Unhealthy workers ‘costing employers billions every year’

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Employees’ poor health is costing business almost £3 billion per year and significant savings could be made if employers encourage them to change their lifestyles.

This is according to a report commissioned by Bupa, which focused on the effects of smoking, drinking and obesity on employee wellbeing, and the subsequent impact on business.

The report, carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, found that employers could make savings from increased productivity and a reduction in sick pay of £1.8 billion per year lost through alcohol misuse and £51 million per year lost through smoking-related illnesses if employees adopted healthier behaviours. A further £490 million per year could be saved by 2025 on obesity-related conditions.

The study also highlighted some of the impact that these factors have on absence levels. It found that people who drink excessively are prone to increased absenteeism through colds, flu, stress, depression and circulatory problems.

Meanwhile, smokers take higher levels of sick leave for back pain, cancer and circulatory problems. Obese workers are at greater risk of cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

Bupa has recommended a number of steps that employers can take in order to improve the health of their workers. Dietician Paul McArdle, who runs a nutrition clinic for Bupa said: “There are simple things companies can do to encourage employee activity, you could start an after-work running club, or encourage staff to raise money for charity by doing a sponsored 5K walk, or take advantage of the cycle-to-work scheme, the Government’s tax-free bikes initiative, which is available to companies with as few as two employees.

“Just three in 10 employees take a lunch hour, and the impact this is having could well be significant as almost half feel their productivity levels plummet in the afternoon around 3pm and as a result lose almost 40 minutes of their day due to this dip. Instead of taking a break to refuel, workers are using props including chocolates and sweets and caffeinated drinks to get them through the day. Taking an entire hour for lunch can often be difficult, and is not necessarily the best way to keep productivity levels up. Best practice is for employees to take breaks at regular intervals throughout the day to help stay alert and focused,” McArdle added.

XpertHR has a good practice guide available on sickness absence management.

You can also access policies and documents on sickness and sick pay at XpertHR.