Poor health, absence cost retail billions

The retail industry received some advice Wednesday designed to help it cut billions of dollars in annual workplace costs.

The Integrated Benefits Institute, a workforce health and productivity organization, issued a report saying retailers need to make some big changes to reduce the high cost of ill health and absence in the industry.

Those items cost the industry more than $47 billion a year, it said.

December is one of the busiest months for retailers, and one of the most stressful for employees who work long hours and handle a crush of customers. This additional stress can drive up the cost of ill health and absence in the industry.

“Employers have the opportunity to mitigate some illness-related lost productivity by developing benefit policies appropriate to the health needs of their workforce. However, many retail sector employers have limited information about the health conditions within their workforce and the toll of illness on their day-to-day-business operations,” report author IBI Research Director Kim Jinnett said in a news release.

According to the IBI report:

  • Group health treatments account for 63 percent of the costs of ill health for the approximately 14.8 million employees in the retail sector. Lost work time — including sick days, work disability days and presenteeism (or under-performance due to illness) — comprises about 37 percent.
  • Ill health accounts for 104.7 million full-time equivalent lost workdays across the retail employee population. Presenteeism is the largest contributor at more than 41.1 million lost workdays, followed by 34.7 million sick days.
  • Workers with chronic depression have the highest net lost productivity costs associated with absence and presenteeism ($2,965 annual per employee cost in excess of similar worker without the condition), followed by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ($2,940), coronary heart disease ($2,472), congestive heart disease ($2,443), and chronic fatigue ($2,389). These      costs include the costs of co-morbidities (other conditions an employee may have) since the same employee might be in more than one condition group. 
  • Lost productivity costs uniquely attributable to a specific condition regardless of co-morbidities can be summed to obtain a workforce total. Depression, which costs employers $3.1 billion per year, is the largest contributor to lost productivity (excluding disability lost work time), followed by chronic fatigue ($1.7 billion), anxiety ($900 million), obesity ($800 million), and chronic neck/back pain ($700 million). 
  • Three-quarters of retail employees have at least one chronic condition, and workers with any chronic condition have an average of three co-morbid conditions. 
  • Only 26 percent of employees’ conditions are currently being treated. If this rate of treatment could be increased, lost productivity savings might be gained through less absence and higher performance.
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