We can hardly go a day without reports about the latest health risks, diet fads and exercise trends. It is easy for employers to dismiss these as irrelevant, but future health projections and their impact on sick levels and productivity make for grim reading.

Sick leave and working while unwell costs companies on average 7.78% of their annual wage bill according to Britain’s Healthiest Company Report. With two third of respondents reporting at least two bad lifestyle habits, putting their future health at risk, employers are ultimately left to pick up the tab for staff being off sick or unproductive at work.

It is therefore in employers’ best interests to help staff live healthier lives and reap the long-term benefits. Regular health checks to monitor blood pressure or cholesterol levels can identify potential problems. Fringe benefits such as on-site sports classes or the provision of bicycles within large work sites can keep people active. Or how about a smoking cessation programme or a company-wide five-a-side football competition? The possibilities are endless.

All of this poses a new challenge: which initiatives are most appropriate and will have the biggest impact? How can an organisation determine the priority requirements for employees without understanding the current health/fitness status of the workforce? While few companies undertake an annual employee fitness review, one option is to record the reasons for sickness absence within the integrated HR, Payroll and Time & Attendance system.

Detailed information into why employees have been absent – such as back pain or stress – can provide valuable understanding of occupational health and training requirements. Proactively introducing new equipment, counselling to alleviate stress or ‘get active’ initiatives can have a significant impact on reducing days lost to sickness.

Additionally, by analysing absence levels with over time, employers have the evidence to base future healthy lifestyle programmes on. Employees spend a great number of hours at work and their working environment plays a huge role in their general wellbeing, which should not be underestimated by employers.

In addition to improving employees’ health in the longer term, appropriate and correctly managed lifestyle initiatives are also likely to lead to a more engaged workforce, which could further boost their productivity levels.