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Britain's £92 billion productivity loss: nation's 'first productive day' is now 21st February 

  • New data from Vitality reveals that the UK economy lost almost £92 billion in 2019  (£91.9 billion) as a result of ill-health related absence and presenteeism in the workplace
  • British businesses lost an average of 38 working days per employee to physical and mental health related absence and presenteeism in 2019 – added to the start of this year, that makes today, February 21st, the UK’s ‘first productive day'
  • Productivity is on the decline – five years ago, only 23 working days were lost per employee (2014 survey data) 

Friday 21st February 2020 is the ‘first productive day’ of the year for British employees, as new data finds that 38 working days were lost, on average, by each employee in 2019 due to physical and mental health related absence and presenteeism. 

While in reality these days are spread out across the whole year, 38 days from the beginning of the year is February 21, meaning Vitality is calling today the UK’s ‘first productive day’.

This data, from health insurer Vitality’s annual Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study, suggests that this ill-health related absence and presenteeism cost British businesses and the economy an estimated £91.9bn in 2019, an over £10bn increase on 2018.  

Almost three-quarters of the £91.9bn (£68 billion) productivity loss can be attributed to factors such as poor mental wellbeing and unhealthy lifestyle choices, which can be addressed by businesses through effective deployment of health and wellbeing programmes.

The study, now in its eighth year, is developed by Vitality and delivered in partnership with RAND Europe, the University of Cambridge, and Mercer, and is one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys on workplace wellbeing in the UK, surveying 26,393 employees and 130 businesses across the UK in 2019. 

The rise of presenteeism 
The study showed a further rise in presenteeism -– where employees turn up for work but are unable to give their best - due to mental and physical health concerns, with just under half (45%) of UK workers admitting to suffering from presenteeism in 2019, up almost a third from 2014 (29%) and highlighting how critical the issue is for British business. 

Young workers (18 to 25-year-olds) were also shown to be particularly vulnerable, with 55% admitting to turning up for work but feeling unable to perform at their peak productivity, compared to just 38% of employees aged 45 or over. 

Mental health in the workplace
The study also indicates the critical need for businesses to further address workplace mental wellbeing, with workers’ stress, depression and anxiety costing the economy £30 billion last year.

The results show rates of depression amongst workers have more than doubled in the past five years with almost one in 10 workers now affected (8.5%), compared to just 4% in 2014. 

Worryingly, employees aged 18 to 25 years old are most likely to struggle with their mental health with almost 1 in 7 young workers suffering from depression (15%) and many more saying they have felt unwell because of stress in the workplace (35%). This is far higher than the over-50s group, with 4% saying they had suffered from depression and 32% having felt unwell as a result of workplace stress.

The study also showed that across all UK employees, those with higher rates of stress and anxiety made unhealthier choices overall – being more likely to smoke, binge drink and have unhealthy diets.  

Solving the productivity puzzle
Vitality is today calling on all British businesses to take urgent action to improve their businesses and the nation’s worsening productivity levels. 

The study found examples of businesses making significant progress across the health and wellness of their employees, and in turn productivity of the business. These businesses were able to not only point to health and wellbeing schemes within their workplace but high uptake of them. 

This is significant given that the survey shows the vast majority (75%) of those who do engage in health and wellbeing initiatives report a positive impact on their overall health, yet overall awareness and uptake of them is low (28% and 29% respectively).

Commenting on the publication of today’s data, Neville Koopowitz, CEO at Vitality, said: “Every year the results of Britain’s Healthiest Workplace find the costs to business from ill-health and presenteeism are spiralling upwards.   
 
“Despite this, many businesses continue to ignore the role of health and wellbeing and its intrinsic links to productivity. It’s no longer enough to create a health and wellbeing programme for employees and hope they’ll make use of it. The businesses that not only prioritise it, but also properly consider how they engage their employees to improve their mental and physical health, can see productivity increase in their workforce by as much as 40%, which is no insignificant number.” 
 
Chris Bailey, Partner, Mercer Marsh Benefits, said: “This is a watershed moment for UK organisations, with greater than ever awareness around mental health, increased focus on inclusion, and more opportunity to access large employee bases through technology. In tackling the issue of wellbeing in the workplace, businesses must reach beyond the latest tech and ensure the support offered to employees is tailored and communicated well.” 

Christian van Stolk, Vice President, RAND Europe, said: “We know from the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace findings that year on year, employees who participate in workplace interventions report a significant improvement to physical and mental health as a result of such interventions. As such, businesses need to do more to drive effective employee engagement - this is critical to addressing the issue of productivity loss across our nation.”

To register for Britain’s Healthiest Workplace 2020, visit: https://www.vitality.co.uk/business/healthiest-workplace/register/