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How healthy employees improve business performance

08 Jun 2015
National Stress Awareness Day will be held on the 4th November 2015, designed to raise awareness around what has long been an issue for those in the working world. Employees are facing increasing pressures to balance being effective at work with maintaining a quality home and social life, so its not surprising to hear that 45% of UK employers consider stress and mental illness a major cause of long-term employee absence, according to research by GRiD.

According to a 2014 study by the Office for National Statistics, 131 million working days were lost to sickness absence in 2013, with £9 billion a year spent by employers on sick pay and associated costs. Research in Forbes also shows that the UK is in the top 10 countries with the longest working hours in Europe, potentially increasingly the strain on creating a work-life balance and managing stress.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, explains that stress and mental health issues are becoming more prevalent when it comes to employer recognition. “Where once stress and mental ill health were commonly overlooked as a key health risk for businesses (compared to acute medical conditions such as heart attack or cancer) employers appear to be taking note,” she told Cover magazine.

Stress can build due to issues both at work and at home. At work stress can come from a combination of heavy workloads, long hours and high pressure environments, while at home lifestyle pressures, family issues and financial strain can all increase pressure on the way people feel and act.

This means that stress is now just another issue on a long list of other usual causes for staff absenteeism, such as musculoskeletal disorders and pains and minor illness like colds and coughs.

The issue of presenteeism is also becoming a common problem within the workplace, where employees continue to come into work when they are unwell. Although this may sound like a good thing to HR professionals, it is thought that presenteeism costs UK workplaces £15bn per year – compared to the £8bn absenteeism costs. This is because many employees now feel pressure to attend regardless of the state of their health, potentially impacting the health of those around them too. 81% of employees said they had caught illnesses from colleagues, according to Investors in People.

This presenteeism can be a big issue for employers, and as such they should take action to make sure that the culture of the business supports staff.  A member of staff who is not fully fit enough to engage at work may be physically present but will not be making a proper contribution to the business, impacting not only the quality and quantity of the work they produce but affecting the overall working atmosphere, including for the people around them. Having unhealthy people at work creates a vicious cycle, so organisations must look at ways to ensure that their business supports the physical and mental well being of their employees.

Supportive management is one of the most important ways to do this, and also one of the most budget-friendly. Making employees feel encouraged and valued can be a huge motivator, and help ensure that staff feel they are understood and appreciated. This can have a great impact on a person’s overall wellbeing. Working to create flexibility within the structure of the business, such as introducing flexi-time, can also help employees to create a better balance between their work and personal lives, reducing the need to take time off.

Achieving enhanced business performance through a healthier workforce therefore requires great commitment to the cause throughout all levels of the business, focusing on preventative measures rather than reactive solutions to minimise the high cost outlays associated with staff turnover and absenteeism.

The culture of a business should revolve around an environment where all staff are able to work to their potential, with the management team working together with employees to achieve the overall business goals. Implementing structures that allow for staff to generate ideas to improve the business as a whole is another great way to create a better, healthier sense of staff involvement through all levels of the company. This can be done through employee satisfaction surveys and employee reviews, to get people more involved.

In 2014 a quarter (25%) of employers surveyed by GRiD thought that maintaining a good work/life balance amongst their employees was a top priority. To see business performance improvement across the board more and more companies need to recognise the importance of healthy, happy staff.