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

19 January 2018

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.”


Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.