For UK businesses, absenteeism and long-term leave continue to pose a threat to productivity. Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimates that employee illness costs companies in excess of £29billion a year.
While some fluctuation in staff attendance is to be expected, subtle changes to office design and company culture can prove extremely effective in improving employee health and wellbeing.
A quarter of all long-term absences are attributed to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and stress. Therefore, it is vital that a company’s culture promotes strong working relationships, open communication between employees and a healthy work-life balance.
Rest and recharge
This should begin by encouraging staff to take regular breaks both during and away from the workplace, to rest, recharge and spend time with family and friends. Recent research suggests that a million UK workers do not currently take their full holiday entitlement, and a third of those aged 35-54 are expected not to use all of their annual leave this year, with being ‘too busy’ at work one of the main reasons cited.
Another avenue for improved wellbeing and stress reduction is the implementation of a company break room. If correctly implemented, an employee break room can not only encourage downtime, but also act as a forum for communication, where staff have the opportunity to voice concerns about working practices, and suggest improvements to day-to-day procedures and health and safety protocols.
This increased ability to implement changes within the business and present ideas for new products and ways of working can improve job satisfaction, as it creates a feeling of shared responsibility. In addition, the opportunity for employees to anonymously voice concerns over workload or safety can reduce stress and provide staff with a greater sense of control over their day-to-day responsibilities.
The provision for employees to exercise and become more active, especially those in sedentary jobs, is also an excellent means of improving health and wellbeing. Insights from government organisation Public Health England reveal that individuals who sit down for eight hours a day have an increased risk of suffering from a heart attack, diabetes or stroke.
In addition, the largest causes of sick leave in the workplace are soft tissue injuries such as back and neck pain. This risk can be minimised by introducing stand up desks, as well as treadmills or yoga areas in the company break room. If this is not a feasible option, a subsidised gym membership scheme can also be employed to encourage increased physical activity.
To alleviate the onset of back and neck pain, businesses should invest in ergonomically-designed furniture and ensure computers and work surfaces are arranged to promote good posture.
Just as increased physical activity and improved communication can improve health and reduce associated absenteeism, there are also measures that companies can take to limit the duration and potential spread of illnesses once they strike.
Firstly, employers should legally allow employees to attend a medical appointment as soon as they begin to feel unwell. This enables individuals to attain any required medicine, which can alleviate symptoms and facilitate a faster recovery. In addition, a medical professional can then advise whether the illness is contagious, and could be passed on to others in the workplace.
Remote working policies
In order to combat this issue, businesses should endeavour to implement a remote working policy, which affords employees the ability to access email and files externally through a virtual private network (VPN).
This means that any essential functions can be carried out at home, but can also provide employees with a much-needed rest and more flexibility, as they are no longer required to commute to the office. Recent research by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) shows that the number of people commuting for longer than two hours a day has increased by 72 per cent over the past decade.
The provision for employees to work from home, even one day a week, can alleviate stress and free up more time for the completion of core business tasks.
By making small changes to office design, company culture and working practices, firms can reduce the incidences of, and spread of, illness at work. The promotion of health and wellbeing among the workforce is also likely to improve job satisfaction and have a positive effect on staff retention and productivity as a whole.
See also: 6 health hacks every office should know