New survey results reveal health of kiwi workers, workplaces

Published: Tue 1 Aug 2017 08:38 AM
1 August 2017
New survey results reveal health of kiwi workers, workplaces
New Zealand lost around 6.6 million working days at a cost of $1.51 billion in 2016
The latest Wellness in the Workplace Survey results released by Southern Cross Health Society and BusinessNZ have revealed a current picture of workplace health and wellness for Kiwi workers.
It is the third time the biennial survey has been carried out and BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope says trends are now forming about workplace absence and its causes.
“In 2016 New Zealand lost an average of 6.6 million working days to absence and, reflecting over the life of the survey, we can now see the country loses an average of 6.1 million to 6.7 million days annually.”
Hope says that level of absence comes with a significant price tag for the economy – around $1.51 billion in 2016 and $1.41 billion a year on average over the past five years.
“For employers, the direct cost of an absent employee is typically between $600 and $1,000 annually.”
According to the survey findings the primary causes of absence are non-work related illness or injury followed by taking time off to care for a family member or dependent due to illness or injury, with the average rate of absence per employee being 4.5-5 days.
The survey, of 109 private and public sector businesses representing more than 93,000 employees (about 5% of New Zealand’s workforce), also revealed that stress levels, though moderate, are on the rise for the second consecutive time with general workload being the main cause of anxiety.
Southern Cross Health Society CEO Nick Astwick says the findings are concerning, but not surprising.
“Last year we surveyed more than 500 of our corporate customers and for those that have a wellbeing initiative in place, their top motivator for doing so is to reduce stress. But New Zealand is by no means unique in this area. It’s estimated around 38 per cent of the world’s workers are suffering from excessive pressure on the job[1].”
The good news out of the survey is that both larger and smaller businesses are now more likely to have some form of employee assistance programme to help staff manage stress (the figure for businesses with fewer than 50 staff has more than doubled since 2014 to 32%).
And Astwick says Southern Cross Health Society’s new BeingWell hub, launching later this month, is a direct response to businesses seeking help to resource and implement a workplace health and wellness programme.
He says the digital hub allows businesses to work with Southern Cross to tailor a package to suit their needs and budget, ranging from free on-line starter kits through to bespoke coaching and expert seminars. An app that calculates a personal health score for each individual will follow later in the year.
“There’s recognition now that wellness programmes can boost factors like staff engagement, productivity and retention. During our lifetimes most of us will spend about 90,000 hours at work so it makes sense for employers to support the health and wellbeing of their staff while they’re on the job - it’s a win-win.”
Health insurance often forms part of an employee’s remuneration or workplace wellness package and the survey’s history shows more than a third of businesses offer this, with larger businesses still being more likely to have some form of health insurance for their staff.
But while the importance of workplace health and wellbeing is being increasingly recognised, including an improving trend toward recognising work-life balance and providing a family-friendly workplace, the latest Wellness in the Workplace Survey has revealed there is still more work to do when it comes to older workers.
Kirk Hope says three out of four businesses still don’t have policies or arrangements in place for older workers, although there has been gradual improvement since the first survey back in 2012.
“The concerning thing is that we have a perfect storm swirling with an ageing population that’s living and working longer, a declining birth rate, an increasing skills shortage, greater levels of debt and falling home ownership.”
Hope says the survey results show around 60 per cent of staff in large businesses are likely to retire in the 65-67 age bracket, but the picture is different for businesses with less than 50 staff.
“Among those small firms staff are more likely to work beyond 65, to the extent that more than 13 per cent of smaller businesses will have a typical retirement age of 71 or older.”
The most common steps businesses are already taking include offering reduced or flexible hours of work, providing retirement information packs and undertaking age neutral recruiting.
But Hope says it’s crucial that all businesses ensure they have the right balance of policies and practices in place so they maximise older workers’ contributions, don’t lose skills and experience prematurely, support their older staff effectively, and have succession and retirement planning options in place.
Hope and Astwick say the Wellness in the Workplace Survey is one of the most comprehensive assessments of New Zealand’s position when it comes to absenteeism, stress and wellness in the workplace.
“We hope business can use the findings as a basis for tweaking or introducing policies and procedures that positively benefit the health and wealth of their employees and themselves.”
Key survey findings and additional information
• The average rate of absence per employee is 4.5-five days.
• Wellness has a sizeable impact on the productivity of most enterprises, with most experiencing a noticeable drop in output when staff are unwell.
• New Zealand’s overall absence rate has typically remained below five days, but continues to be well above four.
• Average days of absence for non-manual workers have continued to increase while the opposite has been the case for manual employees.
• Non-manual workers in enterprises with fewer than 50 staff have the lowest average level of absence.
• Absence rates are still likely to be higher among manual workers operating in large enterprises.
• Average absence levels are consistently higher for public sector workers who are, on average, away 2-2.5 days more than private sector staff.
• On average, more than 40% of staff still turn up to work ill despite businesses encouraging them to stay home when sick.
• Cost, evidence of reduced absenteeism and increased retention, and the removal of Fringe Benefit Tax (FBT) are the key factors businesses consider when deciding whether to provide health insurance for staff. These have remained unchanged since the survey began.
A full copy of the Southern Cross Health Society-BusinessNZ Wellness in the Workplace Survey report will be available from 5am on August 1st. Click the link below to view it:
Southern Cross Health Society-BusinessNZ Wellness in the Workplace Survey 2017
[1] Wellness Council of America (WELCOA)

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