Research released by Medibank today has revealed that presenteeism burdens the Australian economy with an annual cost of $34bn.
The study showed that an average of 6.5 working days of annual productivity is lost per employee, and the overall cost for the economy equates to a decrease in gross domestic product (GDP) by 2.7%.
Presenteeism refers to the productivity that is lost when employees come to work but are not working at full capacity due to illness or other medical conditions.
Researchers at Medibank said presenteeism is harder to identify and quantify than absenteeism, but added that the cost of presenteeism to businsses and the economy is estimated to be greater.
Following on from research conducted in 2006, the 2010/11 report considered 12 key medical conditions, including asthma, arthritis, cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, back, neck or spinal problems, and more. The results show that presenteeism will be a persistent and ongoing problem.
Importantly, the study examined the projected effects of presenteeism in 2050 after accounting for age specific prevalence rates and demographic change, and it was discovered that this long-term issue will cause the total cost of presenteeism to rise by more than $1.5bn.
Dr Matthew Cullen, Medibank Health Solutions general manager, said the problem urgently needs to be addressed, as employees who work when ill are more prone to injury and, if contagious, increase the risk of passing on an illness to other employees.
“Employers have the ability to reduce presenteeism rates, thereby improving productivity and, in the long-term, generate a positive impact on their business bottom line,” Dr Cullen said.
In order to minimise further negative effects to businesses and the economy, Medibank said investments need to be made in the health of staff, so that employers can reduce presenteeism rates, productivity and, in the long term, generate an overall positive impact on business.
The research identified steps to address presenteeism and improve their employees’productivity, including:
Be aware of the problem and the economic impact of health conditions on business and the Australian economy.
Get to know particular health issues affecting employees, so a company can design better programs to improve their health.
Educate employees to ensure that illnesses are not going undiagnosed. Also, provide employees with access to information on lifestyle management, to prevent and manage illnesses.
Develop strategies to support and improve their employees’ health and wellbeing. These include:
Health risk assessments to help employees identify conditions that may cause future health problems.
Employee assistance programs which offer counselling services for employees and their families.
Wellness programs which foster healthy practices, such as consuming a balanced diet and regularly exercising.