Sustainability seems to be a real buzz word at the moment. Businesses are seeing the benefits of wiser, more energy-efficient use of our resources combined with recycling and other greener initiatives. But business is yet to really apply this sustainability concept to its most valuable resource...its workforce.
To me, workforce sustainability is about teaching people to juggle. We all need to juggle work, family commitments and keeping ourselves healthy. When we can juggle these things effectively you can work at your desired intensity without it compromising your quality of health and home life. That´s true workforce sustainability.
I am often confronted by business owners and managers who roll their eyes at the expectation of businesses having to teach their employees how to be healthy and have a healthy work life balance.
I absolutely agree with the bosses. An employee´s health and work life balance is their own responsibility. But the problem is that your work, your home life and your health all affect each other. If business waits for employees to discover a healthy, balanced and sustainable lifestyle for themselves it can severely limit business growth through sluggish productivity, work stress and poor customer experience.
But how much does poor health and a poor work life balance cost business?
I have reviewed the most recent Australian and US studies that examined the impact that poor health and lifestyle has on business productivity. Based on this review I concluded that every Australian worker at least 24 working days of lost productivity per year occur due to lowered levels of wellbeing of employees and unsustainable lifestyle practices.I could find no reason to assume US workers fare any better.Last year the US Department of Labor revealed that poor health is costing US companies a staggering $1.8 trillion dollars every year...
One of the largest causes of productivity losses was due to presenteeism which was generally cost business four times the amount of absenteeism. Presenteeism is the loss of productivity that occurs when employees come to work but aren´t fully functioning due to illness or injury. A study commissioned by Medibank Private revealed that presenteeism cost the Australian economy $25.7 billion in 2005/06 or the equivalent of six working days per employee per year.
Closer inspection of this study revealed that this was only the tip of the iceberg because the study only measured the productivity impact of 12 particular medical conditions. This study did not include obesity, arthritis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, all of which were found in US study to be among the top six most costly medical conditions in terms of absenteeism and presenteeism.
When you account for the impact of these medical conditions, the cost of colds and flus in addition to the effect of people working with undiagnosed medical conditions, the numbers start to become worrying for business. The cost to business becomes too great to ignore when you add on the annual $14.8 billion dollar burden that workplace stress places on Australian businesses.
This accounts for only half the story. What about the effects of substance abuse, smoking, alcohol, fatigue, sleep deprivation, a lack of wellness on productivity?
Then think about the huge business cost arising from accidents, errors of judgement that occur when employees and bosses are run down (particularly when events like the Exxon Valdez and Chernobyl occurred as a result of employee fatigue). Lack of energy by staff may come across as indifference and poor customer service to the client costing future income for the business.
Poor health and our current fast-paced, junk food riddled lifestyle are not only draining our nation´s health budget but are creating a massive productivity hole for business.
If companies took it upon themselves to provide healthy lifestyle training and education to employees they would be rewarded with immediate productivity benefits. Companies talk about business sustainability and using resources more efficiently so that they last longer. It´s about applying these same principles to their most valuable resource...their employees.
These figures alone show that companies stand to make substantial productivity gains by creating a culture of sustainable wellness and work life balance within their organisation. To me, your lifestyle is sustainable when you can juggle the three balls of work, home life and health simultaneously.
Economic modelling of the cost of presenteeism in Australia, Econtech 2007
The Cost of Workplace Stress in Australia - Econtech, August 2008
Hilton, M. (2004). Assessing the financial return on investment of good management strategies and the WORC Project. The University of Queensland.
ABS Overweight and Obesity in Adults, 4719.0 2004-2005. pp31. 2008 Commonwealth of Australia
J Occup Environ Med. 2010 Jan; 52(1):91-8.The Cost of Poor Sleep: Workplace Productivity Loss and Associated Costs
J Occup Environ Med.Vol5, No4, April 2009 Health and Productivity as a Business Strategy