One of the most frustrating aspects of winter is sickness. Between the common cold, the flu, stomach bugs, and everything else that goes around, employees are probably missing days left and right. From a business standpoint, this can be exasperating and debilitating.
Thankfully, you can do something about it.
The Cost of Unhealthy Employees
While health is very much a personal matter and should never be viewed as only a statistic or a dollar sign, the fact of the matter is that employee health is very much a practical concern for businesses. Health issues don’t just affect the individual suffering from the disease or ailment – they impact the businesses that are paying them for their time and output.
According to a Gallup poll from a few years ago, unhealthy workers cost American businesses roughly $153 billion per year in lost productivity. The study looked at 110,000 full-time employees and found some rather startling results. Perhaps most shocking is the fact that only 13.9 percent of employees – or roughly one in seven individuals – is of normal weight with no chronic health conditions. These employees log an average of just .34 sick days per month (or roughly four days per year).
The 30 percent of employees who report being overweight with one or two chronic health conditions miss an average of 1.08 days per month. Those who are overweight with three or more chronic conditions miss an average of three days per month – or 42 per year.
What’s most concerning is that the $153 billion in lost productivity is much higher than in other industrialized countries. It’s actually four-times greater than in the U.K., where a much greater proportion of the workforce is healthy.
Most large companies recognize that health is an issue, so they choose to vamp up their healthcare efforts. The problem is that the CDC estimates $3 of every $4 an employer spends on health costs are allocated towards treating chronic conditions like hypertension, obesity, diabetes, asthma, and depression. While not always the case, many of these chronic conditions could be avoided altogether with preventative healthcare.
Five Ways Businesses Can Keep Employees Healthy
While there are certainly costs associated with instituting preventative healthcare measures, these expenses pale in comparison to the cost of lost productivity and preventable treatment. So let’s look at some of the ways that businesses can keep employees healthier and minimize sick days.
1. Support Regular Fitness
The relationship between physical activity and overall health and wellness is pretty well established. The CDC reports that regular fitness helps control weight, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, reduces the risk of some cancers, strengthens bones and muscles, improves mental health, limits the risk of slips and falls in older adults, and increases the overall chance of living longer.
While you can’t force employees to engage in physical activity, you can support and encourage them. Understanding that your employees are busy and want to relax during their hours away from work, you should make it as easy as possible for them. Have room for an onsite fitness center with basic equipment? Consider building one. Don’t have that luxury? Give employees discounts on local gyms in the area. There are plenty of options, so feel free to get creative.
2. Offer Healthier Eating Options
The second major component of healthy living is healthy eating. If your employees are using their lunch hour to grab a combo meal from McDonald’s, then they aren’t doing themselves any favors. And even if you don’t have the resources to provide onsite meals for your employees, you can lead the charge for healthier eating in some unique ways.
“Go to a wholesale club twice a month and stock up on healthy treats like fresh fruit, nuts and granola bars for the company kitchen,” suggests Dr. Spencer Blackman, a primary care physician in San Francisco. “Host healthy potlucks. Once or twice a month, ask members of the team to prepare a nutritious dish at home and eat lunch as a group.”
The more you make healthy eating an option, the less likely it is that your employees will engage in poor eating habits. Make this a priority moving forward.
3. Encourage Vaccines (Especially for Older Employees)
Gone are the days when employees could work until age 55 or 60 and then comfortably retire with pensions, retirement accounts, and social security. The current financial climate – combined with changing views of work – means many are working well into their 60s and 70s.
If you have an aging workforce, then you need to be extra careful. As the body ages, the immune system changes. Specifically, it becomes slower to respond, which increases the risk of getting the flu and other airborne diseases that commonly spread in crowded offices. While you should encourage flu vaccines for all, make a concentrated effort to ensure your older employees are vaccinated for both their protection and your interests.
4. Gamify Healthy Choices
Some people need a little more of a nudge than others. If you discover that employees are engaged in unhealthy habits and aren’t exactly eager to escape them, you’ll have to make “living healthy” more enticing. One good option is to gamify the process.
Most people thrive on competition and respond to tangible rewards. Asking employees to get 30 minutes of exercise five days a week is one thing, but telling them that you’ll reward the individual who’s able to achieve the most consecutive days of exercise is another. Come up with games and challenges – both individual and team-based – to get people motivated. The results may surprise you.
5. Educate Parents on Keeping Children Healthy
Employees don’t just miss work when they’re sick. Sometimes it’s a sick child that requires them to stay home. Another way you can improve productivity in your team is by educating them on ways to keep children healthy. Some of this advice will be obvious, but the simple act of bringing the topic up can encourage parents to shift their focus and make their children’s health a bigger priority.
Employee Health in Your Hands
Employee health is a very important issue in today’s business world and will become even more significant in the years to come. And despite the fact that many health issues are totally inevitable, there are ways you can control the spread of illness through employee education and preventative healthcare. It’s time that you take employee health into your hands and develop a workforce that’s happy, engaged, and productive.