The financial and operational effects of sickness absence are considerable, especially for small organisations. According to 2013 research by Price Waterhouse Coopers, the annual cost of sickness absence had risen to almost £29 billion for UK organisations. Increasingly, awareness is rising amongst employers about the direct and indirect costs associated with sickness absence, including:
- paying salaries or sick pay to absent workers;
- reduced productivity;
- compromised customer satisfaction;
- increased demands on other staff;
- finding, training and paying for temporary cover.
The flip-side of absenteeism is presenteeism, namely employees coming to work when they are really too ill to work productively. Presenteeism can actually be counterproductive due to lost productivity and, in the case of infectious illnesses, because employees risk infecting others when they come to work ill.
So what aspects should organisations consider when working towards making the workplace healthier?
- Work speed: When someone is ill, the speed at which they work reduces and their accuracy, judgement and reactive skills can be impaired. Are they really being productive? Would they make a better recovery if they were at home? What can you do to support them?
- Contagiousness: If someone is contagious, they could infect other members of the team and cause a far greater drop in productivity than if they had stayed at home.
- Spotting the symptoms of stress/depression: The symptoms of stress and depression may not be obvious, but low morale in the workplace can rub off on other people. One person’s stress can soon spread to the team.
- Word-of-mouth: How someone is supported through a period of sickness can reflect positively or negatively on an organisation’s reputation. What are your employees saying about you and how you deal with employee health?
- Rewards: The rewards for being a flexible employer will be evident in the commitment and loyalty of your staff. If you go the extra mile for them, they will go the extra mile for you.
- Reputation: If you are known as a great employer, you will find great people.
- Employee rights: Are you aware of employee rights when considering how to handle employees who are affected by long-term ill-health?
- Liability: Are you aware of your liability if someone has an accident at work while you knew they were unwell?
- Employment law: Are you aware of your rights when considering dismissal due to ill health?
Looking after the health of employees should be a priority for organisations to help prevent staff absences or people coming to work who are actually not well enough to function effectively. For support with work-related health issues, view the resources on the Fit for Work website, where you can also find out more about referrals for an occupational health assessment for anyone in employment who is, or is likely to be, off work for four weeks or more due to ill health.