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Thursday 9 February 2017

Unhealthy employees costing British firms more than one month a year in lost productivity 

  • Productivity loss associated with ill-health costing UK economy £73 billion a year*.
  • Developing a culture of workplace wellness crucial to protecting bottom line.
British employers are losing on average 27.5 days** of productive time per employee each year as staff take time off sick and underperform in the office as a result of ill-health (otherwise known as presenteeism). This is equivalent to each worker losing more than an entire working month of productive time annually. When translated into monetary terms the combination of this absence and presenteeism is costing the UK economy £73 billion a year in lost productivity.

Research from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace (BHW)***, surveying more than 34,000 workers across all UK industries, has explored the link between employee ill-health, (primarily driven by lifestyle factors such as smoking or poor nutrition), and short-term productivity loss. The findings identified not only that healthier employees tend to be more engaged and more productive, but when people make improvements to their health over time, this directly leads to significantly improved productivity.  
The study, which was developed by VitalityHealth and is delivered in partnership with the University of Cambridge, RAND Europe and Mercer, also shows many employees mistakenly believe they are healthy. The study measures health in terms of exposure to risk factors, which occur when an individual is outside the healthy range for a lifestyle factor such as exercise or diet, or a clinical factor, such as blood pressure or cholesterol. The results showed that 68% of respondents have at least two risk factors, while a third are suffering from three or more. 63% of those with three or more risk factors believe their health to be good or very good, which makes them less likely to change their behaviour. Vitality’s member data has shown that lifestyle behaviour change is most pronounced when people recognise the need for change, and are therefore motivated to do so. 

Encouragingly, BHW data also shows that workplace wellness programmes can support employees to improve their health. Average time lost per employee due to absenteeism and presenteeism at the top 20% ranked organisations in BHW was over a week less than for the bottom 20%. As companies increase their investment in health promotion, the proportion of employees in good or excellent health grows, while the costs to productivity associated with absenteeism and presenteeism decrease. 

Shaun Subel, Strategy Director at VitalityHealth, said:
“The findings of Britain’s Healthiest Workplace not only demonstrate the scale of the UK’s productivity challenge, but point to an exciting alternative in the ways employers can manage this problem. Traditionally, we have seen that employers looking to boost the productivity of their business often focus on measures such as the automation of human tasks or process re-engineering to pursue efficiencies. While these measures are important they have definite trade-offs in terms of cost, sustainability, and potentially being perceived negatively by employees. Health and wellbeing, on the other hand, is an area where this trade-off does not exist – while wellbeing interventions can be of relatively low cost compared to the alternatives, they deliver tangible improvements in employee engagement and productivity, and are typically viewed positively by employees. Together, these ultimately lead to improvements in a business’s bottom line.”

“There are now a strong group of employers who recognise that societal trends have changed,” said Chris Bailey, Partner at Mercer. “They know that people are living and working with multiple risk factors attributable to modern life, and understand that organisations have great influence in setting shared values and behaviours – both positive and negative. Those employers enabling positive health choices and behaviour in the workplace are seeing real benefits as they reduce lost productivity and give themselves a competitive advantage.”

Registrations for Britain’s Healthiest Workplace 2017 have now opened. Britain’s Healthiest Workplace is the UK’s most comprehensive workplace wellness study. Its approach is unique in that it uses employer and employee surveys to draw the link between the workplace and employee wellness engagement, and measures the impact of this engagement on health and productivity outcomes.

Since inception in 2013, 400 organisations and 100,000 employees have taken part in the study, across a wide range of industries, regions and demographic groups. 

To find out more about Britain’s Healthiest Workplace and to register for the 2017 survey:


Notes to editors:

*Figure calculated using ONS statistics for the period Jun-Aug 2016, and making adjustments for part-time workers. £27,600 average wage; 31.75 million people in work; 9.6% cost of lost productivity as a proportion of total wage bill (calculated from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace 2016).

**Figure calculated using an average work impairment of 10.9% and an average working year of 252 days. Work impairment is calculated using the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment (WPAI) scale across the 34,182 employee participants in Britain’s Healthiest Workplace 2016.  

***The Britain's Healthiest Workplace research took place between February and August 2016. It looked at a number of lifestyle, mental wellbeing, clinical risk and productivity factors amongst 34,182 employees, together with a broad view of leadership and cultural dimensions and organisational policies, practices and facilities that could directly impact on employee health, across 160 companies. Results based on UK workforce as reported by each company surveyed. 

Vitality – changing health and life insurance for good
Vitality is the insurance business that helps people understand how they can improve their own personal health. Vitality makes it cheaper and easier for its members to get healthy and gives them rewards to keep them motivated, through a range of discounts and incentives. 

Vitality Ambassadors Jessica Ennis-Hill, Jonny Wilkinson, Joe Root and Maro Itoje are role models who embody the values of Vitality. They are all using their passion for living a healthy lifestyle to motivate others to make positive changes. Taking small steps today can dramatically improve wellbeing over the long-term, regardless of your current state of health.

VitalityHealth is one of the UK’s leading private medical insurers and has pioneered the ‘shared-value’ insurance model. This is a unique approach to insurance that uses incentives to motivate better lifestyle choices among members, which translates into lower mortality and morbidity risk over time. The effect is positive for all stakeholders – members benefit through the financial and intrinsic value of rewards, as well as better health; employers benefit from healthier, more productive, and more engaged employees; and Vitality benefits from a healthier membership base. For more information visit

Mercer is a global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement and investments. Mercer helps clients around the world advance the health, wealth and careers of their most vital asset – their people. Mercer’s more than 20,000 employees are based in 43 countries and the firm operates in over 140 countries. Mercer is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies (NYSE: MMC), a global professional services firm offering clients advice and solutions in the areas of risk, strategy and people. With annual revenue of $13 billion and 60,000 colleagues worldwide, Marsh & McLennan Companies is also the parent company of Marsh, a leader in insurance broking and risk management; Guy Carpenter, a leader in providing risk and reinsurance intermediary services; and Oliver Wyman, a leader in management consulting. For more information, visit Follow Mercer on Twitter @Mercer. In the UK, Mercer Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

For further information, please contact:
Dan McMillan
07824 604 926

Teamspirit Public Relations
020 7360 7877 

Mags Andersen, Mercer
020 7178 3513
Our research has shown that higher levels of physical activity are associated with increased levels of workplace productivity. To help employers and their employees, Vitality offers award-winning health insurance that is 5 Star Rated by Defaqto. The unique Vitality Programme can also reward employees for their healthy living, encouraging positive behaviour changes that put their health and wellbeing at the forefront.