We recently covered why you should care about employee mental health. So we’re now going to cover the topic of physical health and why caring about health and safety, as well as sick days and doctor’s appointments, is important.
RELATED ARTICLE: HOW TO IMPROVE EMPLOYEES’ MENTAL HEALTH (AND WHY YOU SHOULD CARE)
The Problem of Presenteeism
The average number of sick days a year per worker in the UK is 4.3. Believe it or not, that’s the lowest it’s been since records began in the early nineties. The total of working days lost in 2016 was 137.3 million. This number illustrates the importance of employees’ physical health to business.
However, being absent isn’t the only way workers’ health can affect your daily operations. The pressures of presenteeism and a lack of paid sick leave often force people to come into work when they should be recovering from illness. According to a recent study, the number of people coming into work while ill has tripled since 2010. This means that more people are passing on illnesses to more of your workforce. We’ve all experienced the office cold or flu that spreads like wildfire.
Presenteeism places businesses in a difficult position. For one thing, cutting down on unnecessary sick days is a priority. Therefore, encouraging people to be off sick seems counterintuitive. However, problems like presenteeism and its pal, leaveism (working during your annual leave), are signs of a workforce that feels insecure and is pushing itself into unhealthy practices.
It comes as no shock that good physical health in employees can increase productivity. Therefore, an overtired, stressed and unwell workforce can negatively affect your productivity. Yes, your workers might be doing 10% more hours for the same pay as five years ago. However, has productivity actually gone up? If you cut back on those hours, are you sure productivity would go down? In most cases, it wouldn’t. That’s because an overworked and unwell workforce is less efficient. Therefore, businesses need to approach health and sick days more cleverly than they ever have before.
Trusting your workers to self-diagnose and offering no disparaging comments on absence can make them feel more trusted. All the same, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t have a process for sick days. If someone has multiple short absences, you need to find out what’s happening. There could be an issue with their work area setup. Alternatively, the worker might have issues with a family member that you can help them with. Supporting a worker will help them recover from the issue more quickly. Plus, it will help to build an atmosphere of trust. And trust alone may well reduce absences without the issue of “the working sick.”
Encouraging an atmosphere of trust only goes so far if you’re not providing a safe work environment. Every business has a duty of care to their employees. This responsibility needs to be reinforced with comprehensive health and safety measures. An accident in your workplace could be a big blow to morale and trust. Therefore, take every reasonable precaution to prevent accidents. After all, this is in your best interest. (Oh, and it’s the law.)
Having to pay industrial injuries compensation is painful in and of itself. However, the effect an accident could have as other workers see what happens could be awful. The aftermath of an accident could be increased absences. It might also result in workers refusing to do certain work. Employees might even bring other claims against you. This situation can be headed off before it even starts with prevention. There are a million and one resources out there to help you do that.
You and your top brass are likely a small team atop a structure that’s made up of many workers. Such a structure can bring with it a loss of perspective of what it’s like to carry out a role. Even if you started the business and did the worst jobs yourself, what you consider acceptable to do to keep your business afloat versus what an employee would expect from a developed business can be worlds apart. That’s why feedback from workers is necessary. You’ll always have people asking for more pay and more holidays. However, there could also be other complaints that signal an unhealthy work culture.
Use feedback to spot complaints of stress, heavy workloads or other red flags that indicate an unhappy workforce. Then look at absences and the number of holidays employees take. If the number of holidays and sick days that employees are taking is well above or below average, that’s a red flag, for instance. It could be a sign of bad physical health or a lack of addressing worker illnesses.
Finding the problem is one thing. But what can you do to encourage better physical health in your employees? You can address presenteeism by sending people home when they’re clearly ill. Combat absenteeism by putting in place a process based on number of sick days. Stop leaveism by removing access to emails or work documents offsite.
Beyond that, you can encourage workers to develop healthier lifestyles. Offer support for those stopping smoking, as smokers have a higher rate of absence than non-smokers. Encourage people to wash and sanitize their hands.
A small shift to building encouragement for healthy activity will bring us, full-circle, back to that first point. It will build trust.