How healthy is the New Zealand workforce?

Wellness has a sizeable impact on productivity, with most companies experiencing a noticeable drop in output when staff are unwell

How healthy is the New Zealand workforce?

One of the main reasons for businesses wanting to improve health and wellbeing is to reduce absence and focus on supporting employees with health – specifically mental health – concerns, according to the Southern Cross Health Society.

Indeed, absence alone cost the NZ economy around $1.5 billion in 2016, according to the most recent Wellness in the Workplace survey. For employers, the direct cost of an absent employee is typically between $600 and $1,000 annually.

While the survey found that both larger and smaller businesses are now more likely to have some form of employee assistance programme, issues like stress are still a growing concern for employers and it’s something they want support with, according to the chief sales officer at Southern Cross Kerry Boielle.

The Wellness in the Workplace Survey is completed biennially by more than 100 Kiwi businesses and is run by Southern Cross Health Society and BusinessNZ. It’s designed to give a current picture of workplace health and wellness for Kiwi workers.

Key survey findings and additional information from the survey include:

  • The average rate of absence per employee is 4.5-five days.
  • Wellness has a sizeable impact on the productivity of most enterprises, with most experiencing a noticeable drop in output when staff are unwell.
  • New Zealand’s overall absence rate has typically remained below five days, but continues to be well above four.
  • Average days of absence for non-manual workers have continued to increase while the opposite has been the case for manual employees.
  • Non-manual workers in enterprises with fewer than 50 staff have the lowest average level of absence.
  • Absence rates are still likely to be higher among manual workers operating in large enterprises.
  • Average absence levels are consistently higher for public sector workers who are, on average, away 2-2.5 days more than private sector staff.
  • On average, more than 40% of staff still turn up to work ill despite businesses encouraging them to stay home when sick.
  • Cost, evidence of reduced absenteeism and increased retention, and the removal of Fringe Benefit Tax (FBT) are the key factors businesses consider when deciding whether to provide health insurance for staff. These have remained unchanged since the survey began in 2013.

Moreover, Southern Cross Health Society has recently strengthened its workplace wellbeing expertise to help meet growing demand from Kiwi businesses for programmes to support the health of their people.

A group of seven Southern Cross Health Society staff are among the first in New Zealand to achieve formal Wellness Wise Practitioner accreditation, while Australia-based Wellness Wise Academy delivers the training.

Boielle added that feedback from some of the 4,000 plus Kiwi businesses with which the Health Society works shows employers increasingly wanting to do more when it comes to health and wellbeing.

“Many businesses know the benefits a workplace wellbeing programme can bring for their people and their bottom line, but limits on capacity and time mean they’re sometimes only able to scratch the surface of what’s possible,” she said

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