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Workplace wellness survey shows businesses thinking in terms of healthy humans, not just healthy employees

Business / news
Workplace wellness survey shows businesses thinking in terms of healthy humans, not just healthy employees
Photo: 401(K) 2013. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

Findings from the Southern Cross Health Insurance and BusinessNZ Workplace Wellness survey are in, shining a light on trends observed in the 2020 calendar year.

The latest report, which could be considered a ‘covid edition,’ saw workplaces rapidly adapting to a new working landscape under Covid-19 and, for the first time, it takes a holistic look at the implications of working from home encompassing everything from mental wellbeing to the provision of electronic equipment and other resources.

The report concludes that working from home "is largely viewed as positive" with "overall stress and anxiety levels for all enterprises remain[ing] more on the moderate than the high side, with 2020 levels similar to 2018."

However the creep of isolation felt by some, including those who feel positive overall, is also flagged in the report and will assist businesses adapt their approach to remote arrangements.

The 2020 year created the backdrop for compulsory adaptation anyway.

"Pre-pandemic, 35% of businesses had no intention to offer flexi or hybrid work arrangements,

"Change is hard, but when it was forced on them they adapted. It's largely been a good thing," said Nick Astwick, CEO of Southern Cross Health insurance.

The survey delves into the reasons for and cost of employee absenteeism, levels of annual leave taken, stress, workload and variances between the manual/non-manual and private/public sectors across a range of industries throughout Aotearoa.

The report, found that the average rate of absence in 2020 was the lowest in the history of the survey at 4.2 days per employee, compared with 4.7 days in 2018, 4.4 days in 2016, 4.7 days in 2014 and 4.5 days in 2012.

The 2020 year saw absence rates for manual workers at their highest, and non-manual workers at their lowest, continuing the disparity between the two workforces observed in previous surveys.

This is explained through non-manual workers having the option to continue to work from home, in some cases even while sick, while manual workers have not been able to take their work home with them in the same way.

The main reason for absence was non work related illness which mirrors the findings of the last survey, though this time the category included Covid-19.

Further down the list, mental wellbeing/stress moved up one place to fourth overall.

Previous Workplace Wellness reports were published in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019 and always analyse the previous calendar year.

Astwick said that the mindset of employers is shifting towards viewing employees more holistically as individuals, now that the line between the office and home environment is blurred.

"Businesses are finally understanding the importance of the healthy human, not just the healthy employee,"

While safety was the firm focus in the past, there is now an increased understanding that "the wealth of their business lies in the health of their people," said Astwick.

Astwick also explained that the "war on talent" means employers are more aware of the need to invest in and improve the experience of their employees in order to retain them.

There is also good news for workers sick of the coughing and spluttering from neighbouring cubicles: employees are getting better at staying home when they're sick and employers are encouraging it.

The report concludes there is "a much clearer message from enterprises to their people."

According to the findings, even stoic types who wear zero sick days as a badge of honour are folding, with employees who almost always turn up to work despite being sick at an all-time low of 22% (compared to the high of 49% in 2012).

The data was gathered through the networks of BusinessNZ, with a total of 116 responses from businesses in both the private and public sector, up from 99 in the last survey.

These 116 business entities employed a total of 95,488 people, including 77,238 permanent staff.

Participants in the survey included a range of company sizes, with 45% from companies of 100+ employees and the rest from smaller businesses.

The proportions of company sizes represented in the survey closely approximated their proportion of the overall market.

By industry, the largest proportion of respondents were from business, finance and property (39%) followed by manufacturing (17%) and wholesale, retail, accommodation, cafes & restaurants (14%).

Astwick said businesses look to the data to validate trends they may have already observed, giving the confidence to identify and target areas where support, productivity and wellbeing can be improved.

"We do notice when the report gets read, new things get invested in."

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