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Can escalating work age ill health ever be reversed?

Neville Koopowitz
health

Three-quarters of ill-health related productivity loss is due to factors which can be influenced and addressed through health and productivity management strategies. British businesses lose £81 billion per year as a result of employees’ ill-health, with 35.6 working days per employee, on average, lost due to ill-health related absence and presenteeism in 2018. Contributor Neville Koopowitz, CEO – VitalityHealth.

New research from VitalityHealth reveals that three-quarters of ill-health related absence and presenteeism in 2018, equating to £61bn, came from factors such as depression, poor lifestyle choices, and stress, all of which are can be targeted by businesses through health and wellbeing initiatives. 

The data – from Vitality’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study, which is developed in partnership with RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge – found that British businesses lost the equivalent of £81bn as a result of ill-health related absence and presenteeism in 2018 overall, a £4bn increase on 2017.  

The study also revealed that employers lose, on average, 35.6 working days per employee per year due to health-related absence and presenteeism. 

The companies with the best results in the study demonstrated a 30-40 percent reduction in productivity loss linked to ill-health, compared to other companies in the survey. Interventions from business were shown to have a marked effect on employees’ health and these top performing companies all showed common characteristics such as embedding a culture of health, having capable line managers who supported employees and having high awareness and participation in their health and wellbeing programmes. 

Mental health was found to be a significant driver of productivity loss, accounting for £38bn of the total cost to businesses last year. Of this, £17.2bn stems specifically from workplace stress, a driver which businesses can address through various interventions and initiatives. 

For instance, 83 percent of people who used one-on-one coaching to support mental health and wellbeing found it impactful and 78 percent of people said the same for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). 83 percent of employees who used massage or relaxation classes also said it had a positive impact on their mental health at work. 

However, the research demonstrated that awareness of and engagement with such interventions was low. For instance, while 67 percent of employees have access to interventions in the mental health space, only 26 percent of them claim to have knowledge and awareness of the interventions on offer. Additionally, once aware, only 18 percent of employees actually participate in any of the programmes, demonstrating that not only do employers need to increase awareness, but employees need to engage with the interventions available to maximise impact.

Commenting on the publication of today’s data, Neville Koopowitz, CEO at VitalityHealth, said: “For the sixth year in a row, Vitality’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace data illustrates the huge cost of absence and presenteeism to British businesses. With this data showing that employees lose, on average, over 35 days each a year, it is becoming impossible for businesses to ignore the link between ill-health and productivity.   

“Simply implementing intervention programmes is no longer enough. By prioritising and elevating employee engagement in health and wellbeing within the business, ideally to Board level, we can make a significant difference to productivity and the overall success of the business. Not only can this bring about a competitive advantage for companies, but it will ultimately build a stronger and healthier society for us all. With this being such an important and compelling ambition, we will be developing a number of initiatives that will support a healthier corporate Britain in 2019 and beyond.” 

Dale Garbacki, Technical Advisor, at Dixons Carphone’s Customer Support Centre in Preston, said: “I went through what I’d describe as the lowest part of my life – sadly my wife, who I had been caring for, passed away. I shut myself away and I wasn’t doing well. I was doing the minimum required to pay the bills and this was reflected in my output at work. 

“When I shared with my managers where I was at, they were amazing. They really reached out at a time of need and gave me a hand up. They put me in touch with the right people at work who could help so I could get the attention I needed. Crucial for me was taking part in the Dixons Carphone Ultimate Workplace fitness challenge which has transformed my overall health and mental wellbeing.

 

“I’d urge anyone struggling with their physical or mental health to ask for help from those around them and for employers to make sure colleagues know about what support is available. Ultimately, done well, it means people come to work happy, healthy, more confident; that’s good for them and the people they work with and it can only make good business sense. I feel better at problem solving and my positive attitude at work definitely helps me resolve customers’ problems in a much better way for them. I now make a point of smiling at my colleagues as they come through the door.”

Paul Fairclough, Scheduling Coordinator at United Utilities, commented: “As someone who kept their battle with mental health issues a secret for over a decade, it’s positive to see the conversation around mental health becoming more open, and employers – like mine – engaging actively in the discussion. That said, we are still on the journey to enabling everyone to confidently speak up, to access the support they need.”

Christian van Stolk, Vice President, RAND Europe, said: “Although it is encouraging to see an increase in the number of employees that have access to health and wellbeing initiatives in the workplace, the data from this year’s study also shows that businesses are still failing to properly engage employees, and get their participation, with such initiatives. We know from the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace findings that employees report a significant improvement to physical and mental health as a result of workplace interventions year on year. As such, businesses need to do more to drive effective employee engagement – this is critical to addressing the issue of productivity loss across our nation.” 

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