While you might think that as long as your staff are coming into work, everything is fine, the truth is that employees who come in despite being too sick for work are costing your business more than you realise.
The phenomena of ‘presenteeism’ is where an employee shows up for work but isn’t able to work at full productivity due to sickness and is estimated to cost the Australian economy $34 billion a year. Individual businesses cop the cost through lost productivity and because sick staff can infect their colleagues, potentially increasing rates of absenteeism.
On top of this, employees who come into work when they’re ill risk long term costs to the business. Attempting to work when sick can prolong the disease and lead to workers compensation claims down the track.
Safe Work Australia statistics show that 10% of serious workers compensation claims were from diseases, 6% of this a result of mental illness.
This is costly for businesses- the median time lost for claims involving diseases has gradually increased since the 2000-01 period from 6.8 working weeks to 9.2 working weeks in 2014-15. This represents a 35% increase over the 14-year period.
There’s a range of reasons an employee might disregard illness or try to work through the pain. While it might show a level of dedication to the job it’s important to remember that just because an employee is clocking in for the day, doesn’t mean they’re being productive. Sometimes, having employees acknowledge their illness and taking the day off can be better for the individual and the business in the long run.
Disease can have high costs to the economy and to your business but there’s a number of ways to prevent these long-term costs and ensure your employees are healthy and ready to work.
Maintaining a healthier workforce can lower direct costs such as insurance premiums and worker’s compensation claims. It will also positively impact many indirect costs such as absenteeism and worker productivity
- Wellness programs
Wellness programs can actively combat disease. A commonly offered initiative in this area is offering staff flu vaccination programs. According to a report by BUPA, 70% of employers offer a flu vaccine program onsite for their employees and 30% offer subsiding employees to receive a vaccination offsite. Other proactive prevention strategies include offering antibacterial soap on site and access to preventive screening programs.
- Mental health days
While the majority of wellness programs look to improve the physical condition of employees it’s worth noting that mental health makes up the largest proportion of disease related serious workers compensations claims and require different tactics.
Having clear policies that allow employees to take sick days when they are struggling with their mental health can improve these costs. A report released by the National Business Group on Health shows that mental illness costs companies 217 million missed work days a year. It’s therefore more beneficial for employers to let their staff take a few days off a year to deal with their mental health and recharge rather than face a larger, more serious health issue later on.
- Explain long term v. short term costs
For the employee, taking time off can be difficult because it means losing money in the short term, especially for employees who are working casually or as contractors. However, stats show that 77% of direct and indirect injury cost is borne by the individual. Having a chat with your employee about the potential long-term costs can help them understand that it’s better for everyone to look after their health now, so they can sustain their career in the long-term.
- Healthy work policies
To reduce the costs associated with presenteeism it’s important to have clear policies around when an employee should stay home from work and what happens if an employee attends work while unwell. Absence policies that have stringent requirements may deter staff from taking time off when actually sick but no clear procedures in place can make the whole process of calling in sick too confusing for the employee.
Establishing polices that are relevant and allow for aspects such as record keeping can reduce presenteeism when effectively communicated to employees.