The ominously named ‘Blue Monday’ marked the low point of January’s melancholy mood, since individuals are said to be more unhappy on this day than any other day of the year. And it’s easy to see why. With the festive spirit long gone, people have returned to work, battling with short daylight hours alongside seasonal colds and flu.

It is hardly surprising that workplace absenteeism is at its greatest during this period. Whether it’s general wellbeing, workplace stress, mental health or the notorious ‘sickie’, staff absence is an unavoidable part of the long winter season – and also a cost which businesses must prepare for.

On the flip side, a report from CIPD revealed that one in three employers have seen an increase of staff attending work when unfit to do so over the last 12 months – an upward trend maintained for the fifth consecutive year. This demonstrates an equally concerning rise in presenteeism, which can often stem from peer pressure or fears over job security, both of which can compel employees to work beyond their contracted hours even when they are not physically or mentally well enough to do so.

Whilst absenteeism can leave employers with a lack of resource, presenteeism often results in lower productivity, poorer quality of work and tainted enthusiasm. Sick staff in the workplace can generate a negative working environment and lead to other employees falling victim to the same bug.

Getting the balance right

To avoid these risks, businesses need to strike a balance between preventing unnecessary absence and not pressuring staff into the workplace when they are not in good health. While business costs will always be a concern, employee wellbeing is key to the success of the organisation, and employers must appreciate that lack of care could result in lower productivity and reduced profitability.

Fortunately there are many ways to promote wellbeing and encourage a healthy workforce. This is ultimately rooted in the employer’s attitude and office environment, and can be delivered in the form of initiatives that promote a healthy lifestyle, such as flexible working, yoga classes and nutritional team lunches. Employers can also encourage good health and promote a positive office ethos by offering benefits such as free smoothies, gym memberships and dental care, all of which can help boost employee wellbeing and overall productivity.

Benefits like these are essential for creating a positive working environment, which is fundamental for driving employee motivation and consequently, attendance. By offering a flexible working scheme, for example, organisations can demonstrate trust in their staff to maintain productivity away from the desk, whilst giving them the option to stay at home to aid recovery and prevent illness spreading in the office.

A healthy approach

Absenteeism and presenteeism are both particularly common in the workplace during winter months, but these issues do not disappear when the sun comes out. Businesses must pay attention to employee health and wellbeing throughout the year, being alert to particular issues and tailoring support and incentives accordingly.

Businesses must understand that the best results and successes are achieved through ensuring employees are happy and healthy, with a balanced lifestyle. When employees feel confident in their role and valued by the company, they are likely to be less afraid of losing their job by taking a sick day or feel the need to stay home through lack of enjoyment or motivation.

Simple, yet effective, actions can be taken by employers to respond to the trends we are seeing, many of which do not need to be costly. By creating a trustworthy atmosphere and encouraging individuals to care for their own health with the support of their colleagues and management, the efficiency and profitability of a workforce will boom.

By Jamie Mackenzie, marketing director at Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services