Why Choose A Healthy Environment?


healthy happier people

The best and brightest organisations in Australia recognise that people are their lifeblood. The commitment to them goes beyond simply meeting social responsibilities and the ‘duty of care’ to staff.

Making a commitment to the ongoing health of your people should, therefore, be a priority. That applied even before COVID-19 but is now increasingly becoming a basic expectation of employees.

By creating a healthier environment, you create a healthier organisation at all levels, starting with those on the front line.

In Australia we have been slow to understand the impact of work environments on productivity. Healthier, happier people are also more productive.

So, employee health and productivity are directly linked and the financial impact can be measured by


people missing work due to health matters


people being unproductive at work due to health matters

In fact, there are numerous financial and productivity reasons for investing in a healthy environment.

The business argument for investing in a healthy environment

“The estimated cost of absenteeism to the Australian economy is $7 billion each year, with the cost of presenteeism estimated as being nearly five times more at $34.1 billion.”

2009-2010 figures from the ACT Government

According to Workplace Health & Safety, a healthy work environment has numerous financial and performance benefits for an organisation including:

  • Lowering WHS compliance costs (e.g., reduced Work Cover premiums)
  • Reduced costs associated with absenteeism and turnover
  • Reduced on-the-job sickness and exposure to disease (presenteeism)
  • Reduced costs associated with workplace accidents and fatalities (fewer worker’s compensation claims)
  • Reduced costs associated with return-to-work processes
  • Improved employee morale, motivation, commitment, engagement, and energy levels = greater productivity
  • More efficient work processes
  • Better risk management
  • Better decision-making
  • Increased return on training and development investment
  • Improved industrial relations
  • Better protection of company mage and reputation
  • Greater customer loyalty
  • Becoming an ‘employer of choice’ that attracts the best talent
  • Better staff retention


A 2010 AIHW report found that 96 percent of working-age Australians had at least one chronic disease risk factor and 72 percent had multiple risk factors (lack of exercise, poor diet, overweight, tobacco smoking, etc.).

This, added to the psychological effects of chronic disease and an ageing population means that we can expect the burden of absenteeism to increase in the coming years, as these diseases take hold in many in the workforce. 

This will have a direct effect on productivity.

On top of this, we have the unknown threat of potential communicable diseases that all organisations in Australia were affected with during COVID-19.

The organisations that help employees take steps to improve general health and wellbeing may well be the ones that fare the best in the future.

The ACT government refers to the “well recognised relationship between poor health and diminished workplace attendance and performance.”

The benefits of healthy environments are very real and supported by compelling evidence from both Australian and international studies.

For instance, one study by Medibank Private revealed that:

  • Organisations that implement health promotion strategies in the workplace can reduce their workers’ health risk factors by up to 56 percent
  • Productivity gains of up to 15 percent can be achieved by upgrading the workplace environment
  • The average worker is up to 7 percent less productive because of their health risks

Unhealthy vs. Healthy Australians

The Medibank Private study referred to above found the following:


  • 18 days annual sick leave
  • Self-rated performance 3.7 out of 10 
  • 49 effective hours worked (fulltime) per month
  • High fat diet 
  • Low energy levels and poor concentration
  • Obese or overweight 
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Poor stress management techniques 


  • 2 days sick leave
  • Self-rated performance of 8.5 out of 10
  • 143 effective hours worked (fulltime) per month
  • Healthy diet
  • Fit, energetic and alert
  • Normal body weight
  • More attentive at work and better sleep patterns
  • Actively manage stress levels


“Presenteeism is a persistent problem, one which is costing our economy billions.”

Medibank Private

“Presenteeism” refers to the loss of productivity from employees who come to work but, due to illness or another medical condition, are not as productive as they should be.

The main causes of presenteeism are

  • Unhealthy lifestyles
  • Workers with illnesses going to work
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Poor work-life balance and stress

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, it is important to bear in mind the potential for at-work sick individuals to pass on a contagious condition to others. 

A single ill employee can spread a contagion to others, causing an organisation to incur costs that are considerably higher than the direct costs of the absenteeism of one employee.

Sick employees are more likely to work slowly, make mistakes, and suffer workplace injuries.

The cost of presenteeism to Australian organisations are more difficult to quantify than absenteeism but a study by KPMG for Medibank Private in 2011 found that:

  • In 2009/10, the total cost of presenteeism to the Australian economy was estimated to be $34.1 billion
  • On average, 6.5 working days of productivity are lost per employee annually as a result of presenteeism
  • Presenteeism equated to a 2.7 percent decrease in 2010 GDP

Most employers consider absenteeism as a major factor in productivity but do not realise that presenteeism is estimated to cause four times the loss of productivity.

The effects of presenteeism

2010 2050
Total cost of presenteeism to the Australian economy $34.1 billion $35.8 billion
Decrease in GDP 2.7% 2.8%
Overall productivity loss 2.6%  2.7% 

With the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s more important than ever for employers to address the impacts of presenteeism as well absenteeism. 

One of the first steps should be to focus on creating a healthy work environment that supports the health and wellbeing of employees and helps to solve the problem rather than exacerbating it.

Productivity: The true value of good hygiene

Besides the confidence that a healthy environment instils in the people working at your organisation, can you put an actual monetary value on good hygiene and staff safe environments?

Is it possible to put numbers on the value of improving air and surface cleanliness, as well as clothing and hand hygiene?

The reduction in absenteeism from the better health of employees is an obvious place to start.

According to the ISSA ‘Value of Clean’ white paper (2012), proper hygiene programs can:

  • Reduce the probability of infection for common cold and influenza by approximately 80 percent
  • Reduce the number of surfaces contaminated with viruses by 62 percent

Consequently this has been shown to reduce absenteeism by as much as 46 percent.

Other cleaning for health studies* have seen:

  • Increases in productivity of 5 percent (offices) to 8 percent (schools)
  • School absenteeism reduced by 50 percent
  • Potential productivity gains


HLW Int’l, 1999 (offices); MN Dept of Health, 2008 (schools); Pediatrics 2008;121; School Business Affairs 2009;

vol 75, 2.; EDCMagazine, 2006; March (Health and Learning); Journal of School Nursing Online, 2009; Nov (Gerba, et al)