No small business owner wants their staff to be off sick. Putting aside the fact that nobody would wish ill-health on their employees, it’s also bad for business.
If an employee is off sick it means less work gets done. It impacts productivity, and it’s a disruption – it can end up being very costly.
If an employee is off sick in the medium to long-term, a temporary contract may be needed to make sure nobody drops the ball in their absence. This means setting time and money aside to recruit. Furthermore, if there is an unhealthy culture in your workplace it can lead to higher staff turnover, which again ends up costing time and money.
“Attracting talented people to drive your business forward involves considerable commitment and investment. New employees need training and time before they’re fully functional and, in turn, begin to reward you with a return on your investment,” said Mike Davis, Head of SME business at AXA PPP healthcare.
“Good people are hard to get and keep. Creating a positive, supportive environment where workers can flourish is key to building and maintaining a high-performance workforce and, at the same time, safeguarding your business from the costly risk of losing valuable people.”
So, is it worth investing in health and wellbeing measures? Most UK businesses undertake some form of absence management (95 per cent according to the Confederation of British Industry). More than a third of employers have an explicit target in place for reducing absence figures.
Not only can health and wellness investment reduce the costs associated with absences, it can create happier and healthier employees that are more loyal to the business that has been looking out for them, which in turn is great for brand image and reputation.
However, at the same time, you need to run a business without breaking the bank. Let’s explore some of the initiatives you can implement to start making savings.
Staying physically healthy
Of course, no health and wellness measure is going to make your staff invincible. There will always be times where someone is taken ill and, depending on the person and the role they have within the business, this can end up having a knock-on effect. There are ways to mitigate against this sort of risk, for example, you can take out business healthcare insurance or critical illness cover.
In the meantime, keeping the rest of your workforce physically healthy is a challenge – as an employer, it can be difficult treading the line of what is appropriate.
What is appropriate can depend on a number of factors, but specifically you should assess the type of workplace you are in and what specific health risks there are. The level of absence across the UK tends to be higher in larger organisations, and on average manual workers take 1.5 more days off sick every year than non-manual workers, according to a report by ERS Research and Consultancy.
Options for improving the physical health of your employees can include offering incentives to help them quit smoking, organising walks or group sports events, proving literature and raising awareness about health-related issues.
For employees that have already had a leave of absence, many business employ tactics such as return to work interviews, flexible working options and changes to working patterns or environments to help them get back into their role as smoothly as possible.
Staying mentally healthy
Some businesses offer attendance bonuses or consider absence record when looking at which employees to promote within the business. This is not always a good idea, as it can lead to increased stress within the business and “presenteeism”.
Presenteeism is when employees turn up for work when really, they should be off sick. This is associated with high workloads, stress and anxiety and, according to AXA PPP healthcare, 13.7 per cent of SMEs claim it puts pressure on other employees to pick up the slack.
According to ERS, over three-in-ten organisations noted a rise in presenteeism, and those that had were nearly twice as likely to report a rise in stress related absence. In addition, these businesses were more than twice as likely to report an increase in other mental-health issues, such anxiety and depression.
Aside from anything else, 89 per cent of workers who turn up for work when they are sick say they are less productive – ultimately, it’s not really worth encouraging attendance at all costs. A sick employee is unlikely to produce as much work, and is more likely to suffer from mental health issues and stress as a result.
The Centre for Mental Health has found that presenteeism from mental ill health costs the UK economy around £15.1bn per year. If your employees are too sick to work, send them home and be understanding. In the long run, it’s better for your bottom line.
Overall, any health and wellbeing scheme needs to be considered on an individual basis – you need to consider what your business can afford, what the return on investment is likely to be, and what sort of initiatives your employees would benefit from. In the long run, it could be worth it.
“Key to implementing a health and wellbeing scheme is to understand the scale and dynamics of the health risks of your organisation. There’s much more to managing workplace wellbeing than simply making employees happy. Knowing and getting the measure of your risks will enable you to improve the performance and productivity of your people,” said Davis.
* Online survey of 250 SME managers in June 2016 by market research agency Atomik on behalf of AXA PPP healthcare,
Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.