The coronavirus pandemic has transformed work on an unprecedented scale, with both employees and employers having to cope with a range of challenges, from working predominantly from home, trying to juggle between work and personal life, but also with the uncertainty caused on a financial and personal/ family and relationship level. 

As a direct consequence of this, we are now experiencing two opposite issues in the workplace: absenteeism and presenteeism. 

Since the start of the pandemic in April 2020:

  • almost 39% of the sickness days reported from our users were due to minor illnesses such as coughs, colds and flu, 
  • 18% of work days lost due to musculoskeletal issues (back pain, neck and upper limb problems) and 
  • 8% days lost due to conditions related to mental health and wellbeing. 

When compared to previous years, it seems a positive finding that the UK absence rate due to sickness has fallen to 1.8% in 2020 marking the lowest recorded level over the last decade. However, factors such as furlough and home-working could have affected these numbers. 

On the other hand, most companies seem to experience an increase in presenteeism, with people attending work even though they are experiencing some form of physical (eg. migraine, common flu symptoms) or mental illness or condition (ie. depression) which can affect their productivity and long term health. In the UK it is estimated that at least three-quarters of organisations have reported some form of presenteeism among both homeworkers and people returning to work in an office setting

Financial stress and uncertainty about the future are both factors driving this decision, along with increased workload and understaffed teams. Amongst the employees who have used LiveSmart health analytics since April 2020:

  • 1 in 2 have been classified as experiencing high stress levels, either for a short period or as a chronic condition
  • 2 in 3 reported that they have experienced work related stress and anxiety
  • 1 in 5 have noted that financial anxiety and difficulties are affecting their mental wellbeing

It is positive to see that most HR professionals have turned their focus on mental health and wellbeing of their employees, introducing additional measures to support their workers in response to COVID-19 and encouraging the use of employee assistance programs. However, there is still some room for improvement to support people with chronic mental ill health (the top cause for long-term absence), as well as identify health risks that may arise from working predominantly from home. 

Some of the factors that should be considered when creating a support framework for employees working from home can be found below: 

  • Even though most employees average approximately 40-45 hours of work per week, when working from home many report that they find it difficult to “switch off” and create a clear separation between their work routine and personal time. 1 in 4 LiveSmart users noted that they sleep less than 7 hours at night and 80% of the users who have some difficulty with their sleep quality believe that this is related to stress or using technology (eg. working in front of a screen, checking emails, etc) later in the day. New data from WHO also indicate that working longer hours can increase the risk of stroke by 35% and heart disease by 17%, therefore ensuring that the employees maintain a good structure of their working hours is vital.
  • Working from home combined with the previous restrictions have resulted in limited opportunities for employees to be active in their day and spending more time sitting in front of their computers in unsuitable conditions and poor home office setups. This has been reflected by an increase in MSK related conditions such as back and neck pains (81% of UK employees working remotely reporting a neck, shoulder or back pain). It comes as no surprise that almost 40% of our users stated that they would value having more flexible working hours and time to exercise as their main health and wellbeing company benefit.
  • Spending more time indoors also resulted in a significant amount of people having less than optimal Vitamin d levels, a vitamin we produce in our body after sun exposure. More than 80% of LiveSmart users have low Vitamin D levels, which could potentially affect their mood levels, in addition to bone health, muscle function and heart health. Encouraging employees to spend more time outdoors, especially during the summer months, as well as offering a discount on vitamin D supplements could be a way to manage this risk.
  • The disruption of the usual routine as we knew them before the pandemic had a significant impact on weight and BMI. According to data from the Public Health of England, 4 in 10 people in England have gained weight since the beginning of the pandemic. It is reassuring to know that 50% of LiveSmart users still maintain a healthy weight for their height, but it seems that the balance may be shifting towards more people moving from the overweight into the obese BMI categories (16% of users are now in the obese category compared to 13% of our database before the pandemic). Introducing more ways to support healthier eating habits and patterns to employees, along with ensuring that there are nutritious and more balanced meal options available for people slowly returning to the offices can be a great first step to maintaining a healthy weight amongst your employees.

Estimating how many days are lost due to sickness or other factors are relatively simple to track, however it is pivotal to understand more about how healthy your employees are, identifying the areas they may value getting additional support from their companies and also assessing potential risk factors that could lead to absenteeism and eventually affect the productivity and satisfaction of the employees. 

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