Productivity has become the economic buzzword of recent times. In fact, it has been cited as the number one challenge facing UK businesses1. One way to address the problem is to automate processes in order to save time and reduce costs. But for most companies, the health and wellbeing of their workforce is a significant contributing factor. In fact, poor lifestyle choices, work organisational factors and environmental conditions cost British companies £58 billion each year, according to research emanating from the annual workplace survey, Britain’s Healthiest Company2. For the average company, the cost of lost productivity equates to approximately 7.78% of its wage bill.

But what are the specific causes of lost productivity and what can companies do to address them? A new report – Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in the Workplace – sets out to answer these questions, using data collected from 21,822 employees from 82 UK companies that participated in Britain’s Healthiest Company 2014. “Previous research has measured the overall cost of lost productivity, but this report goes beyond that,” says VitalityHealth’s Strategy Director Shaun Subel. “It pinpoints the most significant drivers that can be targeted by both employer and employee, so companies can tailor their efforts accordingly.”

WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?

Take sleep as an example. The report’s findings add to existing research by suggesting the negative effect of lack of sleep on productivity gradually decreases as a person gets more sleep – with the optimal level of sleep from a productivity perspective being seven to eight hours per night. So we can pinpoint exactly how much rest someone needs in order to perform at their best. A slight change in working hours, time demands or commute could be all it takes to give an employee that extra half-hour in bed that makes all the difference to the company’s bottom line.
The other main modifiable factors identified by the report include: financial concerns; being underweight or overweight; physical inactivity; poor nutrition – particularly consuming too much fat or too many sugary drinks; clinical depression; workplace bullying; strained working relationships; unrealistic demands on an employee’s time; high blood pressure; and musculoskeletal conditions. Admittedly, some are easier to address than others, but crucially, they can all be improved over time.
Mental health problems, in particular, have been found to cause significant productivity loss – particularly in the form of ‘presenteeism’. This is when an employee attends work but performs sub-optimally. Productivity loss driven by poor mental health costs the UK economy an estimated £15 billion each year3.
Factors such as poor working relationships, bullying and unrealistic time demands all put an employee’s health – and performance – at risk. But with targeted intervention, these issues can be addressed.

HOW CAN VITALITY HELP?

The report highlights that it is crucial for employers to understand the direct link between wellbeing and productivity – and Vitality can help them do that. By changing the conversation around health and wellbeing in the workplace, we can pinpoint exactly which issues need to be addressed. “It all starts with raising awareness, followed by targeted intervention and tailored communication,” says Subel. And if your client has concerns over cost? “Often, the most expensive intervention isn’t the most effective. Installing bike racks or showers will encourage more people to increase their physical activity by cycling to work, for instance. The simplest thing can often kick-start a culture of change.”
Engaging with Vitality by becoming more active and having regular health checks can also help employees manage and prevent serious health problems – while Vitality Rewards can be used to motivate lifestyle behaviour change, and cultivate a stronger team spirit and supportive culture. Interestingly, no short-term association was found between regular alcohol over-consumption or smoking and loss of productivity. But, as the study’s authors point out, these are clearly both modifiable factors that can lead to ill health and low performance in the long term.
Organisations that discuss health and wellbeing at board level are more likely to manage productivity loss more effectively, according to Dr Steve Boorman’s 2009 review of working practises in the NHS 4. So the ultimate aim, highlighted by this report, is for companies to not only understand what’s driving work impairment, but to also make it a priority to improve the health and wellbeing of the entire workforce.

SOURCES:
1. www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11604098/Britains-shameful-productivity-deficit-must-be-tackled-head-on.html

2. www.britainshealthiestcompany.co.uk/media/sunday_telegraph_bhc.pdf

3. www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/managing-presenteeism

4. www.nhshealthatwork.co.uk/health-work-wellbeing.asp

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