The cost of illness and absenteeism on your business

Absenteeism, presenteeism and the effects of this on our economy

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The link between business success and employee well-being is well documented. Ever-increasing pressures on employees are forcing businesses to recognise the importance of enabling easy access to healthcare for their team. This includes access to pharmacists, doctors, dentists and optometrists, as well as to radiology and maternity benefits as soon as symptoms arise – either in a subsidised context or based on employee contributions. 

At the heart of the matter lies an understanding of the reasons behind absenteeism and how it manifests in the workplace. Martin Neethling, Head: Sanlam Health Insurance and Distribution, says when you tally the costs of absenteeism in all its manifestations, the impact on the business bottom-line is significant and businesses that ignore it, do so at their peril.

He explains, “Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) did a study in 2015, which found 15% of staff call in sick daily in SA, but only one in three is actually ill. The cost to our economy? About R16-billion pa. A precursor to absenteeism is presenteeism – deemed a current workplace plague – which refers to distracted employees who come to work but are mostly unproductive, costing SA businesses close toR89-billion pa.

In addition, colds and flu cost the economy over R2-billion pa and extended periods of absenteeism can often be linked either to illness associated with undiagnosed chronic conditions or to staff spending a significant amount of time at public health clinics, where queues can be long.

Other well-known causes of absenteeism and presenteeism (usually a precursor to absenteeism) include:

  • Psychological reasons: like low morale and lack of motivation
  • Personal reasons: like childcare and eldercare
  • Financial reasons: lack of funds to visit a doctor before illness becomes severe
  • Health reasons: Any illness or injury
  • Workplace reasons: like low job satisfaction, perceived unfair treatment, being bored or bullied

Reducing absenteeism

Neethling says there’s no easy way to reduce absenteeism if you are a business owner or manager.  “Themaximum statutory allowance for sick leave is 30 days across three years. Managers need to keep impeccable records to expose incidents of ‘deliberate absenteeism’ – or what’s commonly referred to as bunking. When an employee has been off for more than two consecutive days, or on a Monday or Friday, a doctor’s note is a legal requirement. However, that doesn’t address the problem of presenteeism.”

Beyond the legalities, Neethling says the solution, at least in part, comes down to a focus on employee wellness in the workplace. “Self-care was 2018’s top wellness trend. This has implications for the workplace too. A well employee is more productive so it is often in everyone’s best interests for an employer to provide access to some day-to-day healthcare and wellness services.”

Neethling says these services can include access to healthcare such as pharmacist, doctor, dentist and optometrist visits as well as radiology and maternity benefits. Healthcare benefits like subsidised doctor consultations as soon as symptoms arise or contributions towards yearly check-ups with specialists can make a tangible difference in the lives of employees.

“It’s about really understanding the reasons behind absenteeism. That means speaking to your team in a non-confrontational way to get to grips with what they’re grappling with every day. Some things are obvious – such as offering health screenings and free flu vaccinations ahead of flu season. Others might be less so, like offering access to an HIV programme that includes medication as well as counseling and pathology.” 

The global focus on employee experience means many employers are now offering ‘perks’ such as yoga and meditation classes at the office, as well as subsidised or completely paid for gym memberships.

Finally, Neethling suggests that a number of employers are using online tools to measure employee satisfaction to look for signs of stress and impending burnout. “That’s when early interventions can really be effective to prevent complete mental exhaustion. With financial stress being so ubiquitous, it is also imperative for employers to see where they can alleviate some of this anxiety by providing access to healthcare.”

Collectively, these measures could help curb absenteeism, thus seriously impacting a business’s bottom-line. Today, employers have a variety of healthcare options to offer their staff for both treatment and prevention. From interventions such as on-site wellness programmes to primary healthcare insurance, medical scheme cover and Gap Cover, finding the right solution for employees can make a material difference.

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This edition

Issue 58