Why does employee health and wellbeing really matter?

A survey this summer from PricewaterhouseCoopers has provided the biggest insight yet into the cost of sick days to British Business – £29 billion a year and British employees take more than four times as many days off work due to sickness than their global counterparts. 

The research goes onto reveal that the average British worker will take 9.1 days off from their work from sickness.  This does not compare well with the average in Western Europe at 7.3 days, the USA at 4.9 days and the Brits take over four times more than their counterparts in Asia who average just 2.2 sick days a year.

This cost has been recognised by the UK government which has begun to tackle the shocking cost of absenteeism to British business.  In 2011, the government launched an independent review into the sickness absence system which sought to examine new ways to help and increase the number of people at work and to reduce the cost of sickness to UK businesses.  This year, the government launched its response to the review – this included tools and guidelines to help businesses create a case for health and wellbeing initiatives.

The response has resulted in a visible trend from employers to take workplace health and wellbeing more seriously, and not only by large firms but also small and medium size businesses.  Employee benefits such as advice on nutrition, mental health counselling, stress prevention workshops and health screenings are more available to a larger number of employees than ever before.

Furthermore, a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report from 2012 on absenteeism highlighted that businesses are increasingly putting an employee wellbeing strategy in place.  In 2008, the number of companies with an agenda was down at 30% – under a third.  Fast forward to 2012 and the number of companies with a strategy had almost doubled to 55%.

The report also highlighted that the number of wellbeing services (such as counselling services and employee assistance programmes) on offer had increased and employers that assessed their wellbeing budgets were more likely to increase it.  This would appear to imply that assessments of wellbeing expenditure by Human Resources Departments usually conclude that it is worthwhile investing in wellbeing initiatives.

Crucially though, the killer statistic to help answer the original question – why does employee health and wellbeing really matter? – is that companies with a wellbeing strategy are more likely to report a reduction in absences (47%) compared with those that do not have a health initiative in place (35%).  This would indicate that there is a clear relationship between the implementation of health and wellbeing schemes and the reduction of employee absenteeism.

£29 billion was the cost of absenteeism in the UK for 2012 – therefore, organisations cannot afford to ignore putting in place initiatives to help reduce this, but of equal importance, engage staff and increase performance.