Lost productivity because of workers’ poor health is costing the U.S. $84 billion a year, according to a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index released May 7.
On average, 77 percent of workers either had one or more chronic conditions or had a higher-than-normal body mass index (BMI), according to the Gallup index, which surveyed 94,366 American adults working in 14 occupational categories. The respondents with chronic conditions or a high BMI reported missing work about one-third of a day more each month, on average, than those with a normal BMI and no chronic conditions. That lost time, the Gallup researchers concluded, cost U.S. businesses from $160 million a year among agricultural workers to $24.2 billion a year among professionals. Across all 14 job types surveyed, the total cost is $84 billion, the index found.
“As employers increasingly engage in improving the health of their workers, substantial potential savings remain on the table from getting more employees to work each day as their health improves over time,” the index’s researchers wrote.
The index, conducted from Jan. 2-Sept. 10, 2012, asked respondents if they’d ever had a health condition such as asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes, heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or recurring physical pain in the neck, back, knee or leg.
The index asked respondents for their heights and weights so researchers could calculate their BMI. Respondents were classified as “obese” if they had a BMI of 30 or higher, as “overweight” if they had a BMI of 25-29, or as “normal” if they had a BMI of 18.5-24.9.
“Americans are more concerned than ever about obesity, and the obesity rate has remained largely unchanged for years,” the researchers wrote.
The 14 occupational categories that researchers examined were: professionals (excluding physicians, nurses and teachers); management; service; clerical or office; sales; school teaching; nursing; transportation; manufacturing or production; business ownership; installation or repair; construction or mining; physicians; and agriculture.
Eighty-six percent of transportation workers had higher-than-normal BMIs or at least one chronic condition—the highest among the 14 categories. They reported missing 0.41 more workdays a month than their healthier counterparts.
“This amounts to an estimated $3.5 billion in absenteeism costs per year that would be recouped” if employees were not overweight or had not been diagnosed with a chronic condition, researchers wrote.
Sixty-eight percent of physicians had higher-than-normal BMIs or at least one chronic condition—the lowest among the 14 categories. Although these physicians reported missing only about 0.04 workdays more a month than their healthier counterparts, this cost $247 million a year in lost productivity, the index found.
Researchers calculated lost-productivity costs by adjusting the estimated daily cost for lost work time across all 14 occupations—$341 a day—to reflect average incomes in each profession.
Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.