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THE HUMAN AND ECONOMIC COST OF PRESENTEEISM Can we really afford it?

5th May, 2019

Pippa Andrews, Director of Corporate Business, Vitality Health




The word presenteeism was barely a word a couple of years ago. Yet today it’s becoming part of our everyday language, as we seek to better define and understand the amount of people coming into work, but essentially not being present.

 

There have been many studies on the effect of absenteeism to business. But presenteeism has largely been ignored, possibly as it’s harder to define, understand and measure. Yet recent studies, including Vitality and RAND’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey, are signalling a year-on-year growth in presenteeism, which highlights the human cost, not to mention financial cost to business.

 

Anyone looking for answers to declining UK productivity rates will know that it’s been on the slide for some time – it’s currently around 16.3% below the average for G7 countries[1]. If we take this together with what the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey is showing us about presenteeism - a massive 32 lost productive days a year per employee on average - the real cost of presenteeism to business begins to emerge.

 

To put some numbers on these stats, Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study found that UK businesses have lost out on the equivalent of £81bn as a result of ill-health related absence and presenteeism in 2018, up 4bn on 2017[2]

 

A multi-faceted issue

 

If we dig a little deeper, we also see that presenteeism is intrinsically linked to mental health and the rise in mental illness in society, which is additionally estimated to place an extra financial burden on employers of between £74 and £99bn a year.[3] 

 

However, it’s not only poor mental health – for example, anxiety and depression - that impacts on presenteeism. In the six years since we started the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey, we’ve seen other factors play a part, too: lack of sleep, lack of physical activity, nutrition and stress. For example, lack of sleep alone costs business nearly seven days of productive time a year for every sleep-deprived employee.

 

Few employers would disregard such warning signs, even in the best of economic times. Now, though, it’s becoming virtually impossible to ignore the issue anymore. In that case, how do you effectively address presenteeism in the workplace?

 

 

An integrated approach

 

In our experience (more on that soon), you need to start by taking a whole-company approach. Employees need to be willing and active participants. But it’s just as important that the senior management team also lend their full support to any proposed wellness schemes.

 

There are inevitably key decisions on workplace wellness implementation and budget allocation required. But more than this, seeing your CEO and senior team taking the issue of wellbeing seriously, and actively taking part in initiatives, goes a long way in driving awareness and acceptability.

 

This can mean introducing some significant changes at board level. So for instance: embedding workplace wellness into company culture; getting workplace wellness onto boardroom agendas; and ensuring performance on staff health and wellbeing is regularly reported, discussed and acted upon at board level.

 

On the employee side, offering wellness incentives – such as rewarding positive lifestyle choices – can be a highly-effective first step in breaking bad habits and driving the healthier long-term lifestyle behaviours that can lead to a reduction in both absenteeism and presenteeism.

 

This doesn’t happen overnight, you may need to personalise initiatives along the way and, of course, it will all cost money. However, done consistently and diligently, the initial investment will easily be recovered from the longer-term benefits and improvement in productivity it produces. Not to mention healthier and happier staff.

 

Our experience at Vitality bears this out - we wholeheartedly practice what we preach. We carried out an internal analysis of the effects of our own workplace wellness strategy on 2,800 employees from all parts of the organisation, focusing particularly on absenteeism and presenteeism.

 

The headline results were startling: more physically active employees were 50% more productive than less physically active employees; this increase in activity helped drive a 28% cut in absenteeism rates and, in cases where more active employees were off sick, the length of absence was 46% lower than for less active employees. In our sales teams, we also saw a 38% rise in productivity (in lead generation calls made); a 34% rise in leads generated; and a 31% rise in quotes generated.[4]So healthier, more productive and better performing employees all round.

 

I repeat, none of this can be achieved overnight. But productivity losses can be reversed and presenteeism can be reduced, with all the benefits that this brings in terms of better physical and mental health.This will ultimately help us build a stronger economy, a happier workforce and a healthier society.

 

If, as I hope, I’ve aroused your curiosity in the benefits of an integrated workplace wellness strategy and understanding the overall wellness picture of your workforce, registrations for this years Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey 2019 are now open. It’s free to take part at https://www.vitality.co.uk/business/healthiest-workplace/register/

 

Last year over 123 companies and 26,462 employees filled in the survey. You can read the full 2018 BHW survey results at https://www.vitality.co.uk/business/healthiest-workplace/findings/


[1]https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/economicoutputandproductivity/productivitymeasures/bulletins/internationalcomparisonsofproductivityfinalestimates/2016

[2]Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study 2018

[3]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/658145/thriving-at-work-stevenson-farmer-review.pdf

 

[4]Vitality People Study 2018


Pippa Andrews, Director of Corporate Business, Vitality Health

Pippa leads the corporate health insurance division, including corporate sales, client management and retention and pricing for Vitality Health. Pippa’s brief is to revolutionise and drive corporate health and wellbeing, with the support of the Vitality programme, supporting employers to shape their health and wellbeing strategy, and ultimately drive employee engagement to the benefit of all through Vitality’s shared value model that brings material benefit to members, employees and society. Pippa speaks regularly at a number of corporate health and wellbeing events in the UK and is a proud advocate for increasing the number of females at board level.

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