Off message: Human resources can use statistics to prove anything

There is no doubting that it has been a testing time recently for the British sports fans – including many in human resources (HR) – devoted to betting on the success (or otherwise) of our national teams. But as the gambling culture so feared by the Daily Mail, the other tabloids and the Church of England grips the nation, along with the obesity crisis, binge drinking, the stress epidemic and leaves on the line, what are the odds on your employees actually turning up to work?

Not very good, it seems.

According to the Daily Mail, 300,000 people in the UK are already addicted to gambling, and the problem is only going to get worse. Bearing in mind that gambling costs money, it’s odds-on that most of that 300,000 are either in work or in the pay of the Devil himself. This is a view shared by the Church of England, which wants curbs put on gambling ads on TV and elsewhere – perhaps fearing that youngsters might somehow become indoctrinated and get hooked on this nefarious habit (what kind of evil genius would stoop so low as to target the nation’s young minds in such a cynical way, I wonder?).

All bets are off

Sadly, the number of days actually lost to gambling addiction is difficult to put a finger on with any great certainty, but the odds are that it knocks at least a few hundred thousand hours a week from the productivity ledger.

But that’s a mere bagatelle compared with the small matter of genuine sickness absence.

Helpfully, those poker-faced statisticians at the government provide some figures for this one, and they’re pretty impressive: 24,319,000 days lost to illness, of which 9,450,000 are musculoskeletal (of which 3,766,000 are due to back pain) and 10,537,000 the direct result of stress. Add to that the 30,458,000 days lost to injury.

Then there are the fakers, with managers estimating that staff ‘pulling a sickie’ cost the economy 21,000,000 days at a cost of £1.6bn. It should come as no surprise that the CBI found that most of this was extended weekends, with the rest largely down to watching major sporting tournaments.

And while the AWOL workforce is indulging in this sedentary sporting pastime, it’s racking up a £2bn bar bill pushing its liver to the limit, avoiding 14 million working days in the process. More shockingly, the nation’s liking for the odd smoke during working hours is said to cost three times as much as sickness absence in terms of time and lost productivity.

Unhealthy obsession

Bearing in mind that sickness absence is reckoned to be worth 164 million days lost at a cost of £13bn a year, you can see that the smoking break is quite a problem – especially now that a quick puff behind the sheds has somehow become ‘trendy’.

Of course, to be diagnosed as sick requires a doctor’s certificate, and this itself turns out to be another time-consuming affliction as, according to a recent survey by Alliance Boots, GPs tend to schedule worker visits to their surgeries during working hours at a cost to the nation of 28 million working hours and £1bn a year. Paradoxically, when people who are unemployed get a tickly throat, they invariably get to go along to the doctors in after-hours sessions. This is known as the Venos Paradox.

Now all this number crunching is probably making you tired. Or hungry. Or both. But they are equally disastrous occupations for the timekeeping evangelist.

Obesity is said to account for a huge proportion of the people off sick with heart complaints, eating into the profits of UK plc, while being tired causes its own problems.

It turns out the typical UK employee is late at least once a month (rising to three or four days a month if the employer doesn’t pay attention). This is estimated to cost the economy £7.7bn a year. But this should come as no surprise to anyone as, according to the British Medical Journal, one-quarter of all adults have insomnia – that’s around 11 million people.

It’s no wonder they miss the train so often. Trouble is, even when they do catch it, it’s liable to be delayed by those mysterious green, gold and brown things known as‘the wrong type of leaves’, which, according to the Scotsman newspaper, are responsible for 11 million hours being lost at a cost of… wait for it… £7.7bn per year.

Learning by numbers

But it’s not just skiving that’s depriving the UK economy of its workforce. Workers are now entitled to 10 days off for basic training (up to level 2) that schools should have provided – even for those who don’t want it, who will invariably get nothing from it and will just be making up the numbers – just like the statisticians, then.

The CBI says this will cost £25bn in lost productivity even though the government is willing to stump up the cash through the Learning and Skills Council. And you could easily double that on account of the time and money wasted in the school system prior to them joining the workforce.

Training, though, can itself be a tiring thing, as after their 10-day stint the British worker deserves a nice break. But even holidays don’t stop the rush to not turn up, with some 1.7 million people taking extra days off as ‘post-holiday recovery time’. Strangely, those easily influenced youngsters (16- to 24-year-olds) are the main culprits – presumably on account of their binge drinking, late nights and too much poker.

Of course, an increase in gambling could actually lead to people spending longer at their desks – and not just to do more online betting, but to do more work, to earn more money, to fuel their increasingly out-of-control habit. Or it could be that there will be more online shopping done at work in the run-up to Christmas – at a cost of £260m in lost productivity.

Needless to say, the religious fraternity is not happy about that either.

But as the lead singer of the Pixies ,Frank Black, once said: “If the Devil is six, then God is seven.” Being a staunch Catholic, he obviously meant to say ‘666’, but it didn’t scan. But that would mean that God is ‘777’, which is a positive for Jesus and his chums. It’s also a lucky break for the makers of slot machines (who, in all probability, probably knew that any way).

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