The Connection Between Productivity And Health

With deadlines looming and targets to surpass, it generally takes more than a winter cold to keep us away from work. But while most of us believe we can override the symptoms of ill health between the hours of eight and six, a growing body of research suggests our culture of powering through is having a detrimental effect on the economy.

Presenteeism, or the productivity that is lost when an employee comes to work and is not fully productive, is now believed to be costing Australian businesses an estimated $7 billion per annum. As, healthy employees are up to three times more productive than their unhealthy colleagues, according to a 2005,  Medibank Private study.


"A switch in focus from absence management to health management"


With this in mind, the most obvious solution to presenteeism begins with improving the overall health status of the workers through the implementation of targeted health and wellbeing programs. For the majority of businesses, this would require a switch in focus from absence management to health management.

The good news, this is not as hard as you may think. Implementing a wellbeing policy that addresses five of the most significant contributors to sickness in the workplace, is a great place to start.

Diet: With only 5% of adults consuming their recommended daily allowance of fruit and veg, it’s unsurprising almost two thirds of Australians are now overweight or obese. While a massive policy overhaul is required to tackle this epidemic at a national level, employers can do their bit by ensuring healthy snacks are widely available at work. Refrigerators should be provided to preserve fresh food and desk dining should be discouraged at all levels.

Activity: Studies focused on the impact of sedentary living show that sitting for extended periods of time can increase a person’s chances of developing cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Encouraging employees to build more activity into the working day and move more and sit less can be a simple solution. Things like walking over to colleagues to talk instead of emailing them, organising walking meetings and exercising at lunch time can be easily implemented.

Stress: As well as suffering from a range of physical ailments, highly stressed individuals find it difficult to concentrate on and engage with their work. When devising corporate wellness programs, organisations should ensure those in senior management positions are committed to reducing workplace stress. Resources like counselling and stress management training should be made available to employees. Clear communication pathways should also be established to ensure employees at every level feel valued and understood.

Psychological Issues: In 2011, the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine published a review which found that “mental health has a greater impact on absenteeism and presenteeism that the majority of chronic diseases”. With one in five Australians suffering from a mental health condition like anxiety or depression in any twelve month period, it is imperative that employers focus on developing mentally healthy workplaces. Workplaces can reduce the stigma surrounding mental ill-health by raising awareness about common mental health conditions and having appropriate resources available to those feeling the effects of psychological strain.

Sleep: People with demanding lifestyles often sacrifice sleep in a bid to extend the time they have available for work. Studies show the adoption of irregular sleeping patterns actually has a negative impact on productivity, as those who regularly run on less than eight hours sleep a night are less able to concentrate, make decisions and remember important snippets of information than their well-rested colleagues. Promote sleep through the development of awareness campaigns and the provision of relaxation zones.

Wondering if this is financially viable? Thankfully, such campaigns are more cost effective to implement than they seem.

In 2014, PwC estimated that organisations who embrace successful mental health action plans could expect a return on investment of 2.3 – that’s $2.30 for every $1 spent. Worksite wellness programs also make employers more attractive to new talent. 

As the population ages and obesity levels rise, it is vital that Australian businesses provide their people with the knowledge and tools necessary for personal and professional health. In doing so, organisations will not only increase their own output, but will create more sustainable work environments, manned with happier, healthier and more progressive employees.