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