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Are hidden ill employees infecting your bottom line?

In today’s corporate environments, there’s an increasing recognition of the complexity of inter-related factors that drive productivity and success. However, focusing on these sophisticated models of organisational behaviour runs the risk of overlooking some of the basics, like the inter-related health and happiness of your people.

In a recent report by the US’s Global Wellness Institute, The Future of Wellness at Work, it’s estimated that the total economic cost of unwell workers is possibly approaching 10-15% of global production. In the United States, which has the most extensive available data, it’s estimated that the costs of work injuries, illnesses, chronic disease, stress and employee disengagement total more than $2.2 trillion each year or 12 percent of GDP.

“It’s a staggering figure,” said Melinda Fell, Managing Director of Melinda Fell Consulting, an Australian executive search and coaching company.

“It’s interesting that the US research included employee disengagement too. It’s often not even recognised in many workplaces, yet the effect of even one disengaged employee can be significant, rippling through workgroups, lowering both morale and productivity.”

Ms Fell explained that disengaged people are a hidden cost to business and are often symptomatic of employers who don’t adopt a holistic approach to managing their people – or of individuals who can range from those neglecting their work-life balance to those suffering from mental illness.

“These are not necessarily people who are unsuccessful in their careers,” she said, “personally, they can be high achievers, but their own success can come at a cost to those working around them and the organisation that employs them.”

With one in five Australians reported to have a mental health issue at some time during their lives, it’s not unrealistic to imagine that the two factors – mental health and employee disengagement – are related in some instances.

“It’s certainly not impossible,” Melinda said, “smart employers are looking at every facet of their people and implementing strategies to optimise productivity and engagement on both individual and company levels.”

“After all,” she concluded, “when organisations spend huge amounts to increase productivity by a few percent, they really should also be looking at factors like this with potential double figure bottom-line impacts.”