The consequences of ill health can be significant for a business, with considerable direct and indirect costs arising from sickness absence – estimated by the HR and people development body, the CIPD, to cost UK employers £522 per employee per year.
But it doesn’t end there. Presenteeism – where employees attend work when unwell and perform below par – also comes at a cost. Indeed, the Centre for Mental Health has estimated that over half the cost to business of mental ill health at work is attributable to reduced productivity of employees when at work.
Stepping back, there’s much more to managing wellbeing than simply knowing what makes your team happy. It’s a state affected by a myriad of physical, psychological and social aspects of people’s lives. For example, a cash flow problem and/or relationship issues at home or in business, can spiral into stress, anxiety or even depression. Moreover, we know from our own research that physical, mental and financial health are prevalent issues, with nearly a third of UK workers we surveyed in 2016 saying they had struggled with their physical health (30 per cent), a similar proportion (36 per cent) said they struggled with their mental health and 52 per cent said they struggled financially.
In light of this, important though it is to manage sickness absence effectively, equally – if not more – important, is prevention. A good place to start is building and sustaining a positive, supportive workplace culture where employees are encouraged to lead healthy, active lives and have a good work/life balance. And, of course, if they should become ill or injured, ensure they are actively supported by encouraging them to take time off when necessary for check-ups and medical appointments.
When it comes to tackling the subject of lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise in your business, understandably, this may feel a little awkward. But these elements of our lives can significantly affect both physical and psychological health. Indeed, poor physical health can be bad news for your mood, self-esteem, energy levels and resilience. High blood pressure, for example, is associated with diminished cognitive ability, according to a 2008 study of people aged 40 to 60 by Stefan Knecht and colleagues from the University of Munster. But even simple measures and subtle changes such as encouraging a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise can help to improve physical and mental health.
Of course, despite best efforts to promote wellness, illness and injury will inevitably affect employees from time to time. To manage absence effectively it’s important to strike a balance between encouraging ill or injured employees to return to work at an appropriate opportunity, but not pressurising them to come back while they are still unfit or unwell. But getting this wrong can backfire and, if mishandled, a too early return to work can even lead to an extended period of absence should the employee have a relapse or recurrence of their condition.
A healthy, confident team is an asset to any small business and prevention, early intervention and allowing employees sufficient time to recover from illness or injury are all key to positive attendance management. By actively engaging with your workforce to support their health and wellbeing – and not forgetting your own, of course – you can go a long way to creating a workplace culture that optimises performance and productivity.
YouGov survey of 2,470 workers undertaken between 20th – 22nd May 2016, Q18 ‘All workers net’ column