Finding the cure for work-sickness

Getting the most out your employees is a constant battle for small business owners in particular.  Time lost due to employees coming to work with an illness is a condition called Presenteeism, a growing problem in all aspects of business today. Measuring the cost of presenteeism is not standardized because of the various factors that go into it including:

  • the type and severity of illnesses
  • varying wages for affected workers
  • importance of work performed by affected workers
  • the level of disruption to workflow from lower productivity of affected workers

It is understandable with today’s uncertain employment market that many employees feel the need to come to work in an effort to keep their job, and/or not lose wages if their employer doesn’t offer paid sick days.  When employees come to work with contagious illnesses, they run the risk of making other employees sick as well, which compounds the problem.  The increase in the incidence of preventable disease also contributes to presenteeism; there are several factors that contribute to this general decline in health and wellness of the population:

  • Increased levels of overweightness and obesity
  • Increasingly sedentary jobs and lifestyles
  • Poor diet
  • Alcohol and tobacco use
  • Insufficient sleep
  • Poor hydration

Presenteeism is estimated to cost businesses 60% of the total cost of worker illness.  There are several things that an employer can do to alleviate presenteeism costs:

  • Recognize that there is a problem
  • Clearly communicate the policy of illness in the workplace to employees
  • Engage the workforce in developing illness policies, and make them more flexible
  • Work to make the workplace less susceptible to germ spreading through encouragement of hand washing and make hand disinfectants available throughout the facility.
  • Disseminate information promoting diet and exercise.
  • Promote cessation of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.
  • Offer incentives for wellness promotion

It is recommended that a business start with the simplest and lowest cost solution, putting an emphasis on increasing communication with all levels of the organization why the solution is being implemented, what is the expected outcome, how it will work, and how they can contribute to the program’s success.  If the program is successful, then more sophisticated and comprehensive solutions can be considered.

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