by Petr Shaw


Absenteeism costs SA billions

Top causes of lost work time
Employee absenteeism

According to Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) as well as Statistics South Africa, employee absenteeism costs the South African economy between R12bn to R16bn annually.

Measuring and recording absenteeism data means nothing unless businesses understand, monitor and actively intervene. OCSA recently stated that there is a clear link between employee health, productivity and absenteeism:

On average, over 15% of staff could be absent on any given day.
2 out of 3 employees who fail to show up for work aren’t physically ill.
Sleep disorders are ranked “top cause of lost work time.”

OCSA’s research shows that sleep disorders are one of the top causes of lost work time. Some researchers have pointed to modern lifestyle issues which include, too much light from electronic devices before bedtime, excessive caffeine, not enough time in bed and even too much light in bedrooms.

The artificial (or “blue”) light emitted by TVs, mobile phones and computers can disrupt the body’s preparation for sleep by stimulating daytime hormones and should be turned off at least an hour before bedtime.

“While you might feel the need to stay connected with work at all times and are reading emails in bed just before you go to sleep, it is actually making you less effective and creates a negative cycle,” says Lucy Le Roux, marketing manager for office design firm Paragon Interiors.

“What is concerning in the OCSA data is the high percentage of employee’s who appear to be falsifying illness. This points to a deeper problem of being unhappy at work or just not coping,” she says.

Staff feeling that senior management are sincerely interested in employee wellbeing is the top driver of engagement with obvious spin off’s for productivity and reducing absenteeism.

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.

“It’s great to see that so many South African companies take the wellness of their employees as a serious business issue. We believe that another approach to achieve this is to look at stress prevention,” says Jillian Williamson, Paragon Interiors in-house industrial psychologist.

“We follow a number of international research studies on the impact of office environments on staff. Several reports show that poorly designed offices are actually a major contributing factor to stress at work and employee unhappiness.”

Here are ways to create a productivity culture in the work environment as well as some tips for improving your personal productivity, suggested by Paragon Interiors:

Keep cell phone ring tones on low volume or vibrate when in open plan areas.
Ensure office phones are on low volume, have non-obtrusive tones and are on a system where the call returns to switchboard after 4-rings.
If you need totake loud, lengthy or personal calls, step away from the open plan areas.
If you find that an impromptu conversation is taking longer than expected in the open plan, move it to a meeting room or an informal meeting area.
Create a company culture where meetings are booked for afternoons when energy levels are usually lower. This leaves morning’s open to get important projects done.
If your company doesn’t generally enable mobile working, consider at least allowing employees with laptops to work from home on projects requiring focus.
Block your own diary during high energy periods for focused work.
Tackle important projects first when your energy is highest.
Pack a good lunch with snacks to avoid excessive sugar dips and eat smaller meals to avoid the afternoon slump.
Try work in focused bursts (25 min with 5 min breaks - Pomodoro technique.)
Try having meetings where everyone has to stand and where there is aclear agenda, objective and outcome. Meetings will be shorter and more focused.
Managers must be clear about their work culture. If company executives are saying “We believe in work-life balance,” but then email employees late at night and over weekends then their words contradict their actions.


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