Employee Health Is a Major Determining Factor For Workplace Productivity

Employee health is a major determining factor for employee productivity and one could argue that it is the most important factor

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The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the perception of health and fitness in the workplace, with mental health in particular being given the attention it has long deserved. That said, physical and mental health are inextricably linked, and as the saying goes, "sound body, sound mind' must become the mantra for workplace success.

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More importantly, the pandemic has shown the importance of looking after the health of an organisation's employees. People are the most important resource of any organisation, and companies must step up to ensure that their employees are given all the opportunities required to optimise their potential. I would argue that the basis for this is ensuring that employees' physical and mental health needs are addressed and catered to by company policies.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US affirms that workplace health programs can increase productivity for a number of reasons including but not limited to:

  • Healthier employees are less likely to call in sick or use vacation time due to illness
  • Companies that support workplace health have a greater percentage of employees at work every day
  • Because employee health frequently carries over into better health behaviour that impact both the employee and their family (such as nutritious meals cooked at home or increased physical activity with the family), employees may miss less work caring for ill family members as well
  • Similarly, workplace health programs can reduce presenteeism — the measurable extent to which health symptoms, conditions, and diseases adversely affect the work productivity of individuals who choose to remain at work

A survey conducted by the CDC on the impact of obesity on workplace productivity is quite startling. Obese employees experience higher levels of absenteeism due to illness than normal weight employees. Normal-weight men miss an average of 3.0 days each year due to illness or injury. In comparison, overweight and obese men (BMI 25-35), miss approximately 2 more work days per year than normal-weight men, a 56 per cent increase. For women, the effects are even more pronounced, with women with a BMI of 40 or higher missing 141 per cent more work days each year compared to normal-weight women.

The cost savings achieved by providing a workplace health program can be measured against absenteeism among employees, reduced overtime to cover absent employees and the costs involved in training replacement employees.

Apart from a few exceptions, employee absenteeism is most often the result of poor mental and physical health. It's no secret that unhealthy and unhappy employees are more likely to call in sick, but according to Michael Thorpe, Host of the British Business podcast, businesses with a specific employee wellness support program can reduce absenteeism by almost 40 per cent.

Thorpe also argues that In extreme cases where employees feel undervalued, sick, and disengaged from their jobs, they will leave altogether. Statistically, those businesses that invest in programs that actively care for their employees' wellness have reported 65 per cent less staff turnover. Another report from the Business Solver shows that 93 per cent of employees say they're more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. I would also argue that there is a clear correlation between employee health and employee engagement. And it's no secret that engaged employees reportedly collaborate better and according to Best Companies research, perform 3.5 times better and are 50 per cent more productive.

While an employee wellness program sounds expensive, it doesn't necessarily need to be so. A basic employee wellness program could be designed by incorporating elements of the list below:

  • Sponsor gym memberships
  • Invest in ergonomic chairs for employees to cut down on back issues, a common employee health complaint
  • Installing healthy vending machines throughout the office
  • Offer standing desks
  • Host walk-and-talk meetings
  • Incorporate fun exercise programs, like a company step challenge with prizes for the top performing employees
  • Health screenings
  • Stress reduction programs, like meditation and yoga classes
  • Smoking cessation programs
  • Mental health/counselling programs
  • On-site fitness opportunities, like group classes

In conclusion, employee health is a major determining factor for employee productivity and one could argue that it is the most important factor. The links between health and employee engagement, employee absenteeism, burnout and employee collaboration have been borne out by several studies as elucidated above. More importantly, company bottom lines are negatively impacted when employee health prevents employees from performing at their optimal potential. I would like to end this article on a slightly less serious note. I think the British rock band got it completely correct with the opening line of one of the songs off their magnum opus "OK Computer'. It goes "Fitter, Happier, More Productive", summing up employee health and workplace productivity in one simple sentence!