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Monday 15 January 2018

Unhealthy employees now cost British firms six working weeks a year in lost productivity

Study shows employees lose an average of 30.4* working days each year due to sickness and underperformance in the office as a result of ill-health.
Productivity loss due to physical and mental health issues is costing the UK economy an estimated £77.5 billion a year**. 

Research from the 2017 Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey (BHW)***, a study of almost 32,000 workers across all UK industries, has revealed that employees lose, on average, the equivalent of 30.4 days of productive time each year as they 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 six working weeks of productive time annually. Importantly, while some sectors performed better than others, the results demonstrated high levels of productivity loss across all sectors and organisational sizes.

When translated into monetary terms, the combined economic impact of this ill-health related absence and presenteeism is £77.5 billion a year for the UK economy. Worryingly, employee work impairment and the associated productivity loss appears to be on a worsening trend, up from 27.5 days and £73 billion respectively in 2016.

Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, which was developed by VitalityHealth and is delivered in partnership with the University of Cambridge, RAND Europe and Mercer, also points to a growing presenteeism problem, with time missed by the average employee through absence reducing since 2016 (3.3 days to 2.7 days), while increases in presenteeism (24.2 days to 27.7 days) have more than offset the observed reduction in absence. This increase in presenteeism demonstrates the importance of having a holistic understanding of employees’ physical and mental health, both in and out of the workplace.

Shaun Subel, Director of Corporate Wellbeing Strategy at VitalityHealth, said: “The Britain’s Healthiest Workplace results illustrate the significance of the productivity challenge facing the UK, but importantly also point to an exciting alternative in how employers can approach this problem. 

“For too long, the link between employee lifestyle choices, their physical and mental health, and their work performance has been ignored. Our data demonstrates a clear relationship - employees who make healthier lifestyle choices benefit from an additional 25 days of productive time each year compared to the least healthy employees, and also exhibit higher levels of work engagement and lower levels of stress. As a result, effective workplace health and wellbeing solutions can deliver tangible improvements in employee engagement and productivity, and make a significant impact on an organisation’s bottom line.”

Chris Bailey, Partner at Mercer Marsh Benefits, said: “Some employers still doubt the impact of presenteeism, dismiss the data, and fail to take action. It’s key to understand that people are not machines - we are not 100% task focused and performing at our best all of the time. 

“It is not a case of having a presenteeism problem or not. All organisations will see a reduction in how productive their people are when they are experiencing physical or mental health issues. The data shows that those organisations who understand this and take steps to maximise their employees’ productive time at work, for example through supporting an active workforce, promoting good nutrition and enabling positive mental health, enjoy a competitive advantage.”

Registration is currently open for the 2018 Britain's Healthiest Workplace study, with surveys being made available later in the year. To register, visit



*Figure calculated using an average work impairment of 11.7% and an average working year of 260 days. Work impairment is calculated using the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment (WPAI) Scale across the 31,950 employee participants in Britain’s Healthiest Workplace 2017. 

**Figure calculated using ONS statistics for the period July-September 2017, and making adjustment for part-time workers. £26,468 average wage; 32.324 million people in work (of which 8.439 part-time); 10.8% cost of lost productivity as a proportion of total wage bill (calculated from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace 2017).

***The Britain's Healthiest Workplace research process took place between February and August 2017. It looked at a number of lifestyle, mental wellbeing, clinical risk and productivity factors amongst 31,950 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 167 companies. Results based on UK workforce as reported by each company surveyed. 
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 rewards employees for their healthy living, encouraging positive behaviour changes that put their health and wellbeing at the forefront.