7 Steps for Corporate Health and Wellness in the Age of Addiction

Workplace illness and absenteeism take a toll on small businesses. Musculoskeletal disorders sink a staggering 5.75 percent of the U.S. economy, drug use costs businesses billions of dollars, depressed workers lose the equivalent of 27 workdays a year, and workers who come in sick cost the economy as much as $250 billion.

Fight the negative impacts of mental and physical illness and addiction with these seven steps.

  1. Monitor Absenteeism With The Right Metrics

As Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured, gets managed.” Measuring absenteeism and related metrics gives you an understanding of how health and wellness are impacting your business that isn’t otherwise possible.

But it’s important to be careful with the metrics we choose to measure and manage since merely recording and aiming to reduce time off can actually have negative impacts in other business areas.

Here are some important metrics to monitor:

  • Lost time rate: Hours lost to absence divided by hours scheduled for the work period, expressed as a percentage.

  • Frequency rate: The number of absences divided by the number of employees, as a percentage

  • Bradford factor: The number of absences squared times the number of absent days

The Bradford factor is based on a model that assumes the total number of absences is more important than the total number of days missed since each individual absence requires time spent reintegrating the absent employee.

  1. Consider Drug Testing and Drug Policies

Alcohol consumption loses businesses an estimated $74 billion each year, and opioids lose businesses as much as $53.4 billion each year. Aside from absences, drug use can be a workplace safety hazard if employees are working with dangerous machinery.

While drug testing in the workplace is controversial, a study based on data from over 15,000 U.S. households confirms that drug testing does significantly and effectively reduce both short term and chronic drug use, at least within the workplaces that use them.

If mandatory drug testing for all employees seems extreme and poses the possibility of discouraging applications from more qualified workers, a drug policy that requires drug testing in case of an accident or allows for drug testing under circumstances where there are reasons to suspect its use can be a less strict measure.

Regardless of whether or not you use drug testing, a clear drug policy that is openly communicated to employees is necessary in order to discourage workplace drug use. 

  1. Introduce Return to Work Interviews

A return to work interview allows a manager and employee to catch up on what was missed during the absence, as well as an opportunity to determine the underlying causes of the absence so that future absences can be reduced.

Note that a return to work interview should not be used as a disciplinary action. The employee should not feel threatened or interrogated. While employees do sometimes lie or stretch the truth when giving reasons for an absence, open and honest communication can only be achieved if management understands that there is always a reason for absences.

Return to work interviews can help familiarize management with ongoing health issues that employees are dealing with. Reducing activities that exacerbate symptoms and introducing assistance and tools to reduce symptoms and increase comfort can help reduce future absences. Management can also respond by introducing measures that will make future absences less disruptive.

  1. Institute Tools For Combating Depression 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is the leading cause of workplace absence. Depression also causes a loss of productivity.

One study found that workers with depression lost the equivalent of 27 workdays a year (9 to absence and 18 to productivity), while another study found that only 57 percent of depressed employees were getting treatment and even among them only 42 percent were receiving care that met the minimum widely published standards.

When employees are experiencing low productivity, high absences, and signs of “burnout,” punitive measures are unlikely to be effective since they only enhance depression, which is the most probable cause if a chronic illness isn’t involved.

Combat depression, anxiety, and other common mental health issues by offering employees health insurance with robust mental health coverage, providing employees with easily accessible resources to get health, and consider offering therapy in the workplace. Taking general steps to improve workplace morale and to offer employees a sense of community can also help counter depression.

  1. Offer Paid Sick Days and Leave

While absenteeism is a major source of lost value, presenteeism is as well. Presenteeism is when an employee is at work when they really shouldn’t be, resulting in overtime, overworked employees with low productivity, and the spreading of contagious diseases.

Various studies suggest that presenteeism is actually much more costly to most businesses than absenteeism. Workers choosing to go to work when they are sick cost businesses between $150 and $250 billion, making up 60 percent of the business lost to illness.

Giving employees ten days of annual sick leave makes them much more likely to take preventative measures such as checking their cholesterol or getting mammograms. Offering paid sick days and leave encourages sick employees to stay home where they belong so that they don’t double the negative impact of illness.

Offering adequate vacation time also prevents workers from using up sick days when they shouldn’t and coming into work sick.

  1. Introduce Flex-Time

Flex-time is a specific approach to hours that allows workers more flexibility while also offering consistency in the number of hours worked and ensuring that everybody on a team still meets each workday. Flex-time allows employees to choose starting and finishing hours as long as they are present for a set amount of time where the whole team needs to be present, and as long as they work the same number of hours each week.

Introducing flex-time allows workers to make it to doctor’s appointments and get mental health treatment without missing work, and it can improve mental health and morale by allowing workers to meet out-of-office needs.

A third of companies who introduce flex-time see a drop in employee absenteeism. Flex-time can also attract good employees even more than salary. Eighty percent of survey respondents said work flexibility was the most important factor when looking at job opportunities, beating salary and work-life balance, which tied at 74 percent.

  1. Combat and Treat Musculoskeletal and Upper Limb Disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders have an overwhelmingly large impact on business and the economy. According to the U.S. Bone and Joint Initiative, more than half of U.S. adults have a chronic musculoskeletal disorder. They report that it cost the U.S. $332 billion from 2012 to 2014 and amounts to 5.8 percent of the U.S. economy. Upper limb disorders like carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, neck pains, and similar problems also contribute to lost work and productivity.

Increasing workplace ergonomics is an important step in both proactively preventing musculoskeletal disorder and actively reducing the impact of the symptoms on comfort and productivity. This includes ergonomic chairs and furniture designed to reduce joint stress as well as desks and keyboards designed to put less strain on upper limbs.

Conclusion

Businesses that recognize the costs of workplace illness and addiction can outperform their competitors by investing in workplace health. Take the seven steps above and increase workplace productivity by making health a priority.


Dr. Casey Green [americanaddictioncenters.org] is the medical director at Greenhouse Treatment Center. He is a fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

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