Sick days are an essential perk that keep ill employees from spreading communicable illnesses to others in your company, but occasionally, employees can take what seems like too many sick days, resulting in a loss in business productivity. While it may be tempting to cut back on allowable sick days, this quick fix reduces productivity, too. “Presenteeism” — absenteeism’s first cousin — is defined as that measure of lost productivity and the resultant cost to a business that is due to employees being too sick or injured to work effectively; employees are present, but their output is subpar. It is estimated presenteeism is over seven times more costly than absenteeism to a business. For businesses looking to reduce their employees’ needs to take sick days, the easiest — and most effective — route is to encourage and incentivize healthier living.
Most Americans live a sedentary life, filled with a diet of processed food and sugary drinks. Compared to our active, agrarian or hunting-and-gathering ancestors, our contemporary lifestyle is one that lends itself toward illness. Here are a handful of suggestions that are different enough from one another that they just might stand a real chance to improve the health of your workforce.
Send Somebody Back to School
Believe it or not, there is a strong connection between absenteeism and workplace morale. When morale is up, absenteeism is down. In environments where morale is low, absenteeism is high. One way to perk up employee morale is to improve and develop certain qualities within your employees. Why not incentivize their return to school to get more education — like a Bachelor of Arts in Management to improve leadership skills? Assist with tuition. Cover books. When an employee is working hard to learn and gain skills that will make them more successful and productive, that hard work will spill over into the rest of your workforce. Investing in education will save you money in the long run.
Consider the (Food) Source
Fast and easy food is a way of life for people at most jobs, but fast and easy food — especially of the variety found in vending machines and in most break rooms and cafeterias — is rarely the kind of food that keeps people healthy. With diabetes and chronic diseases, like obesity, on the rise, offering employees whole and healthy food choices that taste good makes sense.
If your company has a cafeteria on-site, choose a food service that avoids processed foods, uses fresh and local produce, whole grains and the like. Just because something is low in calories doesn’t mean it’s good for you or that it’s going to taste good enough to eat on a regular basis. Food that starts whole and is well-prepared will satisfy your employees’ taste buds and keep them healthier.
If your company doesn’t have a cafeteria, have a local business that specializes in healthy and delicious food cater snacks and lighter fare to your break room a couple of times a week, and get rid of anything in a vending machine that you — or your mother — would label as junk food. Instead, stock vending machines with water, 100-percent juices, healthy snack bars, SunChips and other whole foods.
Physical activity, because it is no longer a part of modern life in America, must be chosen, and it’s a choice few people seem to want to make. Businesses are in a unique position to incentivize exercise because Americans are at work a lot, and they can be motivated by money. From giving employees financial breaks on their health insurance premiums when they join a gym to offering yoga classes on-site in the middle of the workday, options for getting your workforce healthier abound.
The Period of Engagement
One of the most important aspects of overall health is how people feel. When employees are happy, they produce more and better work. A primary way that organizations can directly improve employee health and morale is to ensure that the work they are doing is engaging — for the entire workday. When lag times emerge in an employee’s workday, happiness goes down, which has a direct bearing on morale and health. Being busy and being engaged are two of the most important factors in employee happiness. Perhaps it’s time to consider how efficient your company is, and whether people are being utilized best. If you have employees whose period of engagement, i.e. the workday, isn’t engaging and doesn’t keep them busy, find out why and what to do about it.
The bottom line? Improving employee health will improve the health of your business, and that will improve your bottom line.
About the Author: Portia Henley is a contributing blogger who specializes in workplace productivity. She holds a bachelor’s in management as well as a master’s in health science.