Absenteeism costs South African employers R12-billion every year, according to figures from Statistics South Africa.

And there is a clear link between employee health, productivity and absenteeism, says Occupational Care South Africa (Ocsa).

The organisation provides some interesting insights into absenteeism in the workplace, stating that an average of between 15% and 30% of staff can be absent on any given day with two out of three employees who fail to show up for work not being physically ill.

“More and more companies are realising that they can take steps to improve staff wellbeing, health and happiness,” says Samantha Crous, regional director: Africa and Benelux at the Top Employers Institute (TEI).

Crous believes that many companies fail to take into account how burn-out can affect staff morale and health. TEI statistics show that assistance offered to employees suffering from burn-out has increased significantly from 36% in
2013 to 46% in 2014. Another interesting increase – over 11% – is in the number of companies offering sports facilities to employees – a clear investment in the physical and mental health of employees.

“There is extensive research on the effects that employee ill health has on absenteeism and loss of productivity, which has been calculated to cost economies around the world billions annually in terms of lost revenue,” Crous says.

In the UK, 44% of the companies the TEI has certified have an in-house doctor available for their people. About three quarters of Top Employers have an employment assistance programme (EAP) of some kind, stress management training/support, time management training/support, and employee debt assistance.

Some companies are also training managers on how to identify the early signs of stress or burn-out so that these can be tackled before they become problems. Some cover eye care, mammograms, cholesterol testing, cardiovascular testing, mole checking and cancer awareness.

TEI research also shows an increase in participants providing a range of free or subsidised programmes to encourage wellness, such as massages, Zumba classes, yoga, tai chi, or even something simple like having fresh fruit brought into the office daily.

While helping to keep employees healthy may contribute to productivity and overall wellbeing, it also helps make the company more attractive to employees. A recent survey by global healthcare organisation Optum showed that 82% of employees working at companies with health and wellness programmes said these initiatives would encourage them to stay in their jobs longer.

“Definitely good news for any company looking at ways in which they can improve their competitive edge in stressful financial times,” says Crous.