Are your workers suffering due to bad health habits?

Most workplaces know the benefits of encouraging healthy workers, but some may not be fully dealing with the big picture of wellness. Even with a good diet and exercise, unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol and poor sickness prevention can still have negative effects on both the office and employees if left unaddressed.

However, there are ways that workplaces can help stamp out these vices for the good of their employees and see better performance in the process.

How much does bad habits cost workplaces?

Despite many businesses having a workplace wellness program, some are still failing to address bad health habits, according to research from the University of Michigan. By their estimates, the average worker costs a company US$3,000 (roughly AU$4,100) in healthcare programs each year yet businesses could save US$750 (around AU$1,040) by addressing preventable illnesses. 

The use of alcohol and other drugs costs Australian businesses over $3 billion per year.

Lead author Michael O'Donnell explained that workplace programs often lack depth, which is where HR consultancy services may be required to build stronger initiatives. 

"The best programs increase awareness about the link between lifestyle and health, motivate people to change and build the skills necessary to do so, and provide opportunities to practice a healthy lifestyle," he stated.

The issue of expense is not limited to the US alone. Researchers at Flinders University found that the use of alcohol and other drugs (AOD) costs Australian businesses over $3 billion. In 2001, this figure sat at around $1.2 billion, which reflects the critical need to address this issue.

Professor Roche, lead author of the research, explained that many employees are unaware of the effects of drug consumption, which can manifest later in the week. Over 30 per cent of Australian workers surveyed consume alcohol at levels that put them at risk of health issues and a total of 1,688,161 days were lost among the 12,196 participants over their career so far. 

Recreational drugs are another concerning area, with 8.3 per cent of workers consuming illegal substances on at least a monthly basis. This accounted for a total of 854,497 days lost. 

What can businesses do to address bad habits?

Professor Roche believes that specific HR policies are the key to stubbing out bad habits in the workplace. 

"I would recommend that organisations develop and implement a formal AOD policy, provide education and training regarding AOD use, and provide access to counselling and treatment," she said.

"The good news is that these kinds of strategies have been shown to be highly effective in addressing this kind of absenteeism behaviour."

Workplace health policies need to be tailored to the specific needs of employees. Workplace health policies need to be tailored to the specific needs of employees.

Although preventative action is key, another important consideration is proper care and caution if a worker does fall ill. 

Many employees will attempt to soldier on when hit with a virus, but this is a poor practice for maintaining overall health. As management resource company HR BLR explained, 80 per cent of illnesses are spread through the hands and via surfaces, making it easy for nasty viruses to spread in the workplace.

Therefore, it is important to encourage your staff to rest away from work to prevent further issues. Good health practices like keeping a clean desk and sanitising hands should be considered in workplace policies as well. 

In order to deal with these issues effectively, HR professionals need to be thorough and responsive to their worker's health and the prevalent habits that are causing underlying issues. Encouraging workplace wellness is not just about boosting good health habits, it's about addressing the cause of poor health practices as well.