Wellness In The Workplace: Is It Time For Pharma To Lead The Way?
July 11, 2017
The pharmaceutical industry improves health and wellbeing outcomes across the globe, but internally, employee health and wellbeing often inadvertently suffers from the long hours and stressful deadlines of a high-pressure corporate culture. Many life science companies are taking considerable steps to deliver positive health and wellbeing outcomes for their workforce, but more can and should be done.
UK pharma companies have the power to lead the way and reap the benefits by investing in comprehensive health and wellbeing programs that reduce absenteeism, boost productivity and reduce turnover. Ultimately, a focus on wellness in the workplace translates to a better performing, better engaged workforce, and a better bottom line for life science companies.
The costs of poor employee health to UK business: looking at the numbers
*All data taken from the Health at Work: Economic Evidence Report, 2016.
1. Absenteeism: The average UK employee takes 6.6 sick days per year, equating to a cost to the UK business sector of £29billion per year. The average London firm of 250 employees loses around a quarter of a million pounds to absenteeism each year, with a strong trend for higher absenteeism the larger the company is.
2. This ‘sickness presence’ (where someone comes to work when ill) is another extremely debilitating issue for UK companies, with a report by the Social and Economic Council revealing that the cost of presenteeism is doubly as bad as that of absenteeism for UK companies. This negative effect is due to both the person prolonging the length of their illness by working through it when they should be resting, as well as passing contagious illnesses onto other employees.
3. Employee Turnover. 18% of employees report that they leave their jobs because of stress. The findings from a national study by Oxford Economics in 2014 found that, on average, each member of staff that leaves costs an employer £30,614 to replace.
4. Smoking breaks and illnesses. Smoker’s smoking breaks and related sick leave are calculated to cost UK businesses £8.7 billion per year.
5. Inactivity costs. Physically fit employees take 27% fewer sick days than inactive ones. Physical activity programmes in the workplace have been found to reduce absenteeism by up to 20%.
6. Mental health costs. In the UK in 2013 there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety, impacting the GDP by 30 billion. Of all sick leave, stress and mental health issues account for 43% of days taken.
7. Musculoskeletal injury costs. Musculoskeletal disorders such as repetitive strain injury and back issues due to poor posture at desks are the leading category of workplace injuries, costing US companies over 50 billion dollars in 2011.
Corporate wellness programs deliver financial dividends
Some companies are wary of investing good money into employee health and wellbeing programs, unsure what the financial return will be.
The news on this front is excellent, although results vary largely depending on the individual wellbeing programs and approaches of different companies. While financial returns on wellbeing investment range from the spectacular £34 for every pound spent to the still impressive £2 return on every pound spent.
A case study of UK employer wellness programs showed:
a. A reduction in absenteeism in 82% of cases,
b.A reduced turnover in 33% of programs,
c. Reduced injuries and accidents in 29% of programs,
d. Increased employee satisfaction in 25% of programs,
e. Increased productivity in 15% of programs, and
Numerous other positive outcomes including an improved employer profile.
An example of UK pharma doing it right (and reaping the reward)
As reported in the Health at Work: Economic Evidence Report compiled by the British Heart Foundation, one large UK pharmaceutical company implemented a wide range of health and wellbeing initiatives for its employees, including counselling, gym memberships, healthy canteen food and musculoskeletal disorders advice.
The reward: This UK company enjoyed an 8.5% reduction in absenteeism and a saving of 1.2 million pounds in absence costs.
What does a corporate wellness program look like?
Many companies are already investing in a wellbeing program, but it’s important to tailor it to your organisation and to do it right. There are a huge range of initiatives your company can choose to implement, from fitness memberships to employee counselling, mindfulness meditation to what kind of food is offered onsite. Quit smoking programs, group weight loss/healthy eating challenges, health and fitness assessments and health coaching can have dramatically positive effects.
a. Improved ergonomics in office furniture
b. Musculoskeletal health checks and advice
c. Showers/lockers/bike racks to make exercise easier
d. Flexible working hours to make exercise easier
e. Space onsite for exercise, such as boardrooms that can be used for Pilates after hours.
f. Conduct return-to-work interviews and pass sickness absence info onto line managers.
Make the work better for employees
Many life science roles are high pressure, and the role of competent managers is to decrease this pressure where possible, thereby improving employee stress levels, wellbeing, and morale.
1. Ensure that employees have the skills, support, and resources to succeed.
2. Offer greater autonomy, as a large scale study by Whitehall of 18,000 civil service workers revealed that the less autonomy an employee has in their role, the higher their stress level and the lower their sense of wellbeing.
3. Remind your employees of the powerful impact they are making working in life sciences, and make sure they understand how their work matters to the big team and company goals.
4. Encourage team members to step away from their desks regularly, and discourage eating lunch at desks.
5. Provide strong leadership that quietly reassures employees that they don’t need to worry about the big stuff because you have it in hand. Be positive about the company’s future.
In a time of skill shortages and the various challenges facing the life science industry, investing in the health and wellbeing of your employees is a crucial step companies must take to succeed.