Depression, other chronic disorders costing retail billionsNews added by Benefits Pro on January 23, 2014

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By Dan Cook

Far too many retail workers are depressed or suffering from other chronic conditions, and only a quarter of those conditions are currently being treated. As a result, retailers are paying a steep price: $47.1 billion a year in ill health costs and time lost to absenteeism.

See also: Poor health, absence cost retail billions

The Integrated Benefits Institute produced this estimate after reviewing health and work attendance data from various sources. The institute concluded that 75 percent of retail employees have from one to three chronic health conditions, and that depression among retail workers is the largest contributor to spiraling health costs and lost productivity.

The report notes that “presenteeism” — the phenomenon in which an employee comes to work sick and therefore underperforms — contributes significantly to lost productively in the retail sector. When one considers that depression is the No. 1 chronic disorder plaguing retail workers, and that a quarter of chronic disorders are not being treated, a clearer picture emerges of a workforce characterized by depressed employees who show up for work but don’t have their head or heart in the game.

Generally, the industry hasn’t had consistent, effective strategies for addressing such matters because it didn’t understand the scope of the problem, the institute said.

“Employers have the opportunity to mitigate some illness-related lost productivity by developing benefit policies appropriate to the health needs of their workforce. However, many retail-sector employers have limited information about the health conditions within their workforce and the toll of illness on their day-to-day-business operations,” said report author and IBI Research Director Kim Jinnett.

For instance, the report says, knowing that only a quarter of chronic health conditions are being treated, employers could begin to identify who among their workers needs to be treated for their illness. “If this rate of treatment could be increased, lost productivity savings might be gained through less absence and higher performance,” the institute observed.

The IBI report is a starting point for responding to the factors that are sucking so many billions out of the industry’s coffers each year. Among other findings:
  • Group health treatments account for 63 percent of the costs of ill health for employees in the retail sector. Lost work time — including sick days, work disability days and presenteeism (or under-performance due to illness) —comprises about 37 percent.
  • Ill health accounts for 104.7 million full-time equivalent lost workdays across the retail employee population. Presenteeism is the largest contributor at more than 41.1 million lost workdays, followed by 34.7 million sick days.
  • Workers with chronic depression have the highest net lost productivity costs associated with absence and presenteeism ($2,965 annual per employee cost in excess of similar worker without the condition), followed by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ($2,940), coronary heart disease ($2,472), congestive heart disease ($2,443), and chronic fatigue ($2,389).
  • Depression costs employers $3.1 billion per year in lost productivity, followed by chronic fatigue ($1.7 billion), anxiety ($900 million), obesity ($800 million), and chronic neck/back pain ($700 million).
  • Three-quarters of retail employees have at least one chronic condition, and workers with any chronic condition have an average of three co-morbid conditions.
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