2014 is set to be brighter than the last few years – optimism is high within the UK workforce, as the economy appears to be on the up. As research has found, ill health is estimated to cost the UK economy £100 billion a year due to sickness, absence and worklessness. To mirror this, research we recently conducted found that half of us are in moderate to severe pain at least once a week and importantly for those in HR, three quarters found that pain affected their ability to perform their job and a third are forced to take time off work. With this in mind, it’s crucial to make the most of this enthusiasm for the months ahead to ensure your employees – and importantly your company’s bottom line – gets off to the best start this year.

As an employer, it can be a minefield balancing both your employees’ professional status and their wellbeing. To help with the challenge, here at Nuffield Health, we have outlined our five best ways to maintain a healthy, happy workforce this January.

Short, sharp resolutions

New years’ resolutions can be seen as a cliché but aim to encourage each employee to commit to three healthy resolutions within their first week back. These could focus work-life balance, diet or their commute for example. How you manage this is up to you –you could ask each employee to put their resolutions in a self-addressed envelope for you to post back to them later on in the year or you could ask them to pin their resolutions on a board in the office. Either way, this is a practical, interactive way to kick start proceedings for the year ahead.

Desk life

With a typical office worker spending an average of five hours, 41 minutes a day at their desk**, it’s crucial that each of your employees are comfortable and not in any pain. Our recent research suggests half of us are in moderate to severe pain at least once a week. For three quarters of adults, it affects their ability to perform their jobs and a third are forced to take time off work. Ask someone trained in workplace ergonomics to work with each employee within the first few weeks to review their desk positioning, their posture, and any other wellbeing or health issues that might be affecting their work-life. As most people fail to seek help to resolve their pain, 20 per cent even make the problem worse. You should encourage any employees who are concerned to get advice from a healthcare professional who is trained to treat injuries, such as a physiotherapist.

The importance of mental wellbeing

With mental health problems costing UK businesses £8.4 billion*** every year, January is a good time to run a training session with your staff on the importance of maintaining both good physical and mental health, as well as gearing them up for the year to come. Share your organisation’s targets for the year and ensure you communicate these at every level, and how each employee can help these be achieved.

Take a holistic approach 

You might want to consider if a wellbeing scheme would be suitable for your organisation. If you’re a smaller company, it could mean making small (and often free) amends to your company’s culture to ensure employee wellbeing is top of the agenda. For example, do you offer a competitive holiday benefits programme or flexible hours? As we hear time and time again, longer working hours regularly lead to higher levels of anxiety, affecting overall happiness. As the UK’s largest provider of employee wellbeing services, we increasingly see corporate clients recognising the value of work/life balance elements (such as flexible working hours) as part of their long-term employee wellbeing strategies, and with great affect.

If you’re a larger company, can you offer your employees a corporate scheme? For example, could you offer a gym membership, annual health assessment or health care cover? Take this as an opportunity to share what you have on offer and the process they’ll need to follow to arrange help. Employee wellbeing is both about what you can practically offer as an organisation but also about how you can encourage your staff to take responsibility for their own health, both inside and out.

Presenteeism vs. Absenteeism

Due to the tight grip of the past five years, presenteeism has been on the rise, largely due to employees fearing redundancy. Our research found a third of employees are more likely to go to work when sick due to the economic downturn and more than half of UK workers come into their workplace with a contagious illness each year, such as the flu. Although it can be important for employees to show commitment, attending work when ill can often result in a negative effect for the wider workforce due to spreading of illness and increased anxiety levels – presenteeism costs £15 billion per year, twice that of absensteeism****. Remind line managers this January about when it is best for their line reports to grin and bear it, and when it is best for them to stay away for the good of not only their own health but their colleagues’ health too.

With clear evidence proving that a healthier, and ultimately happier, workforce results in an improved bottom line, take time this January to introduce these small steps to begin this year as you mean to go on.

Article by Dr Andrew Jones, Managing Director Wellbeing, Nuffield Health