Employees spend almost one third of their lives at work. If they become ill for a significant period, it can impact their families, work colleagues and you as their employer. While managing infrequent absences of staff is a fundamental part of running a business, frequent or extended sick leave can result in significant negative flow-on effects.

For example:

  • Healthy employees take nine times less sick days a year than unhealthy employees.
  • Healthy employees are almost three times more productive than unhealthy employees in terms of effective hours worked per month.^
  • The cost of absenteeism to the Australian economy is estimated at $7 billion each year.
  • The cost of presenteeism (i.e. not fully functioning at work because of ill health or a chronic disease) to the Australian economy is estimated at $35 billion each year.


Research shows implementing workplace health and wellness programs can not only improve health outcomes for employees*, but can also have positive effects on businesses over the short, medium and long-term. These can include: 

  • Improvements in work performance and productivity.
  • Reductions in the costs associated with absenteeism and presenteeism.
  • A better company culture and retention of existing employees.
  • Improvements to the image of business which helps to attract talented employees.


Workplace health and wellness programs

Workplace health and wellness programs focus on encouraging employees to practice healthier behaviours at work. Smoking, physical inactivity, diet, stress and alcohol are all risk factors associated with the development of chronic diseases.

How to plan a program

First, consider how prepared your business is to implement an effective workplace health and wellness program. Then, think about your team and the types of initiatives that would appeal to them, even ask for feedback. Finally, implement the program that best aligns with your business and culture.

Here are some good examples:

  • Replace office biscuits and lollies with fresh fruit or nuts.
  • Provide healthier options in vending machines.
  • Encourage lunch breaks.
Physical inactivity
  • Integrate physical activity into daily work e.g. walking/stand-up meetings and sit stand desks.
  • Sponsor fun-run entry fees or corporate games teams.
  • Provide corporate discounts for out-of-office health and wellness services e.g. gym memberships.
Social and emotional
  • Allocate a day per month for employees to give back to the local community by volunteering.
  • Provide personal development opportunities e.g. time and stress management.
  • Provide access to quit smoking counselling and nicotine replacement therapy.
  • Support participation in quit smoking programs during work hours.
  • Provide non-alcoholic drinks at work-related events.
  • Replace ‘after work’ drinks with a fun activity e.g. a sports competition between work teams.

Moving forward

Businesses bear many of the indirect costs associated with employees suffering from ill health or often preventable chronic diseases. Robust workplace health and wellness programs can not only improve health outcomes for employees, but also have positive flow-on effects to businesses.



*Australian Government, Comcare. (2011). Benefits to business: The evidence for investing in worker health and wellbeing.
^PricewaterhouseCoopers and Medibank. (2010). Workplace wellness in Australia. Aligning actions with aims: Optimising the benefits of workplace wellness.