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British companies are losing on average 23.5 days of productive time per employee each year as staff take time off sick and underperform in the office as a result of ill-health, according to a survey by VitalityHealth, Mercer, the University of Cambridge and RAND Europe.

A cross-industry survey of nearly 33,000 workers, conducted by Britain's Healthiest Company (BHC) in the UK found that it is the equivalent to each worker losing more than entire working month of productive time annually. When translated into monetary terms, unhealthy lifestyles and poor health are costing British firms £57 billion a year.

More than a third (36%) of British employees surveyed by VitalityHealth, Mercer, University of Cambridge and RAND Europe, have a chronic condition, such as heart disease or diabetes, which are strongly associated with their lifestyle choices. It also found that employees are mistakenly believing they are, in fact, healthy. Just under two-thirds (61%) have at least two risk factors, while a third are suffering from three or more. Around 60% of those with three or more risk factors believe their health to be good or very good, which makes them less likely to change their behaviour. Risk factors occur when people register as outside the 'healthy' range for a lifestyle or clinical health factor, for example due to lack of exercise or poor diet.

Encouragingly, BHC data shows that workplace wellness programmes can support employees to improve their health. Average time lost per employee due to absenteeism and presenteeism at the top five ranked companies was over a week less than average firm. As companies increase their investment in health promotion, the proportion of employees in good or excellent health grows, while the costs to productivity associated with absenteeism and presenteeism decease. The 25% of companies with the largest health promotion budgets saw an 8% year-on-year improvement in the proportion of employees in good or excellent health, and a 16% year-on-year reduction in productivity loss.

Shaun Subel, director VitalityHealth, said: "The findings of the Britain's Healthiest Company research should serve as a wake-up call for UK firms to do more to improve the health and wellbeing of their staff. The data shows that organisations with an authentic and positive culture of wellness see increased productivity from their employees. We would therefore urge all companies, big or small, to protect their bottom line by taking an active role in improving employee wellbeing.

Chris Bailey, partner at Mercer, said: "Employers have a unique role to play in influencing employee behaviours around health and wellbeing.

"Too many employees are unaware of, or in denial over their risk factors, which risks us sleep-walking into a chronic condition epidemic. Considering most employees spend the majority of their week at work or commuting, how they behave at work significantly impacts their overall wellbeing. By creating an environment of making the right health-based decisions and supporting sustained lifestyle changes, employers can reduce their lost productivity and help create a virtuous circle of healthy, engaged, productive employees."