How corporate wellbeing programmes can reduce absenteeism
Posted by PamLoch
3rd Jan 2019

Absenteeism - the habit of employees routinely not attending their shifts - is a perennial concern for businesses. Particularly in smaller or medium-sized companies with few workers, the impact of repeated unplanned absence on the workload and morale of other staff members can be detrimental and expensive.

Corporate wellbeing programmes, at their inception, were primarily concerned with physical health and fitness, but today have broadened to address other factors concerning workplace wellness such as employee mental health, happiness and stress levels. With many of these factors bearing a direct correlation to absenteeism, here are a few ways a wellbeing programme could affect attendance at your place of business.

Preventing absenteeism with wellbeing programmes

It is estimated that British workers on average take 7.6 days off work per annum, incurring a loss of nearly £600 per worker per year. With minor ailments - colds, headaches, stomach bugs etc - accounting for 75% of the UK’s workplace absences, small changes to employee health and wellbeing could reduce these absences, and thereby improve profits.

Peter Drucker, often described as “the father of modern management thinking”, famously said that if you can’t measure something, you can’t improve it. Wellness checks are essential for gauging the status of your staff’s overall health - recurring, anonymised reports of your workforce’s average blood pressure, cholesterol level, heart health and other measures are available from a number of agencies, and could help you to identify and mitigate the areas where your staff are most at risk.

With a 2017 report by The Work Foundation showing that 1 in 3 workers have an undisclosed long term health condition, a positive culture of workplace wellbeing may also encourage employees to discuss their health more openly. Getting people to open up about these conditions will allow you to make changes to the benefit of individuals, potentially boosting both productivity and happiness, with knock on benefits to the organisation.

Wellbeing strategies for the workplace

It’s a good idea to implement initiatives to prevent illness before it occurs, with different workplaces adopting different approaches. Some have introduced stretching sessions at the beginning of the day; others provide special areas for staff to take short breaks away from computer screens and minimise eye strain. A few companies have even introduced new company policies that make it mandatory to stay hydrated.Some ideas are even more creative: British detergent company Earth Friendly Products provides its employees with free access to a garden full of organic fruit and vegetables!

Another consideration is how best to help your staff members return to work after a period of sickness. Offering reduced shifts can ease them back into the routine gently, while allowing them to take frequent rest breaks can aid in their recovery. Approaches such as this may help a recuperating worker return to work more quickly, limiting the impact of lost productivity and reduce further absences.

Managing employee stress in the workplace

Depending on the nature of your business and the people involved, it may be that the mental wellbeing of your staff is more pressing than physical fitness. According to the aforementioned report by The Work Foundation, stress is responsible for 13% of all employee absence in the UK and is the most common cause after minor ailments - and even when stressed staff members do attend their shift, they will likely work with reduced productivity.

For this reason, many modern corporate wellbeing programmes offer classes in meditation and mindfulness, as well as workshops detailing ways to manage stress. Some even employ counsellors and financial advisors to help employees deal with the stresses of their personal lives. Keep in mind that even in the most serene and peaceful work environment, a staff member might be struggling to be productive due to worries about factors outside of the business environment.

Other companies have adopted more outlandish stress-reducing schemes, with Chicago-based tech company Centro offering its employees an allowance of ten “Ferris Bueller days” a year, allowing them to freely skip shifts with no repercussions.

Wellbeing programmes and mental health

Stress isn’t the only concern when it comes to mental wellbeing. According to the aforementioned report by The Work Foundation, almost one-sixth of British citizens of working age have a diagnosable mental health issue, and the 2017 Thriving At Work report illustrates that some 300,000 people with a mental health condition lose their jobs every year.

One strategy to improve the health and wellbeing of your workforce is to invest in courses for some of your staff to become Mental Health First Aiders. Much like volunteer fire wardens or first aiders, they would be trained to spot the symptoms of mental health problems in the workplace, and to offer support when needed.

The Thriving At Work report also mentions the importance of encouraging “open conversations about mental health, and especially the support that's available to employees.” Despite increasing awareness, mental health can still be something of a taboo topic, with a study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reporting that almost 40% of workers would try to disguise a mental health problem from their employer if they could. Taking steps today to encourage a culture of openness and acceptance in your place of business could help prevent major issues in the future, and keep your staff happy and productive.

What does high absenteeism say about your business?

The majority of staff absences are caused by legitimate health problems, according to a 2016 CIPD report which disclosed that only around 1% of employee no-shows were for spurious reasons.

A high degree of absenteeism in your company may signify a deeper problem, whether it be a bad working culture, lack of team spirit, employee unhappiness, workplace conflicts, or even - if your staff are routinely absent because they are legitimately unwell - a health hazard that may require attention.

Many researchers also assume a relationship between absenteeism and its opposing concept, presenteeism (the tendency for a staff member to come to work when they reasonably ought not to). If an employee is genuinely sick and feels obliged to attend a shift, “working through” their malady, there is the risk that they will make others sick, or at the very least work distractedly and ineffectively, while prolonging their own recovery through lack of rest.

A corporate wellbeing programme can help promote openness and communication among your staff, ensuring both that they are content and understand when they should and should not be at work. With programmes to help monitor both physical and mental health issues in the workplace, you can prevent absenteeism and encourage your staff to enjoy a healthier, more productive work environment.

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