Ever-increasing pressures on employees are forcing businesses to recognise the importance of enabling easy access to healthcare, understanding the reasons behind absenteeism and how it manifests in the workplace. Martin Neethling, head of Sanlam Health Insurance and Distribution, says the impact of absenteeism on a businesses bottom-line is significant.

“Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) did a study in 2015 that found 15 percent of staff in South Africa call in sick daily, but only one in three is actually ill. The cost to our economy? About R16 billion per annum. A precursor to absenteeism is presenteeism, which refers to distracted employees who are at the office, but unproductive,” he explains.

“It costs South African businesses close to R89 billion per annum. In addition, colds and flu cost the economy over R2 billion per annum. Extended periods of absenteeism can often be linked to either undiagnosed chronic conditions or staff spending a significant amount of time at public health clinics.”

Other well-known causes include psychological reasons like low morale; personal reasons like childcare; financial reasons such as a lack of funds to visit a doctor; health reasons; or workplace reasons such as low job satisfaction.

There are some laws in place to assist in curbing absenteeism. The maximum statutory allowance for sick leave is 30 days across three years. Employees who are off for more than two consecutive days or on a Monday or Friday can be asked to produce a doctor’s note by law. However, this doesn’t address presenteeism.

In addition to legalities, Neethling suggest companies focus on employee wellness: “A healthy employee is more productive. It is often in everyone’s best interests for an employer to provide access to healthcare and wellness services.” Healthcare benefits like subsidised doctor consultations or contributions towards yearly check-ups with specialists can make a tangible difference.

“It’s about really understanding the reasons behind absenteeism. That means speaking to your team in a non-confrontational way to get to grips with what they’re grappling with,” Neethling explains. While some suggestions might be obvious, like health screenings and flu vaccinations, others might be unique like support for people with HIV.

Other suggestions include offering yoga and meditation classes or subsidising gym membership and using online tools to measure employee satisfaction and identifying signs of stress or impending burnouts.

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