Why does British productivity keep dragging its heels? Because £319 billion of health issues are holding us back.
All the other things – lagging investment, ageing infrastructure, accelerating technology, diminishing experience and ever-younger staff – they’re all fixable, usually by throwing money at them.
But an unwell work force is not even on management radar.
Workers’ wellbeing yes, fitness packages, health advice and feelgood incentives are all over the place.
£319 billion of wheelspin
But £319 billion of unwell costs? Is anybody looking? Do they even know it exists?
Because that kind of money is not chickenfeed. More like ten times our defence budget. Three times the Brexit get-out bill. Two-and-a-half times the NHS budget.
And still nobody’s twigging it.
Management, government and consultants are all gung-ho, demanding full throttle. Meanwhile we’re still shackled to the wall, brakes hard on and going nowhere – the least performing economy among leading G7 countries. Lots of noise, but just wheelspin.
You see, £319 billion is the all-up cost of being unwell among work staff. £29 billion for absenteeism. And £290 billion of presenteeism – people not well, but going to work anyway, a growing measure of wonky job security.
Since 2008 and the financial crash, absenteeism has been falling steadily, down around 20%. Good, right?
Presenteeism however, already 10 times greater – is on the increase. Exactly how much is hard to calculate. Staff are reluctant to admit they have a condition, even to themselves . Many are convinced showing weakness could cost their jobs. So they tough it out, pretending otherwise.
We’ve all been there, to some level or other. Choosing to go to work with a cold, instead of staying home. We won’t get paid and it could be a black mark. Better than finding a replacement’s been hired while you weren’t at your desk.
So we go to work anyway, dosed up to the eyeballs. Day Nurse or something like it – so concentration is a bit loopy, there’s maybe a headache, blurred vision, ringing in the ears and we’re irritable as all hell.
Brains not working
Not exactly the best way to ensure proper service and attention to detail. A trap for making mistakes or oversights too. And isn’t it a drag that everything takes so long?
Oh, and yes. We sneeze and throw tissues around, so our colleagues come down with it too. Or failing that, the HVAC system stirs our germs, upholding equal opportunity.
Or maybe it’s not a cold, but something worse. Flu, or a tummy bug, picked up from one of those high-touch surfaces around the office – door handle or light switch, or the START button on the photocopier.
Out of order minds
You can see it, can’t you? We’re not ourselves when we’re not well. And most of us wind up with some kind of issue – minor injury, sprain, cut, infection, or food reaction every three days.
Hardly surprising either , when you realise how lax workplace hygiene can be:
- The average desk has over 10 million unseen bacteria – 400 times more than a toilet.
- A typical keyboard may have 7,500 organisms hiding on it.
- Only one in five of us ever cleans our desk before eating.
- At least two in three of us always eat lunch there.
Our personal hygiene is pretty lax too – we can’t see germs, so we think we’re OK. Meanwhile:
- 62% of men and 40% of women NEVER wash their hands after going to the toilet.
- 95% of people don’t even wash their hands properly.
- Only 12% of people wash their hands before eating.
All of which is how come presenteeism is as high as it is – an average of 57.5 days a year, almost three working months. A quarter of a year lost to unfocused and non-concentrating minds – some ball and chain!
Which of course is why productivity is continually as low as it is. Businesses are paying for a full twelve months’ performance, but staff are only capable of delivering nine.
On top of that is the knock-on effect from errors and omissions made while unwell at work. A lot of money and a lot of time, with often below-standard levels of quality.
One heck of an issue not to be aware of – and one heck a lot of money to lose without realising it. The elephant is in the room, but nobody has recognised it yet – all £319 billion of it.
And fixing is just as invisible. Getting rid of germs is push-button easy for around the same cost as daily charring – a demonstration to staff that management actively cares for their health AND wellbeing.
But it needs an attitude shift to capitalise on it.
The workplace might be germ-free and sterile, but it has to be kept that way. If staff pick up an illness from outside, no matter how small, they should be encouraged to stay away. Because they spread germs that colleagues can catch. And because in their germified state, they contaminate everything they touch.
Encouraging a stay-away reassures staff, protects colleagues and promotes goodwill all round. And anyway, with flexible working, being out of the office is no longer as critical as it was. If staff REALLY have to participate, they can log on remotely from home. Though the understanding should be that if they’re not well, they’re not well – and being released from work responsibility is a function of getting better.
Understanding and sympathising with staff is in any case, a crucial component of engaging with them. They could equally be working from home because of a bus strike, or handling a personal issue – children’s needs at school, handling a home breakdown, going to a funeral.
Because germs are only one of the reasons staff are unwell at work. Stress is another, all too often also unaddressed by management. But getting rid of germs buys a lot of time – remember the default is nine months’ productivity instead of twelve – management can afford to be accommodating.
Time changes everything
Which is exactly what stress needs – time. Time to listen and time to interact.
Much of the anguish of stress at work is relieved by voluntarily giving an audience – listening to problems, complaints and suggestions before they become issues. They might not be big in the scheme of things, but in the head of the staff member troubled by them, they can be monsters.
And time is there to buy good will. No longer refused or grudgingly granted just this once. Now it’s possible to give away without loss – reclaimed from the missing 3 months productivity forgotten and unrecognised until now. And all started by pressing a button to get rid of germs.
No holding back now, productivity should be free to advance however is required. Bye-bye ball and chain. Oh, and no more £319 billion price tag either.
As we said in a previous post, watch out world!
About this blog
Back Off, Bacteria! is the blog of Hyper Hygiene Ltd, supplier of what we’re convinced is the most effective health protection system in the world. A fully mobile, all-automatic Hypersteriliser machine mists up workplaces with ionised hydrogen peroxide, spreading everywhere and eliminating all bacteria, viruses and fungi. Achieves 6-log Sterility Assurance Level – 99.9999% of germs destroyed. The only EPA-registered dry mist fogging system – EPA No 84526-6. EU Biocide Article 95 Compliant.