The costs associated with sickness-related absence are a significant drag on productivity. Nestlé managers estimate the costs equate to approximately 2.5 times the salary cost of the employee affected, taking account of the costs of replacement by agency workers and management time. The UK has an improving record in this area, having lost 131 million days to sickness absence in 2013, down from 178 million days in 1993. However, evidence still indicates some of this absence could be prevented through lifestyle choices, with associated benefits for productivity. The most common causes of absence in 2013 were musculo-skeletal pain and minor ailments.
Advanced manufacturing can be particularly physically demanding and requires high levels of focus and attention to detail. Similarly, the demands of shift-based work and limited flexibility require good habits of rest and support in and out of the workplace. Unplanned absences, especially if they coincide with periods of heightened demand take a heavy toll on productivity and costs. Companies can take greater responsibility for absence patterns of their people through structured return-to-work interviews and monitoring data to identify areas where patterns of attendance suggest there may be issues.
However, a more ambitious approach is to invest properly in preventative healthcare information and staff awareness. Nestlé’s partnership with Nuffield Health is an attempt to proactively manage and reduce the risks of sickness-related absence over time and offers transferable insights for the NHS in how it engages with businesses, particularly small businesses in addressing long-term public health challenges.
Recognition of the importance of mental health in wider society is also reflected in how employers think about their workforce. Aspects of modern work can be more stressful, particularly as people change careers more frequently. The impacts on productivity of absence due to stress are important, but equally there is a strong business case for improving diagnosis of mental health issues that can lie behind local productivity challenges.