In the last 10 years, Australia has seen a surge in the popularity of work-based health and wellbeing programs. Why? Because at the same time, we are faced with a steady rise in absenteeism and high sick leave across the workforce.

To manage absenteeism and high levels of sick leave in Australia, we need to build a healthy, motivated and engaged workforce. In organisations with high rates of sick leave, employees are far less likely to be engaged.

Although the reasons for absenteeism and sick leave are often genuine, a 2013 report by Direct Health Solutions found that 83% of employers believe 10–25 % of sick leave is non-genuine. In addition, Australia’s rate of sick leave is almost one-third higher than the UK.

CEOs and leaders understandably resent staff ‘chucking a sickie’ — yet when there is a genuine reason, many leaders don’t provide their staff with the empathy, understanding and support that they need. To create a healthy workplace culture — and therefore reduce absenteeism — CEOs firstly need to build trusting relationships with their employees, ensuring that individuals feel listened to, valued and looked after. Not only will this benefit team morale, but it’s likely to lessen the chance of workers taking that 10–25% of ‘non-genuine’ sick leave.

Integrated wellness programs can help employees maintain healthier lifestyles so that they feel more motivated day-to-day and don't miss work.

By introducing integrated health programs into the workplace, CEOs can build a culture that focuses on balanced health and wellbeing, and healthy lifestyle habits.

You can play a part in giving your employees the tools they need to keep in optimal health, in turn boosting team productivity and business growth. Here’s a useful toolkit for CEOs and leaders in any industry.

4 steps to boost health & wellbeing:

  1. Promote healthy lifestyle practices

    CEOs and leaders can reduce the risk or incidence of worker illness by addressing individual lifestyle behaviours and practices. This can be achieved in a number of ways, such as through educational workshops or seminars, exercise classes, the right polices (that are truly implemented and practiced) and an overall supportive environment. Some examples include organising talks about health and nutrition; free gym or dance classes; and discounted consultations with a Naturopath, Dietician, Chiropractor etc.

  2. Identify organisational (not just employee!) factors

    It’s not enough to place the onus solely on your staff — you also need to address how organisational factors and the internal structure of the workplace may contribute to poor health. While many workplaces may have a policy about workplace health, sometimes they aren’t regularly or actively implemented. Do you encourage your team to take regular breaks? Are staff showing up to work sick and spreading infection? Is the workplace ergonomically sound? By neglecting internal causes of workplace stress, you might nullify the benefits of employee-focused health programs.

  3. Foster positive behavioural changes

    You can work to improve team job satisfaction and productivity by shaping more positive worker attitudes and perceptions and management practices. These factors have been shown to have a dramatic impact on employee health outcomes. You can affect change by being a positive role model for staff; encouraging open communication about both personal and professional issues; and organising team-building exercises around health and wellbeing, such as lunchtime walks to the park, or after-work rock-climbing.

  4. Be a positive role model

    Self-aware and emotionally intelligent leaders can empower staff to make better health and lifestyle choices. When you are present, authentic and empathetic, you become an effective coach for your team, directly impacting staff motivation, commitment and desire to improve. This is the case both for professional work goals, and personal health goals. For example, CEOs and leaders who model healthy eating at work and discuss the benefits of a balanced diet with staff will encourage others to eat well at work and in life.

CEOs and leaders need to address employee engagement on the ground, implementing health programs that treat staff as unique individuals with specific needs. In doing so, CEOs can drive productivity through a happier, healthier workforce.

Identify at least one thing in our toolkit that you could act on in your workplace to make a difference. By fostering this small change, you can actively seek to influence and change employee and workplace culture across the board.