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16 Aug 2019
by Mark Allan

How to fight presenteeism with wellbeing technology

Workplace health has become a major priority for most business decision makers across the UK, which is a great thing. Employers know that by proactively supporting the health of their employees, there’s the potential to reduce absenteeism, increase engagement and improve productivity – not to mention the moral imperative; taking care of your employees is simply the right thing to do.


The issue of presenteeism

But despite this issue climbing up the business agenda, research from Bupa UK[1] found that many employees hide illness and injury, and delay seeking help when they are unwell. We found that seven in 10 employees have delayed seeking medical advice, despite the majority (71%) of business leaders having no issue with colleagues taking time off to deal with health issues. And despite 85% of all business decision makers stating that workplace health is a top priority, employees still aren’t being as open as they should about their health, often playing down illness or injury (32%) or feeling too busy to miss office hours (27%).

This research shows that presenteeism is a real and marked issue, particularly in a small business where employees wear multiple ‘hats’, perform lots of different roles and perhaps feel that their business is less able to easily absorb team absence than a larger company. Our research found that, in addition to those employed in SMEs, younger workers (18–34) and those based in London were also more likely to shrug off illness or injury. So, although those in decision-making positions really want their employees to put their health first, they’re competing against a strong resistance from those who strive to soldier on.

The consequences of presenteeism

But, long-term, presenteeism isn’t helpful to business. Research has shown that it’s very unlikely to offer any productivity benefits at all and, if colleagues end up spreading their illness around the office, the opposite will likely be true. It’s often argued that employees working long hours generally doesn’t improve productivity. And if, by working long hours, your employees are becoming tired and stressed, then there is a strong likelihood that it will ultimately hit workforce morale. Even worse, it could create potential health problems leading to employees going on long-term sick leave.

Using technology to tackle presenteeism

This is just one reason why we’ve partnered with Babylon to offer Babylon Health app services as standard for business customers, in addition to our telephone Direct Access service for cancer and mental health. With these services, employees can call or video call a GP typically within two hours, have access to unlimited GP consultations and can use Babylon Digital Healthcare to gain a GP referral, meaning they don’t have to contact their NHS GP and potentially wait for an appointment. Demand for this service was highlighted in our research, which showed that six in 10 (59%) employees say they want to be able to speak to a doctor over the phone, online or through an app.

For a business of any size, your people are your greatest asset, which is why giving colleagues multiple routes to get help can only be a good thing – be it over the phone, online through clinically approved resources or via an app like Babylon. And if you can encourage greater self-care by providing convenient solutions, I believe that companies will really benefit by having a healthier, happier workforce. This is of course a good thing in itself, but has also been shown to boost productivity in the long run.

And if a workplace health solution like this sounds like a big investment, consider the fact that health benefits and wellbeing programmes are often a key differentiator in the war for talent, helping businesses to retain and attract the very best people. For a small business, an investment in workplace health often means the business impact and associated productivity can outstrip the initial cost, and better staff retention means less time and money spent on recruitment. This ultimately frees up resource so that the organisation can focus on what really matters – running and growing the business.

The author is Mark Allan, commercial director at Bupa UK

This is a sponsored article from Bupa UK

[1] Research conducted by Opinium Research between 15-21 January 2019 among 524 employees (18+) from SME and Large organisations AND 525 Business Decision Makers (excl. sole traders) with responsibility for employee health & well-being or HR/personnel services.

In partnership with Bupa

Bupa is a global health&wellbeing company serving over 29 million customers worldwide.

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