Poor productivity is an issue for all businesses. It is a drain on cashflow and inhibits a company’s ability to grow sustainably. Productivity and performance are key, yet as the short days and cold weather set in during the winter months, it’s increasingly tricky to manage and maintain productive and well workforces.
Last year the annual cost of sickness leave in the UK was estimated to be around £554 per person according to the CIPD. Figures for average absences across civil and private sectors ranged anywhere from 5.6 to 8.5 days per person (or thought to be about 2.6% of working time). These ‘unplanned absences’ and sick days are estimated to decrease UK productivity by 54% overall. It could also decrease your sales/customer service performance by up to 39% which would create significant losses in any business. The important question for business leaders is – how much of that lost productivity and time could have been mitigated?
Poor hygiene and cleanliness at work continue to top the list of reasons for absence in almost every survey conducted in this area. Minor illness as you might expect (colds, flu, stomach bugs, headaches and migraines) are the most common cause of short-term absence for most companies surveyed by the CIPD in 2018:
With a multitude of additional distractions on the horizon for employees at this time of year, all which will inevitably detract from productive time (the Christmas party, New Year and a general feeling of ‘SAD’ in the air) what steps can you take to keep staff focused and motivated this winter?
And where does hygiene and cleanliness come into the discussion on productivity? We’ll tell you…
1| By reducing absenteeism
With common illnesses contributing to the most absence days it’s sensible to look at how you can work to reduce the spread of germs in your business. 46% of over a thousand UK workers surveyed by Appliances Direct in 2019 said they “believed their office cleanliness had been responsible for sickness”. And 68% believed “lack of general hygiene” was a factor impacting on their absences. Absence puts additional pressure on other employees and reduced the capacity and often the quality of work turned out.
Other studies in the same area showed even more shocking figures with 78% of respondents suggesting that “the level of cleanliness at work affected their health and also increased the chances of allergy and spreading of germs” which makes it the number one place to start when thinking about the productivity problem in your business.
It’s no surprise there is still more to do to improve workplace and worker hygiene and close this loop of infection and ill-health. Just a small reduction in sickness absence would have a significant impact on productivity, especially for larger businesses so there’s little excuse not to act. However, the next relevant question is – what happens when people feel they have to work while ill?
2 | By tackling Presenteeism too
Presenteeism is now apparently as big a problem as absenteeism for UK businesses. Research implies that rather than reform the wellbeing and health of our workers, we may have just moved the issue around, hidden it in our manipulation of figures, and overall misread our progress.
‘Britain’s Healthiest Workplace’ survey (by VitalityHealth, in partnership with the University of Cambridge and Mercer) estimated UK businesses will lose up to £77 billion a year due to so called presenteeism. The fact is people remaining in work while sick and passing on germs, or worse still putting themselves under pressure and anxiety to ‘battle on’, is even more costly to businesses than pure sick leave alone for organisations (estimates in recent years for sick day costs varied from £13bn to £29bn).
With employees losing on average the equivalent of 30.4 days per annum of “productive time annually due to sick days, or underperformance in the office as a result of ill-health” it’s probably high time we reverse our thinking and go back to focussing on preventing the illness in the first place rather than encouraging a culture of working through.
Don’t be fooled by decreasing sick days in your business, this is a brilliant sign – but start also recording how many days people come to work ill and you may see a very different picture. Productivity and presence in the workplace are not the same, so think carefully about what you encourage staff to do when poorly. Coming in might be essential but you can be sure the person will not be delivering their best work? Flexible working and hyper-connectivity reduce the arguments for employees coming to work when sick.
3 | By reducing work-related stressors
Being forced to work while ill causes employee stress, but so do unclean working environments. Unkempt, dirty offices will inevitably lead to higher employee stress levels and ultimately affect turnover.
An in-depth study titled “Cleanliness and Learning in Higher Education” explored how students were affected by cleanliness in their schools. 84% of the students in the study cited wanting “tidiness” or “spotlessness” on the cleanliness scale saying it would be optimal for learning. Most importantly “an uncleaned building triggered a negative impact on students’ mind-set who mentioned that it “actively heightened their stress levels”.
It’s no wonder perhaps with the always-on world we now work in that stress-related absence is on the increase. “Heavy workloads remain the most common cause of workplace stress”, reported the CIPD, meaning more hours in the office for workers, and more time to spread illness when up against deadlines creating that vicious cycle of sickness, pressure, stress and then long-term sickness we all fear.
And let’s not forget that for some people unhygienic working spaces create stress. Don’t underestimate how much cleanliness impacts people’s ability to focus. If you have worked with someone who would be considered a neat freak – they will tell you how much order and de-cluttering improves their performance.
4 | By boosting overall productivity and focus at work
Studies in the Netherlands found that a higher objective cleanliness correlated significantly with a higher perceived productivity, as well as higher work satisfaction levels among employees working in NFP organisations’. Further reinforcing the point – a 2017 study carried out by the Association of Cleaning showed that the level of office cleanliness in businesses “has a direct effect on employees’ productivity”.
Good standards of cleaning impact employee productivity and there is also a case to say it contributes to overall employee satisfaction too. When their working space is clean – staff will be happier and work harder.
In the report “Cleanliness and Learning in Higher Education” it also stated that a lack of cleanliness in educational facilities creates a genuine and notable distraction. To keep students focussed, creative and productive – environments need to be orderly and clean. 88% reported that moderate dinginess (dusty skirting, full waste bins, fingerprints on glass and walls, light fixtures unclean etc.) would cause a distraction.
Reduce the opportunity for people to procrastinate and let them focus on what you employ them to do – cleaning and hygiene should be a top priority when reducing lost productive time due to periphery, and wholly avoidable distractions.
Improving image & morale
Your company’s image is partly played out through its physical premises, its offices, branches and your clients will make judgements based on how you present yourself. A bad image or poor cleanliness can put customers and future employees off. And you’d be surprised the people things will pick up on.
Make the right statement about your standards and ensure your facilities, both public-facing and internal and creating a positive impact. Having low standards of hygiene and tidiness will only lower staff morale and create a culture where corners are cut. Think carefully about how your bricks and mortar premises represent and play out your company values. If ‘attention to detail’ is one of your values, then be sure to live up to it. Having pride in one’s company and workplace is important. It undeniably helps boost performance if employees feel connected and responsible for their place of work. They will also be more likely to treat their workplace with care if care is taken to keep it spic and span.
Poor productivity and absenteeism create a substantial cost to UK organisations, yet it is a problem that can be easily reduced through improved cleaning practices. Ultimately, a reduction in the chances of illness spreading, stress developing or low morale setting in will only positively impact worker absenteeism and presenteeism issues so it’s a no brainer to focus attention on this, especially at this time of year.
Get in touch on 0870 42 33 559 if you think your business could benefit from a new and improved cleaning regime. We’d love to show you how we engage our staff to ensure they do the very best job for you and your team.