Wellbeing initiatives to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism at work

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

The wellbeing of workers is increasingly understood to be fundamental to the long-term success of organisations. Happy, healthy and empowered workers are more likely to perform better at their jobs, take fewer sick days, stay with an organisation longer, give better customer service and, ultimately, boost a company’s productivity.

Research has shown that among FTSE 100 companies, those who prioritise employee engagement and wellbeing outperform the rest of the FTSE 100 by 10 per cent. At these companies, fewer days are lost to sickness absence and there is less ‘presenteeism’.

What is absenteeism?

Absenteeism is when a worker regularly takes days off work and mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression are a leading cause of absence. 2016 Labour Force Survey figures show that:

  • an estimated 15 million working days were lost because of stress, anxiety and depression;
  • a further 0.8 million days were lost to serious mental health problems;
  • mental health-related issues accounted for 8 percent of all cases of sickness absence and 11 percent of total working days lost due to illness or injury.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is when workers turn up for work despite feeling unwell but are actually too ill to carry out their job to their maximum potential. It is harder to quantify the impact of presenteeism than absenteeism, but it has been suggested that the cost of presenteeism on a business could be 1.8 times greater than absenteeism. People experiencing mental health issues, like stress or depression, are more prone to presenteeism than absenteeism and it is estimated that presenteeism from mental ill health costs the UK £15.1 billion a year compared to the £8.4 billion cost of absenteeism.

What is good wellbeing?

  • Keeping physically fit and making positive choices about diet and exercise.
  • Maintaining self-confidence, self-respect and emotional resilience.
  • Having a sense of purpose and feeling fulfilled.
  • Being flexible, alert and open to new ideas.
  • Keeping strong and supportive friendships and relationships.

How an employer can reduce absenteeism and presenteeism

High levels of absenteeism and presenteeism are indicators of poor wellbeing among staff. When an organisation sets out to analyse wellbeing within the workplace, a number of indicators will reveal the true situation:

  • What conclusions can be drawn from sickness absence and productivity data?
  • What do staff and customer surveys suggest about levels of satisfaction?
  • How diverse is the workforce?
  • How family-friendly is the workplace?
  • How much training do you offer?
  • What rewards are used to recognise good work and achievement?

Steps to help improve wellbeing in the workplace

  • Create a good working environment: Train managers to be good listeners who are able to understand the needs of their staff as well as the business. Encourage them to delegate, and challenge and trust their team, whilst supporting individuals and setting manageable deadlines. Ensure that managers show honesty and integrity to earn them the trust of their team, and create an atmosphere that promotes a culture of attendance.
  • Promote good relationships: An organisation needs to promote good relationships between colleagues and support employees’ efforts to balance work and home commitments (e.g. flexible working practices and job shares, formal programmes to support people returning from sickness or maternity leave). Promoting mentoring schemes, social events and appraisals will improve communication in the workplace.
  • Offer specialist support: Expert support can help teams manage their health issues in work and help people return to work after illness. Occupational Health (OH) advisors will give practical advice on what changes might be needed for someone to successfully return to work and help them return to work more quickly. Smaller organisations may not have their own OH or HR departments, but expert advice is available, including free support from Fit for Work. Counselling may help people with feelings of stress and depression or support individuals trying to quit smoking.
  • Promote a healthy lifestyle: Encourage healthy eating by offering suitable food in the canteen or arranging for deliveries of fruit and healthy sandwiches. Cut out the biscuits and cake. Encourage staff to quit smoking, reduce drinking and avoid drugs.

How employees can boost their wellbeing

  • Keep fit, eat a healthy diet, stop smoking and reduce alcohol consumption.
  • Take lunch breaks, leave work on time and take all your holiday entitlement.
  • Join social events at work and after work – get to know the people you work with.
  • Talk to your boss about any feelings of stress or difficulties with the work.
  • Support others in the office who might need help.
  • Look for support – talk to friends and family.

Fit for Work offers free, online work-related health advice and guidance to anyone looking for advice and support about an existing case of sickness absence, or about issues that may result in sickness absence. Employed people who have been off work due to illness for four weeks or more can be referred for a telephone assessment with a Fit for Work case manager in order to identify all the obstacles preventing the person from returning to work. The Fit for Work case manager can also provide recommendations about how the obstacles can be addressed and to potentially enable an early return to work. Visit the Fit for Work website or call the free telephone advice line on 0800 032 6235 (English) or 0800 032 6233 (Welsh). There is a separate service running in Scotland (0800 019 2211).

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