How healthy is NZ’s workforce?

A new study into Kiwi workplaces has shed some light on the health and wellbeing of New Zealand's workers.

How healthy is NZ’s workforce?
Yesterday Business NZ and Southern Cross Health Society released their second Wellness in the Workplace Survey.

The report – which gathered responses from 113 employers (with 116,000 employees) – covered various aspects of workplace wellbeing, including the cost of absentee staff, stress and policies for mature-aged workers.


According to the findings, New Zealand lost 6.7 million working days to absence last year – up from 6.1 million in 2012.

This put the average number of annual absentee days per employee at 4.7, amounting to a national cost of $1.4 billion.

Researchers also found that public sector workers’ absence rates were almost 50% higher than their private sector counterparts, at 6.7 and 4.6 days respectively.

The most common causes of absence across the national workforce were illness and injury unrelated to work, and caring for a family member or dependant.


More than a quarter of the businesses surveyed reported an increase in stress levels over the past year, while 14.3% reported a decrease. Over 50% said their employees’ stress levels had stayed the same.

Companies that had 50 or more employees indicated a greater increase in general stress levels, with 35.6% of employers that fell into this category saying their staffs’ stress levels had risen.

Meanwhile, less than a quarter of the companies with fewer than 50 workers said general stress levels had increased.

The top five reasons given for stress and anxiety increasing among employees were:
  • General workload
  • Relationship issues
  • Long hours
  • Pressure to meet targets
  • Financial concerns
Although businesses have been pushing for sick workers to stay away from the office, a third of New Zealanders are attending work unwell, the study found.

Older workers

According to the study, almost 80% of employers have no policies or arrangements in place for their older workers – and don’t think that these are required.

In spite of this, almost half of the participants said they were expecting to see an increase in their proportion of employees aged over 65 in the near future.

For those who had plans in place, the most common arrangement was flexibility or changes around working hours. Other plans included reduced hours, lighter duties and discussions around retirement options.

Health insurance

The research showed that only a third of employers were providing health insurance for their staff.

According to the researchers, 56% of those who did not provide insurance would look to do so if Fringe Benefit Tax (FBT) was removed from employer subsidised health insurance.

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