What does sickness cost?

7 September 22

There is little doubt that the workplace has a significant impact on people’s health and well-being for good and for bad; poor management of workplace health can lead to work-related ill health and to high levels of sickness absence and staff turnover.

Good management is aware of the relationship between work and health and can mitigate this risk.

With this awareness grows an understanding that health and work are intimately linked.
Initiating and sustaining a structured health intervention program at an organisational level leads to improved health and wellbeing for the individual and the company. This drives better business.

So, what are the causes of Absenteeism?

Apart from minor illnesses like coughs and colds, the main causes of sickness absence and presenteeism in the UK are anxiety and depression, followed by musculoskeletal pain, chiefly lower back pain. This was recently confirmed by the Labour force Survey 2019/20. (1)
This mirrors the attendance data in primary care, which reflects that these conditions are not unique to the workplace but they are common throughout society.
A recent study has revealed that absenteeism cost UK businesses £14 billion in 2020, the cost of absenteeism rising by £1.3 billion from previously recorded figures in 2019. On average, last year, employees took 3.19 days off for mental health-related issues, which was up from 2.90 days in 2019. (2)
Alongside absenteeism, the research revealed that presenteeism was also a significant problem for UK businesses – with over one in three workers (36 per cent) revealing that their workplace productivity has been negatively affected by mental health every week.

What is Presenteeism?

Presenteeism is when a person comes to work despite being physically or mentally unwell. It results in reduced productivity as employees come are not fully engaged or perform at lower levels because of ill health.

How can you improve health and wellbeing in the workplace?

Many aspects of ill health can be avoided by improving an individual’s physical and mental health and health choices. This requires an assessment of a company’s health culture and the active promotion and support of health at an organisational level.

Why manage it?

Research shows that presenteeism is hugely costly to employers but is all too
often ignored. Managing it well not only saves money in both the short and longer-term but
also contributes to the development of an engaged and productive workforce.

What are the costs of absence?

The answer is far wider reaching than one might initially think, but some worth bearing in mind include:

  • Paying the salary of the absent employee
  • Overtime incurred by other employees covering for the absent employee
  • Loss of output incurred by the absent employee.
  • Excess management time spent dealing with the absence.
  • Reputational damage caused by the drop in productivity
  • Diminished services and product quality
  • Time and money required to hire and train replacement staff
  • Loss of business continuity
  • Excessive stress placed on remaining colleagues to take up the slack

And the only real way to address the costs and risks associated with absenteeism is to address the causes head on.

Benefits of a modern Health and Wellbeing intervention.

On the whole, a healthy employee is happier and far more productive than a sick one will ever be, and the benefits are easily summarised:

  • An active Health and Wellbing system has become much more attractive to potential employees, particularly as the traditional safety net of the NHS is no longer sufficient to cater for the needs of the working population, as people are increasingly discovering first-hand.
  • Having a modern health and wellbeing service that is proactive rather than reactive will elevate a company’s credentials over rivals.
  • Less sickness absence, presenteeism and the profits lost as outlined above.
  • Improved productivity improved corporate health culture.

Let’s face it, nobody really wants to be sick, and many employees feel obliged to turn up for work only to pass a cold, or worse around, thereby compounding all the costs that would have been limited by the use of commonsense or pro-actively looking after their health in the first place.

But there are insurance considerations too.

Maintaining a good standard of health and safety in the workplace can mean lower Employer Liability Compulsory Insurance premiums. Saving on the cost of employee
accidents and ill health is an investment in the future of your company.
Logistics companies have insurance for accidents involving vehicles and possibly third-party and building insurance. However, insurance policies only cover a small proportion of the costs of accidents.
Costs not covered by insurance may include:

  • sick pay
  • lost time
  • overtime working and temporary labour
  • loss of contracts
  • legal costs
  • loss of business reputation

It is worth considering that health and safety interventions are often acknowledged as essential business expenses and are therefore exempt from tax, whereas uninsured costs often come straight off your company’s ‘bottom-line’ profits.

And the costs make for some staggering statistics

In the UK, the total economic cost of sickness absence lost productivity through worklessness, informal caregiving, and health-related productivity losses are estimated to be over £100bn annually. (3)
 Among UK employees with a health condition, 42% of employees felt their condition affected their work ‘a great deal’ or ‘to some extent’ (4)
 The cost of reduced productivity through presenteeism from mental ill health alone costs the UK economy £15.1 billion per annum, while absenteeism costs £8.4 billion.
This is almost double the amount. Sickness while working is often overlooked, but it is very expensive. Presenteeism costs the average business £605 per person each
year (5)

In a nutshell.

Absenteeism and Presenteeism are very expensive to businesses; there are clear legal, ethical, business and financial reasons to invest in the health and wellbeing of your staff.

Health Drive Digital understands that a healthier workforce is a happier workforce and it is a more productive workforce.

The truth is: Healthy staff drive better business.

Absenteeism and Presenteeism are very expensive to businesses; there are clear legal,
ethical, business and financial reasons to invest in the health and wellbeing of your staff.

Health Drive Digital understands that a healthier workforce is a happier workforce, and it is
a more productive workforce.

Healthy staff drive better business.

We’re not making this stuff up.

1- https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/dayslost.htm
Office for National Statistics (2018) Sickness absence in the UK labour market
2- https://www.westfieldhealth.com/docs/marketing/covid-19/coping-with-covid/coping-with-
3- Department for Works& Pensions, Department of Health (2016), Work, Health and Green
Paper Data Pack.
4- Department for Work and Pensions (2015) Health and wellbeing at work: survey of
5- https://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/


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