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Firms losing three weeks per employee each year because of staff sickness

Unhealthy lifestyles and poor health are costing British firms £57 billion a year in lost productivity

British companies are losing on average 23.5 days of productive time per employee each year because of staff sickness and ill-health, according to Britain’s Healthiest Company, a collaboration between VitalityHealth, Mercer, and The Sunday Telegraph.

The research measured both time taken off for sickness, and lowered productivity from workers who are ill but still present at work. It found unhealthy lifestyles and poor health are costing British firms £57 billion a year in lost productivity.

The study of 32,538 people revealed that 36% of UK employees have a chronic condition, such as heart disease or diabetes, both strongly associated with lifestyle choices.

However, the researchers found that as companies increase their health and wellbeing spend the proportion of workers in good or excellent health grows, while costs associated with absenteeism and presenteeism decrease. The 25% of companies with the largest health promotion budgets saw an 8% year-on-year improvement in the proportion of employees in good or excellent health, and a 16% year-on-year reduction in productivity loss.

Shaun Subel, strategy director at VitalityHealth, said that the findings should serve as a “wake-up call” for UK firms to do more to improve the health and wellbeing of their staff. “The data shows that organisations with an authentic and positive culture of wellness see increased productivity from their employees,” he said. “We would therefore urge all companies, big or small, to protect their bottom line by taking an active role in improving employee wellbeing.”

Chris Bailey, a partner and head of corporate consulting at Mercer, said that employers have a unique role to play in influencing staff behaviour around health and wellbeing. “Too many employees are unaware of, or in denial over their risk factors, which risks us sleepwalking into a chronic condition epidemic,” he said. “Considering most employees spend the majority of their week at work or commuting, how they behave at work significantly impacts their overall wellbeing.

“By creating an environment of making the right health-based decisions and supporting sustained lifestyle changes, employers can reduce their lost productivity and help create a virtuous circle of healthy, engaged, productive employees."