Research discussed at the recent Cigna Global Healthy Workplace Summit in London suggests that businesses should invest in staff wellbeing to reap significant rewards in staff productivity.
The indirect costs of poor staff health have been shown to be four times larger than the direct cost of providing health related programmes, according to Professor Allard Van der Beek.
A study in the Netherlands that looked at the cost of obesity to employers showed that the direct costs of medical care were 0.5 billion Euros per year, while the indirect costs in reduced staff productivity stood at 2 billion Euros, he said.
The professor added that businesses are shifting their thinking and giving staff wellbeing and productivity a greater priority. Instead of focusing on sickness and absenteeism through occupational health, there is more focus on health promotion and work engagement. This is resulting in a more positive attitude towards work.
The latest official statistics show that absenteeism is decreasing in the UK. In 2011, 131 million days were lost due to sickness absences, down from 178 million days in 1993.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that women have consistently higher sickness absence rates than men, but both sexes have seen a fall over the past 20 years:
It is not clear whether these figures show a reduction in illnesses or whether staff feel under increasing pressure to go to work while sick. However, the research suggests that by investing in staff wellbeing, through workplace health programmes or providing training in health and safety at work, businesses can gain an advantage in staff productivity.