It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that there’s a link between the health of employees and the productivity of their business – it’s apparent every time one of the customer services team sneezes into their headset, a delivery driver takes time off for a bad back, or a stressed manager books a day off rather than face the office.

When Vitality measures the impact of poor health on productivity, we consider both absenteeism (staff absence) and presenteeism (when staff are in work but unable to contribute at an optimal level). The combined results will shock many businesses. Research from the latest Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey (Formerly Britain’s Healthiest Company, developed by Vitality) found that, for the average company, the cost of lost productivity is approximately 7.78% of its wage bill, with the average employee losing over 23 days of productive time, on average, each year due to ill health1.

Many SMEs are unaware of the steps they can take to reduce this staggering cost. The first important step is to evidence that the same modifiable risks that impact on health also influence productivity. In this way, by investing in the health of your employees, you are effectively addressing the risks that are impacting on your bottom line – a powerful connection to make.

Using Britain’s Healthiest Workplace data, for example, we see that the healthiest employees, as measured using our Vitality Age tool, have the equivalent of 30 days additional productive time each year. Importantly, we also see the link between people’s lifestyles and their productivity; those employees who moved from being obese to overweight, or increased the amount of exercise they did for example, reduced their presenteeism by 25% and 13% respectively over the course of one year2. The message is clear; as employees improve their lifestyles, their productivity improves. Companies need to support their employees to make these lifestyle changes.

Changing a company’s health culture

As the link between better employee health and increased productivity becomes increasingly apparent, more UK businesses are seeing the value of investing in workplace wellness. The programmes that have most impact on employee health are not simply bolt-ons to a business, they are fully integrated into workplace culture. That means they are instigated both top-down – from a board and executive level – and bottom-up, by engaging employees in their own wellness.

VitalityHealth looks at employee health through these two lenses. The annual Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey enables us to take a top-down perspective by looking at an organisation and making the link between the specifics of that work environment, and the health and productivity of its employees. From a bottom – up perspective, VitalityHealth uses information, wellness networks and incentives to measure the wellbeing of employees and stimulate their wellness engagement. A particularly successful approach has been with Active Rewards, where the benefit has resulted in significant increases in the amount of physical activity that employees are undertaking. By combining data from different sources, we can help businesses initiate effective programmes that support their employees as individuals, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all policy towards health and wellbeing.

Understanding staff – one size fits all does not work in wellness

For setting up your wellness programme, you need to first understand the lifestyle and clinical risks to which your employees are exposed, and segment them on the basis of their risk factors and current wellness engagement. Vitality uses its proprietary Vitality Age tool, and bespoke productivity model (which looks at 12 modifiable drivers of productivity loss) to do this, and we pay attention to risks such as smoking, lack of exercise, musculoskeletal issues, and stress. For example, a large company may have employees who are already engaged with wellness, as well as those who are chronically ill, plus a group in the middle that are not leading healthy lives and may be at risk – each has different motivators, needs and requires a bespoke solution to deliver optimal outcomes.

The second step is to initiate a suite of interventions tailored to the workforce. This may mean wrapping different incentives around each group to motivate them and sustain change (the bottom-up approach) and communicating and delivering them via effective management training that shows an authentic desire to improve employee well-being (the top-down approach).

Whatever the individual health profiles of a workforce, certain benefits are proven to drive employees’ engagement with their wellness. These include low-cost interventions, such as providing fresh fruit in the workplace, or bicycle storage facilities, allowing staff to participate in wellness during their workday (by going to the gym at lunchtime, for example), and extending benefits to employees’ families. Through VitalityHealth, employers can offer a range of discounts to help their staff get healthy, for example, discounted gym membership and activity trackers, as well as rewards to keep them motivated like weekly Starbucks drinks, cinema tickets and iTunes vouchers.

The productivity payoff

Once employees are engaged in these interventions, the third and final step is to measure the improvement in risk factors. That might mean monitoring the number of employees who have successfully given up smoking, who attend the gym regularly, or who lose weight. By tracking absenteeism and presenteeism at the same time, businesses can clearly see the benefits of their interventions, not just on their employees’ health but on the health of their business as well.


How Vitality can help?

VitalityHealth is changing the way businesses target workplace wellbeing, by moving the focus from illness (20% of staff who have a PMI claim each year3) to wellness (targeting 100% of the population). As well as providing access to outstanding medical care and health insurance cover, VitalityHealth rewards healthy lifestyle choices across the entire workforce, reducing the impact of illness and lost productivity. With the UK suffering from productivity losses in order of £60bn each year4, productivity is a significant national challenge. Business, with its reach across both individuals and communities, is probably best placed to start dealing with this challenge, but the approach needs to be authentic and broad-based. The Britain’s Healthiest Workplace research creates a credible evidence base for companies to invest in the health of their employees. In the knowledge that this will not only support long-term health outcomes, but also short-term productivity loss – an outcome that is good for us all.


  2. Britain’s Healthiest Company, 2015
  3. Britain’s Healthiest Company, 2015
  4. Britain’s Healthiest Company, 2015


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