Published On: Thu, Sep 29th, 2016

What Do Sick Days Really Cost Businesses?

All employers know that their employees will need days off for illness. The cost of this is often factored into the annual staffing budget and can be closely monitored. But the real cost to businesses is difficult to measure. There are many reasons why an employee may need to take time off work. And it’s not just workplace injuries and illness that a company needs to be wary of.

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Personal accidents and injuries also account for many of the days that are lost at work. According to Nationwide Injury Lawyers, a whiplash injury remains the most common type sustained in motoring accidents. Many workers drive to work. It seems that these commuters could be at an increased risk of sustaining this kind of injury. Whiplash may sound minor. But the pain, discomfort, and therapy required following such an injury can prevent your staff member from coming to work.

DIY also remains a high-risk pursuit when it comes to personal injuries. No specific data is collected anymore. The most recent figures reported in The Telegraph in 2006 suggest over 200,000 people are hurt at home in this way each year. The types of injuries incurred can include head trauma and broken bones. This may render your employee unable to work for a substantial period of time. The cost to businesses could be quite significant, especially if they need to be temporarily replaced.

Work-related illness, however, has been on a downward trend lately. According to the HSE, statistics suggest a dramatic reduction in days lost to sickness. Injuries incurred at work have also dropped substantially. This may suggest that companies are ensuring staff are well-trained. There is extra vigilance around workplace hazards. Better awareness of workplace stress can also help prevent your employees taking sick leave. Recognising the symptoms and providing coping strategies can also improve workplace morale. This, in turn, improves productivity and staff retention.

Many people who have suffered workplace stress continued to work through it. This can be more harmful long term. It may prolong the recovery period as the problems persist and worsen. This is why it is better for companies to offer more flexible approaches to working. It often is cheaper in the long term. It may also be considered more profitable, and productivity could be improved. Shorter working days with longer breaks may feel like the wrong approach. But other European countries like Sweden have seen the benefits of giving staff more freedom and leisure time.

It’s no secret that sick days can become incredibly costly to a business. Firstly, you are paying for an employee that isn’t doing their job yet still retains their salary and benefits. Secondly, you may need to pay for a temp to cover some of the duties outstanding. The third cost is to the employees that have to pick up the slack. Their workload increases, so their stress levels increase. You may soon find they too need to take some sick days.

It isn’t possible to prevent every injury, accident or illness that may occur. But you can dramatically cut the need for sick days in your workplace. Does your business offer flexible working? You may find that employees are willing to work through some illnesses or injuries from home. Companies that work proactively to avoid workplace stresses also reap the benefits of fewer sick days claimed. And increased attention and training for safe practices can eliminate injuries.

But would your company risk assess you as an employee or potential recruit? If you have a love for high adrenaline activities, could your employer perceive you as a high-risk staff member? At what point does your personal life start becoming the company’s business to know? Insurance companies will always ask personal questions about your smoking or drinking habits. They want to know what kind of work you do for a living. They do it to gauge your risk of having an accident or illness. Does your boss have a right to know that information too?

If you live a less than cautious life, or drive two hours a day for work, or simply love the buzz of adrenaline, you may indeed be at a much higher risk of injury. And parents of school-age children may be at more risk of coughs, colds, and illnesses. Smokers and those with a high BMI may be more likely to succumb to long-term illnesses. Should this affect a company’s choice when recruiting, promoting, or terminating an employee?

There certainly are some institutions and companies that like to take more personal details into account. When it comes to their staff, they want to know what to expect. At the end of the day, they retain the right to choose the candidate most suited to the position. And if sick days are costing UK businesses over 23 million days of work each year, it is understandable why these assessments are taking place. That figure, from the HSE, relates to work-related illness alone. The figure could be much higher when you consider colds, flu, and chronic illnesses or injuries as well.

It’s not just businesses that lose out when an employee calls in sick. The cost to the working people is quite significant too. Wage levels might be stunted to account for prospective days off. Indeed, it is thought that some roles filled by women may be attracting a lesser wage than a man earns. Could this be due to the misconception that some females need more time off for illnesses (both their own and their children’s)? The numerous arguments about women’s wages will undoubtedly continue for many years. What businesses should ask themselves is if personal circumstances should influence the pay level at all.

The cost of sickness is very far reaching. Will it bring Britain or any other country to its knees? Not likely. But could it be harmful to businesses small or large? They say prevention is better than cure. What could your company be doing today to reduce the need for sick days? And what can you do to ensure your own good health?