How employers can take charge of health-related productivity losses

How do you reduce absenteeism and presenteeism in your employees?

Maintaining a safe workplace and encouraging health and wellness in the workplace may be part of it, according to two recent studies.

CDC measures the cost of chronic conditions

In an October 2016 CDC report , researchers measured the costs of absenteeism in employees with five conditions — hypertension, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity and obesity.

How costly were the missed workdays? In the billions of dollars.

The researchers estimated that each of the conditions cost employers more than $2 billion per year in excess absenteeism. The most expensive of these, obesity, was calculated at $11.2 billion. In their findings, hypertension caused the most missed workdays per employee and cost nearly $300 per employee per year.

For each condition, employees missed an estimated one to two workdays per year. Those with multiple conditions had more missed days.

Study finds workplace safety impacts job productivity

Another study, published in Health Affairs, measured productivity losses from another angle and found similar results to the CDC report.

The researchers looked at factors such as previous workers’ compensation claims, chronic health conditions and how physically or cognitively demanding a job was to measure health-related productivity losses. They then calculated the predicted costs of absenteeism and presenteeism per person per year.

If employers want to reduce health-related productivity losses, they should take an integrated approach to mitigate job-related injuries, promote employee health, and improve the fit between a worker’s duties and abilities.

The study, “Chronic Conditions, Workplace Safety, and Job Demands Contribute to Absenteeism and Job Performance,” found that these factors contributed to both absenteeism and presenteeism. The study was conducted by the Integrated Benefits Institute, Segue Consulting and the Colorado School of Public Health Center for Health, Work and Environment.

While absenteeism was measured in the number of sick hours taken in the last four weeks, the study authors acknowledge that presenteeism can be difficult to measure. Employees rated their poor job performance on a scale from 0 (best) to 10 (worst), and researchers converted the metrics into annual costs.

“There is good reason to believe that presenteeism — when employees come to work but perform at lower levels than usual because of health reasons — often accounts for more lost productivity than absenteeism,” they write.

Study findings:

  • Chronic health conditions and previous workers’ compensation claims contribute to higher absenteeism and presenteeism.
  • Workers with more chronic health conditions had proportionally more cases of absenteeism and presenteeism.
  • Employees with physically demanding jobs reported higher absenteeism, while more cognitively demanding jobs were linked to presenteeism, and “presenteeism is highest when jobs are both physically and cognitively demanding.”
  • The combination of multiple risk factors often led to increased absenteeism and presenteeism, such as employees who had both physically demanding jobs and a workers’ comp claim in the past year.
  • Employees with none of these factors had lower presenteeism and absenteeism.

Recommendations to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism

Based on their findings, the researchers suggest strategies employers can use to reduce health-related productivity losses. Their recommendations include integrating and analyzing health and safety data, considering each worker’s job fit, and addressing safety and wellness in the workplace.

“If employers want to reduce health-related productivity losses, they should take an integrated approach to mitigate job-related injuries, promote employee health, and improve the fit between a worker’s duties and abilities,” the study says.

Because of the compounding effects of poor health and work injuries, an integrated workplace safety and wellness program could combat multiple risk factors at once.

A holistic, Total Worker Health approach can address the causes of absenteeism and presenteeism on multiple fronts.

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