Sick staff cost British firms £77 billion annually in lost productivity

19 January 2018 3 min. read

Presenteeism could be adding significant strain to the UK’s businesses, with employees remaining at work while sick inhibiting their own productivity. According to experts, the pressure to attend at all costs could ultimately cost UK businesses over £77 billion – in part due to the added mental and physical anxiety placed upon staff.

The UK economy is currently facing a sustained period of pressure, thanks to slower than expected growth. Central to this problem is the issue of poor productivity, which continues to plague British businesses.

Now, adding to this stifled productivity, a study of almost 32,000 workers across all UK industries has revealed that employees lose, on average, the equivalent of 30.4 days of productive time annually due to sick days, or underperformance in the office as a result of ill-health. This is equivalent to each worker losing six working weeks of productive time annually. The results demonstrated high levels of productivity loss across all sectors and organisational sizes, despite some variation across industries.

The ‘Britain’s Healthiest Workplace’ survey, was developed by VitalityHealth, a UK -based company specialising in private medical insurance sold to the UK market, in partnership with the University of Cambridge, RAND Europe and consulting firm Mercer, also points to a growing ‘presenteeism’ problem. While working hours missed by the average employee as a result of illness has fallen over the past 12 months, from 3.3 days to 2.7 days, now more staff are attending work while ill – in what is known as presenteeism – with workers attending as many as 27.7 days while suffering from sickness, up from 24.2 days in 2016. When translated into monetary terms, the combined economic impact of this ill-health related absence and presenteeism currently sits at a £77.5 billion a year for the UK economy – a substantial boost on last year’s levels of £73 billion in lost productivity.Sick staff cost British firms £77 billion annually in lost productivityThis means that rather than improving the health of workers, organisations have simply reframed an issue which ultimately stunts productivity. According to the analysis, this boost to presenteeism demonstrates the importance of having a holistic understanding of employees’ physical and mental health, both in and out of the workplace. It also adds to the amount of leave days wasted by UK workers. In 2016, employees gifted employers an extra £17 billion in free work over 2016, by opting not to make full use of their entitled holiday time. These factors ultimately lead to an increasingly stressed workforce, which is more susceptible to illness.

Chris Bailey, Partner at Mercer Marsh Benefits, commented on the findings, “Some employers still doubt the impact of presenteeism, dismiss the data, and fail to take action. It’s key to understand that people are not machines – we are not 100% task focused and performing at our best all of the time. It is not a case of having a presenteeism problem or not. All organisations will see a reduction in how productive their people are when they are experiencing physical or mental health issues.”

Shaun Subel, Director of Corporate Wellbeing Strategy at VitalityHealth, added, “The Britain’s Healthiest Workplace results illustrate the significance of the productivity challenge facing the UK, but importantly also point to an exciting alternative in how employers can approach this problem. For too long, the link between employee lifestyle choices, their physical and mental health, and their work performance has been ignored.”