It is estimated that illness at work costs UK employers £12.2 billion a year as a result of the 140 million working days lost to sickness absence. It would seem that absence and sickness rates are on the increase along with a high degree of ill health that may not translate into days off but may affect motivation and productivity levels.
Both the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and Investors in People have reported that the improved health and wellbeing of employees can result in significant benefits, including: higher productivity, increased commitment and morale, improved staff relations, reduced sickness and absenteeism, and improved staff retention.
The Business Case for Employee Health & Wellbeing (February 2010) – a report prepared for Investors in People by Stephan Bevan (Director, Centre for Workforce Effectiveness, The Work Foundation) – suggests that a number of aspects of job performance are decidedly improved if the individual is healthy, including:
- Coping mechanisms
- Task completion
Professor Dame Carol Black (UK National Director for Health and Work) expresses similar support of this fact in her foreword for the Business in the Community’s Healthy People = Healthy Profits case studies booklet, where it is highlighted that the health and wellbeing of employees makes an essential contribution to business success.
Health and fitness are almost inextricably linked. An individual who increases their level of exercise and improves their physical fitness will see their health benefit in a number of ways:
1) Less likely to get sick – more resilient to the ‘bug going around’.
2) More energy – and sustained throughout the day.
3) More self-confidence and more likely to take on extra responsibility and to set and achieve goals – they also tend to be a person in whom others have confidence.
4) More positive attitude – generally ‘feel good’ and have a good physical and mental ‘balance’.
5) Less stress – regular exercise releases physical and emotional tensions.
Many of the health problems exhibited by today’s workforce can be attributable to worsening public health and growing concern in the areas of obesity, sedentary lifestyles, smoking, poor diet and alcohol consumption – all contributing factors to ill health. The recent economic climate can perhaps also help explain growing levels of workplace stress and other associated problems such as personal debt, marriage and family breakdowns and depressive illness.
Individuals are clearly responsible for making healthier lifestyle choices with regard to their own health and wellbeing. However, it can be argued that the responsibility is not theirs alone. The government should take the lead in improving public health by providing appropriate encouragement and education, but employers have a role to play too – after all, employees spend a third of their adult life in the workplace.
A growing number of business organisations are adopting practices aimed at promoting health and wellbeing among their employees, recognising that they can affect a worker’s productivity, attendance and commitment.
Part Two of this article will be published in August, which takes a look at some successful actions taken by business.
A note about the author: In addition to being the Bookings Administrator for the Business School, Gemma is a qualified fitness instructor and took up running over 10 years ago. She is also a keen cyclist and recently began teaching at Bootcamp Jersey, in Millbrook.