Ill health costs firms 38 days per employee in lost productivity

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Employers lost on average 38 working days per worker to physical and mental health-related absence and presenteeism in 2019, costing the economy billions of pounds in lost productivity.

This is according to the annual Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study, compiled by insurer Vitality, which surveyed 26,393 employees and 130 businesses about staff health, wellbeing and lifestyle choices.

Just under half (45%) admitted to going to work while unwell last year, up almost a third on the proportion who said the same in 2014’s survey. Workers aged 18 to 25 were the most likely to experience presenteeism (55% of those in this age group, compared with 38% of workers aged 45 or over).

Younger staff were also most likely to struggle with their mental health – almost one in seven (15%) said they experienced depression in 2019, while 35% felt unwell because of work-related stress.

By comparison, 4% of staff aged 50 and over said they had suffered with depression, while 32% had felt unwell because of workplace stress.

The study, which is supported by RAND Europe, the University of Cambridge and Mercer Marsh Benefits, said these factors were having a significant impact on the UK economy, costing employers £91.9bn in lost productivity per year.

Almost three-quarters (£68bn) of this loss could be attributed to poor mental health and unhealthy lifestyle choices, it estimated.

Employees with higher rates of stress and poor mental health made unhealthier lifestyle choices overall, being more likely to smoke, binge drink and have unhealthy diets.

Neville Koopowitz, Vitality CEO said: “Every year the results of Britain’s Healthiest Workplace find the costs to business from ill-health and presenteeism are spiralling upwards.

“Despite this, many businesses continue to ignore the role of health and wellbeing and its intrinsic links to productivity. It’s no longer enough to create a health and wellbeing programme for employees and hope they’ll make use of it.

“The businesses that not only prioritise it, but also properly consider how they engage their employees to improve their mental and physical health, can see productivity increase in their workforce by as much as 40%, which is no insignificant number.”

Chris Bailey, a partner at Mercer Marsh Benefits, said: “This is a watershed moment for UK organisations, with greater than ever awareness around mental health, increased focus on inclusion, and more opportunity to access large employee bases through technology.

“In tackling the issue of wellbeing in the workplace, businesses must reach beyond the latest tech and ensure the support offered to employees is tailored and communicated well.”

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