Research from the 2017 Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey (BHW), 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 each year as they take time off sick and underperform in the office as a result of ill-health (otherwise known as presenteeism). This is equivalent to each worker losing six working weeks of productive time annually. Importantly, while some sectors performed better than others, the results demonstrated high levels of productivity loss across all sectors and organisational sizes.

When translated into monetary terms, the combined economic impact of this ill-health related absence and presenteeism is £77.5 billion a year for the UK economy. Worryingly, employee work impairment and the associated productivity loss appears to be on a worsening trend, up from 27.5 days and £73 billion respectively in 2016.

Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, which was developed by VitalityHealth and is delivered in partnership with the University of Cambridge, RAND Europe and Mercer, also points to a growing presenteeism problem, with time missed by the average employee through absence reducing since 2016 (3.3 days to 2.7 days), while increases in presenteeism (24.2 days to 27.7 days) have more than offset the observed reduction in absence. This increase in presenteeism demonstrates the importance of having a holistic understanding of employees’ physical and mental health, both in and out of the workplace.

Shaun Subel, Director of Corporate Wellbeing Strategy at VitalityHealth, says: “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. Our data demonstrates a clear relationship – employees who make healthier lifestyle choices benefit from an additional 25 days of productive time each year compared to the least healthy employees, and also exhibit higher levels of work engagement and lower levels of stress. As a result, effective workplace health and wellbeing solutions can deliver tangible improvements in employee engagement and productivity, and make a significant impact on an organisation’s bottom line.”

Chris Bailey, Partner at Mercer Marsh Benefits, says: “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. The data shows that those organisations who understand this and take steps to maximise their employees’ productive time at work, for example through supporting an active workforce, promoting good nutrition and enabling positive mental health, enjoy a competitive advantage.”