With an ageing population and rising retirement age, helping keep staff healthy is of long-term benefit to employers. But it can also bring more immediate rewards in workplace productivity, explains Dr Katie Tryon, head of clinical vitality at PruHealth.
Workplaces containing four generations of employees will become increasingly common as people delay retiring until their 70s or even 80s, predicts the recently published The future of work report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.
Britain’s Healthiest Company
Learn more about the Britain’s Healthiest Company initiative.
With an ageing population and the retirement age continuing to rise, it is inevitable that employers will increasingly pay the price as poor lifestyle behaviours contribute to the growing incidence of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart conditions and some cancers.
However, ensuring a healthy workforce it is not just something for organisations to be concerned about in the longer term, as there is evidence that tangible benefits can be reaped immediately.
Time and money
Research from Britain’s Healthiest Company shows that poor employee health costs businesses time and money. Healthy staff are more productive and engaged and less likely to take time off sick, whereas the number of days lost because of absenteeism and presenteeism (working while sick and therefore less productively) increases the unhealthier employees are. Unhealthy employees are 53% more likely to suffer from presenteeism and 55% more likely to have overall poorer productivity – through a combination of absenteeism and presenteeism – compared with their healthier counterparts.
“Healthy” staff were identified using PruHealth’s “Vitality Age” algorithm, which evaluates individuals’ true health age compared with their actual age. The number of days lost because of the combination of absenteeism and presenteeism was found to increase as the Vitality Age difference increased, reflecting the fact that people were less healthy and had poorer lifestyles. The research showed that healthier staff can also deliver financial savings through 48% lower productivity costs.
By looking at the state of employees’ health using a scientific barometer such as Vitality Age, organisations can also understand potential absenteeism rates and more effectively plan resources. The Britain’s Healthiest Company report reveals that employees with a Vitality Age of four to five years older than their real age (86% of respondents), have absenteeism rates that are double those of healthy employees. For those with a Vitality Age of nine to 10 years older, absenteeism rates increase to three times those of a healthy employee. This group typically includes smokers that often follow poor lifestyles.
Individual risks are just as likely as chronic disease to be associated with higher absenteeism and lower productivity levels. Those that are unhealthy – with lifestyle behaviours such as smoking, lack of physical exercise and poor nutrition – are more likely to take time off sick, and for longer, compared with people at low risk.
It is clear that health and wellness initiatives are no longer just tick-box exercises and organisations are increasingly recognising the financial impact they deliver. It makes much more sense to invest in keeping staff healthy and well rather than dealing with the more costly aftermath when they become sick.
One of the most critical success factors for workplace wellness is to ensure commitment and drive from company leadership, because their level of engagement in the health and wellness of their staff has a big impact. Organisations with poor management leadership when it comes to health and wellness policies are 25% less likely to have healthy staff, which is why organisations as diverse as Adidas UK and Japanese bank Nomura are flying the wellness flag from the top levels.
Gil Steyaert, managing director of Adidas UK, ensures his directors are in tune with all its programmes and initiatives, while Jeremy Bennett, Nomura’s EMEA chief executive, is an ardent supporter of its wellness initiatives and leads by example, being a keen runner and cyclist.
So what measures are organisations taking to improve productivity? Britain’s Healthiest Company looked at the health of nearly 10,000 employees across the UK and the health and wellness programmes that have had the biggest effect on their overall health. These include:
- onsite physical activity programmes such as walking groups, pedometer programmes, running clubs and so on;
- having a centralised location where employees can find information about health and wellness benefits and resources – for example, web portal and/or physical onsite space;
- training management in how to identify and reduce workplace stress-related issues – for example, performance reviews, communication, personnel management, assertiveness, time management and conflict resolution;
- company-sponsored or organised fitness events, sports leagues and competitions; and
- support and resources for managing chronic pain and musculoskeletal injuries.
A good place to start could be to look at the biggest areas responsible for chronic disease – smoking and poor nutrition. These are often not targeted at all in the workplace, and when wellness programmes are offered they rarely make it easy for staff to change health behaviour or to provide them with the motivation to do so.