Media releases

May 29, 2007

Sick at work costing more than 'sickie'

Employees coming to work, but not fully functioning because they have an illness or injury, are costing the Australian economy $25.7 billion a year according to Medibank Private commissioned research.

The research, the first of its type in Australia, looks at the cost of presenteeism on Australian businesses and economy and has found that it is nearly four times more than absenteeism costs to the economy.

Presenteeism refers to the lost productivity when an employee comes to work but because they are ill or injured are unable to really give 100%.

And according to Medibank Private, presenteeism is a massive problem that is potentially going under the radar for Australian employers.

Medibank's research, prepared by independent Australian economic consultancy Econtech, measures the productivity lost caused by presenteeism to be about 2.5%. This equates to an average of six working days a year lost per employee as a result of presenteeism, that's six days a year staff may be at work, but are unable to fully contribute because of poor health.

The direct cost to Australian employers as a result of this lost productivity is estimated at about $17.6 billion. This is the first Australian study though to also look at how the lost productivity can filter through the economy leading to a general reduction in the level of exports, imports, and investment, which equates to the total of $25.7 billion, or 2.79% of GDP.

Medibank Private Managing Director, Mr George Savvides, urged employers to take a serious look at this research, because it shows the direct impact employees' health can have on business' performance as well as the improvement to staff retention, which is quite significant in a tight labour market.

"If employers could invest in their staff's health and consequently halve the average productivity lost per employee, the increased productivity would inevitably flow through to a business' bottom line.

"The message in this research is that employers can re-gain, and increase productivity whilst improving staff satisfaction and retention.

"Reducing presenteeism by creating healthier workplaces should be the focus of every business because investing in employee health will result in improved productivity and an improved bottom line," he said.

Presenteeism can result from any number of health issues such as unhealthy lifestyles, going to work sick, and lack of work-life balance. The research considered presenteeism resulting from 12 different medical conditions, including: allergies, arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, migraine and headache, respiratory disorders, skin conditions, and back, neck or spinal problems.

According to the research depression is the highest contributor to presenteeism in the workforce with allergy and diabetes the next highest respectively according to the Medibank research.

In conjunction with the research Medibank Private surveyed its call centre staff to better understand the health of its own employees, the results backed up the broader research and put a human angle on the numbers.

The survey demonstrated that presenteeism is far more prevalent than absenteeism.

  • 53% of staff took one or more days off work in the last four weeks, however 77% reported attending work while suffering with a health problem over the same period.
  • 88% of staff who have attended work while suffering from a health condition felt they were less productive.
  • On average staff who attended work while suffering from a health condition reported their productivity diminished by 45%.

Employees were asked to indicate how their health and wellbeing at work affected their ability to do everyday workplace tasks. The results showed that when employees were suffering from a health related condition:

  • 78% found it difficult to think clearly when working

  • 66% found it difficult to do their work without making mistakes
  • 64%did not feel they had done all they are capable of doing
  • 67% found it difficult to work the number of hours required
  • 62% found it difficult to do their work without stopping to take unscheduled breaks or rests

Please download our Workplace Research Report.

For further information please contact: Libby Woolnough - 0411 659 060

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