We all know how things can all but grind to a halt when a key team member doesn’t show up for work on a given day, and with an average of 3.7% of Australian employees off work each day, studies suggest absenteeism is costing Australian businesses as much as 7 billion dollars a year.
On top of the direct costs of replacing absent employees with temporary workers, the disruption to operational effectiveness and productivity can be far reaching.
Often co-workers are forced to take on the responsibilities of the absent employee, compromising the quality of their own projects and often damaging company morale. The indirect cost of ‘over-employing’ to compensate for this extra pressure only adds to the costs, and temporary replacements are rarely able to work effectively when thrown in the deep end.
So what can we do to reduce absenteeism in the first place? In 2005 Medibank Private ran a study that found unhealthy employees take an average of nine times more sick days than healthy people.
In recent years many studies have been undertaken with the focus on the modifiable risk factors associated with employee illness and absenteeism rates. The idea is that if we can improve employee health and reduce the risk factors, then we will see an improvement in the rates of absenteeism. Of course it sounds obvious, but it’s important to understand the multiple risk factors, the unhealthy behaviours connected with them, and the way they affect corporate health.
I often talk about the interconnectedness of health risk factors. For example, someone with a poor diet may be putting themselves at risk of developing several serious health problems including obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type II diabetes. Conversely, by practicing a healthy behaviour such as regular exercise, someone can reduce their risk of all these health problems.
So when we address absenteeism, it’s important to remember that the average Australian worker has at least two health risk factors that require addressing, not only one. Reason why a comprehensive corporate health program is required to meaningfully decrease absenteeism across the board.
In recent years, obesity and stress have show up in studies as two of the major risk factors associated with absenteeism, with obesity being linked to over four million days lost in Australian workplaces in 2001.
Work-related stress has been shown to account for some of the longest periods of absenteeism and is a factor very commonly addressed through employee health programs. As is alcohol abuse which is estimated to cost businesses 3.5 billion dollars annually in lost productivity.
Other health risks and behaviours associated with absenteeism that are successfully tackled with workplace health programs include smoking, physical inactivity, lack of sleep and poor nutrition.
A study in the journal Critical Public Health showed that employees who take part in a workplace health program are absent 20% less than those who do not take part, so participation is the key. Remember to support your staff to get healthy and stay healthy, and invest in a little prevention now for maximum attendance and productivity in the future.