Sick worker

Lack of Occupational Health Services for employees is costing UK businesses £77.5 billion a year

Jul 2019

Research suggests that staff sickness/absence is costing UK businesses £77.5 billion a year. The evidence suggests that this is due to both absenteeism and presenteeism i.e. where employees come to work even though they are sick but end-up not working effectively, or worse, making mistakes or having accidents due to an underlying health condition.

Long-term sickness/absence usually means the business has to pay the cost of training up existing staff and/or employing temporary staff to cover the person whilst they are not in work. It is often harder to fill gaps for the absence of specialised, skilled and/or safety critical staff, particularly at short notice or for limited periods.

Where internal staff cover the sickness/absence, this simply adds to their workload and ends up increasing the pressure on them. Indeed, in a society where psychosocial and workplace stressors are arguably at an all-time high, it is no wonder that the knock-on impact of sickness/absence can be more sickness/absence. Worryingly, this can also result in employees looking elsewhere for employment with less workplace driven stress.

A number of authorities argue there is increasing pressure for individuals to attend work when ill and struggling with some very real psychological and/or physical ill health symptoms. Evidence identifies that in 2018 some individuals have spent as much as 27.7 days in work whilst they are ill and arguably are unfit for the workplace. In such cases there can be notable impact on not only the health, safety and welfare of the individual, but also their productivity and the quality of their work.

A survey conducted by Vitality Health UK and associates concluded that

  • Workers lose 13.6% of their working hours, the equivalent of 35.6 days of productive time, every year due to sick days and underperformance in the workplace as a result of illness.
  • The combined economic impact of these illness-related absences and presenteeism costs £77.5 billion annually for UK businesses, this is a 6.2% increase from the previous year.

A study by XpertHR on sickness absence data confirms the impact that presenteeism can have on a business, with costs to employers increasing on average from £455 to £570 per employee in 2017. 

With workplaces arguably becoming increasingly more stressful, the impact on employee’s mental health can be profound, particular in certain operational sectors such as blue light. Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey found that 34% of employees say they have felt physically unwell because of work-related stress, whilst the charity, MIND, reported that one in four employees suffer mental health in silence, not feeling they can speak to an employer about it, often for fear of reprisal.

According to a report published by Deloitte in 2017, mental health alone costs employers in the UK up to £42 billion a year in absenteeism/presenteeism.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and Aviva conducted a survey of over 1,000 business leaders from across the UK, which found one-third of businesses have seen an increase in the number of staff taking time off for mental health reasons. Adam Marshall, BCC Director-General, said: “It is absolutely crucial for business leaders to pay ever close attention to the health and wellbeing of their employees – especially at a time when firms are facing severe challenges finding and retaining the skilled staff they need.”

The stress of a workplace can greatly affect staff and if nothing is done about it, it can result in serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. This not only has a detrimental impact on the individual and their families but also on the business and the rest of the team.

Staff are a key business asset and are essential to the efficiency, productivity, and profitability of a business. For a healthy, productive business you need healthy, productive staff. To keep staff happy and healthy businesses can and should provide occupational health services to their employees.

How can Occupational Health services help?

Occupational Health is a specialist branch of medicine focusing on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in a workplace. Occupational health services aim to keep workplaces healthy, protect and promote the health and wellbeing of workers, prevent work-related illness and injury and provide early intervention for employees who are ill, so as to prevent or manage effectively absences. It also helps employees recover from illness at work and supports them when they return to work after an absence.

Deloitte’s 2018 report showed that 61% of people asked believed wellbeing improved employee productivity and bottom-line business results and 60% believed it improved employee retention. The ‘Britain’s Healthiest Workplace Survey’ also stated that 74% of employees who participated in any occupational health interventions felt positive effects on their health. This supports the idea that workplaces that provide occupational health see improvements in productivity and employee performance.

Dr. Doug Wright, medical director at Aviva stated that “It is important to look at what health and wellbeing initiatives are on offer to staff to make sure they have a breadth of options to support them. Doing so will reap rewards for both employee and employer.”

Occupational health specialist practitioners are uniquely positioned to offer advice and make judgements on the impact of a person’s health on their ability to work, unlike GPs who are more focused on treating the needs of their patients, and not managing the relationship between work and the health condition. Some people may be perfectly able to return to work in a useful capacity and may even want too, however, too often poor management and advice from treating clinicians who have a different focus means they simply stay at home.

Occupational Health specialist practitioners are equipped to assess an individual and their illness and make an informed evidence-based decision as to whether they are fit to return to work. Moreover, where individuals are fit to return, they can then advise on the best management of the individual to safeguard health and wellbeing in the specific workplace and the specific role.

Although it is not always possible to prevent people from being off sick, early intervention can massively reduce the amount of time people have to take off due to illness. When people do take time off, occupational health services can put in place appropriate measures to ensure they have a smooth return to work.

The longer a person is off work the harder it becomes for them to return; occupational health can make this process easier for the employee and employer. Occupational health specialist practitioners often interface with other specialist providers such as Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and physiotherapy providers, helping to bridge a gap in NHS service provision for certain disorders which can again, have a significant impact in maintaining employee attendance or bringing about an early return to work.

More and more businesses are seeing the benefits of offering occupational health and wellbeing services to their employees and it is becoming a more readily available and common practice for workplaces. If all businesses offered access to occupational health services as part of their employee service portfolio, there is good indication that costs associated with sickness/absences can dramatically decrease, saving employers thousands each year and reducing the 137.3 million workdays lost to sickness a year.

Occupational Health capabilities cover a wide range of other workplace health related risk issues, not just sickness/absence. To this end, Kays Medical offers a business tailored approach through developing a thorough understanding of your organisation’s workplace health needs, no matter how small or large. This approach differentiates us from our peers and essentially contributes to not effectively managing organisational health risks, but the vital component of supporting your best asset, your people.

For more information or to discuss how we can support your business, Contact us today.  


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