heart-disease-stressBritish employees are shortening their lives by more than four years due to unhealthy lifestyle choices, new research by health insurer PruHealth and consultancy Mercer has found.

The inaugural Britain’s Healthiest Company Report, the biggest study of employee health in the UK, found 86% of British workers have a health age of 4.1 years older than their actual age, reducing their life expectancy.

“[This] is putting Britain’s workers at serious risk as they get older, which is creating a time bomb for UK Plc,” said Neville Koopowitz, chief executive of PruHealth.

“British business will have to pick up the increasing cost of absenteeism and presenteeism from an ageing population that will be retiring much later. Over the past few decades, people have been living longer but they are very likely to suffer from chronic disease, dramatically reducing quality of life, with their employers picking up the bill.”

Worker vitality

The report measures worker health by using the ‘Vitality Age’ index, which gives an estimate of years of life lost or gained by taking into account risk factors.

Nearly a third (31%) of UK employees have three or more risk factors, putting them at serious risk of ill health. The most prevalent risks are lack of physical activity and being overweight. Men aged between 40 and 49 years old are most at risk.

John Anderson, UK market business leader for health and benefits at Mercer, said work environments play a crucial role in shaping the health and wellbeing of staff because many spend most of their waking hours at work.

“The first step on this path is to embrace employee health improvement as a potential route to improving engagement and productivity,” he continued.

“The next step is to understand the size and nature of the issues, which can be understood by collating and analysing available data. This will allow for the creation of targeted health and wellbeing initiatives and a review cycle that will ensure the initiatives remain current and in tune with the changing working population.”

The winners of Britain’s Healthiest Company 2013 were clinical research company Quintiles, in the large company category, and sportswear manufacturer Adidas, in the mid-sized category.