Full Health Medical calls for new approach to address unsustainable absenteeism rates and support employee wellness
Internal government documents have recently revealed that the cost of sick leave in the public sector is “unsustainable” and is costing the State about €430 million.
Private businesses in Ireland are also severely impacted; a study by employers group IBEC in 2010 revealed that a total of 11 million days are lost to absence each year, costing these businesses as much as €1.5 billion per annum, equating to €818 per employee.
So what can be done to address these issues? Paul McCarthy, CEO of Full Health Medical, an award-winning preventative health management company, believes that the answer lies in employee education and programmes which support employee wellness. “Research by the Department of Health in the UK revealed that for every £1 spent on wellness programmes, there was an average return on investment of £3.73, including a 34% saving in absenteeism costs”, said Mr. McCarthy, who went on to note that other advantages of these programmes include improved on-the-job decision making and time management, improvement of workforce morale, and reduction in employee turnover.
Mr. McCarthy believes that the first steps in reducing absenteesism need to be centred around employee education; “if employees don’t understand their current health status, then how are they expected to be proactive in improving it? These days people are constantly being given mixed messages about diet, exercise and other aspects of their health, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to decipher what is best for them individually”.
So should all employees get health screening? Mr. McCarthy admits that there are certainly issues around mass screening, as evidenced by the controversy currently surrounding the NHS Health Check Programme, which targets adults in England between the ages of 40 and 74 with a free health screening every five years. “The reality is that mass, unfiltered screening would simply result in unnecessary workload for an already stretched health service, and in particular would result in an impossible extra burden being placed on GPs. However, there is an argument for targeted screening and, more importantly, education for employees who are missing work on a regular basis. Using targeted screening and education as the first step in a programme of health improvement would benefit both the employee and the business.”
One area in particular where Mr. McCarthy believes significant improvements could be made is within the health service itself. “Sick leave cost the Health Service Executive €223 million in 2012 alone. It is clear that traditional efforts to reduce absenteeism have failed to make any impact on the problem, and perhaps it is time for the HSE to consider targeted health screening and corporate wellness programmes for its employees and, in doing so, for the HSE to point the way for other employers in Ireland by taking a proactive approach to addressing these problems. Just think of what could be achieved in other areas if even a fraction of this €223 million could be better spent in other areas of the health service”.