Sick Day Special - Part 3. Seven Tips to Reduce Sick Days

Our work environment and leadership culture have a huge impact on our well-being, which directly affects absenteeism and presenteeism. Here are seven ways to reduce sick day absence in both the office and the C-suite. Our suggestions come from a mixture of experts in well being, leadership and office design.

1. AUTONOMY

We’re delicate beings. Too much change without permission can upset us. So, consult everyone instead of just telling them where they're sitting. Offer an element of control. (Hoteling apps, which allow employees to reserve workstations, can help here.) When they can decide where, how and when they work, it improves morale, keeping people psychologically safe, fit and healthy.

We are also a territorial, tribal species. So, offer a permanent space if it makes someone feel secure, or a shared space with their team if they work better like this. Compromise is key here. Think about the humans, not just the bottom line. Otherwise, the very people whose lives you're trying to improve may feel a lack of control over their work environment, which can lead to stress, anxiety and disengagement, driving up sick absence, whether genuine illness or fake sickie day.

Are we taking time out when we need it? Read our Sick Day Special Report to  find out more. 

2. VARIETY

Adopting an agile approach to office design — offering a variety of zones and workspaces from collaboration areas to focus booths for different personality types and tasks — has been shown to yield leaps forward in productivity, collaboration and creativity.

To help reduce musculoskeletal disorder problems, think about the amount of time people spend working in the newer workstations — the sofas, cabins, community tables — not just the traditional ‘office desk and task chair’ where you know people will be working for a long time.

3. FLEXIBILITY

flexible work locations and times can cut real estate costs and yield greater productivity through engagement. But there’s a real human angle here too (which is why it works). As we live and work longer, more of our employees have elderly relatives.

Flexibility allows some workers to deal with personal issues like home, family and carer responsibilities (the fourth reason for short-term absence). Also, stress is the second most common cause of sickness absence, and some people just find it easier to work from home to take the pressure off. Of course, there’s a trust issue which many employers find hard to resolve. But, if you can crack this code it forges better relationships, building loyalty and dedication.

4. HONESTY AND TRUST

The ability to have honest conversations with line managers about reasons for absence is key to reducing sick days (when sickness is not really what's happening). If you don't have to lie when you call in ‘sick’ you feel much better about yourself, your boss and your job. Understanding goes a long way. Read more here.

5. COMMUNITY AND FRIENDS

The value of friends and community is fundamental to well-being, engagement and productivity. Community-focused design and practices are high on the agenda of caring, people-centred organisations because they build relationships. These employers are working to humanise the workplace. And having a friend at work has been shown to improve performance.

6. GET THE BASICS RIGHT

Not every business can drastically change its workspace. Some are in serviced offices or long-term leases. For those that can, the best advice is don’t jump straight into trendy workspace designs to impress clients or compete with competitors for talent. Get the hygiene factors right first — bright, modern, clean (especially the toilet and kitchen) — before you make the whole office a hot-desking haven, switch to agile working or kick everyone out for remote working. Like IBM, you may regret it later.

7. NATURE, NOISE, COLOUR

Exposure to sunlight and outdoor views led to 6% fewer sick days than those without, according to research by theUniversity of Oregon. Research shows biophilic design (plants and natural light) lowers staff turnover and sickness absence rates. Another study draws links between employee engagement and adjustments in temperature and artificial light. Meanwhile, the International Well Building Institute— a movement to help people “work, live, perform and feel their best” — is gathering pace.

Learn how to create an exceptional workspace with our definitive office fit out  handbook

A bit of research into how colour affects productivity, psychology and cognitive task performances is also a worthy investment in time. Wellbeing expert, Jacqui Kemp, from Your People Potential says: “Different colours have psychological impact on us, and dark colours are not good for us. Living things like plants lighten our mood and, like light and colour, soften the work environment.” Learn more about how working environments can affect your employee satisfaction with our Sick Day Special Report. 

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