Last fortnight, a bout of mild flu depressed me. The physical discomfort was minor, and most just needed a little rest. But since this came amid a quite busy writing schedule, the loss of productive hours was more awesome.
It got me thinking about the effects of the disease on ill health and productivity on a national scale in a way we don’t normally consider. In the post-Covid world, we tend to approach health issues with a survivor bias: Don’t complain if you’re lucky enough to survive. So, we are surprised when the Covid count crosses 10,000, but we are not overly concerned if there is an epidemic of flu, malaria or dengue fever in our city.
However, the global spread of diseases, especially preventable and treatable or other bouts of physical and mental harm, add to enormous losses of our creative and productive capacities.
A slightly dated study by the think tank Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) highlighted how the high incidence of illness among employees costs Indian companies, some of whom lose 51 working days a year. Staff. The loss of productivity and profit, although not calculated, was expected to be large. Significantly, diseases such as diarrhea, influenza, malaria and dengue fever were the main reasons for this. Lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and mental disorders followed.
Research agencies are now putting specific numbers against such losses. According to a recent survey by Deloitte, just one of these problems, poor mental health among employees, costs Indian companies $14 billion annually. 2019 WHO estimate takes this even further, estimating that between 2012 and 2030, mental health conditions will cost the country around $1.03 trillion in economic losses.
This is not just an Indian phenomenon. The World Health Organization (WHO) calculates that poor mental health costs the global economy one trillion dollars a year in lost productivity. In the US, the Labor Board estimated that about 7.8 million workers left work in January 2022 due to illness, injury, medical condition or layoff. Another 4.2 million who usually work full-time work part-time for a similar problem. A key observation was that the number of employees absent due to illness regularly increased from December to March, which coincided with the peak of cold and flu season.
We do not yet have similar counts for India, but it would be very useful to look at data obtained on, for example, absenteeism from work due to diarrhea, a major preventable condition. Of course, it is important to prevent ill health rather than focusing solely on corrective action, which can often come at a higher cost. In December 2021, Foxconn Technology Group’s plant in Tamil Nadu’s Sriperumbudur city was shut down for almost a month after protests broke out after some female employees got food poisoning and had to be hospitalized. A month’s production loss could have been avoided had more attention been paid to nutrition and hygiene.
In fact, amid the divided opinion on India’s rise to the top of world population rankings, what is being overlooked is the neglected issue of the country’s productivity levels, says Manish Sabharwal, vice-president of TeamLease, the country’s largest Organized Staffing Company and a member Council of Prime Ministers on Skill Development, never tires of emphasizing. Productivity per employee across all sectors in India is very low compared to most developed and developing economies.
As such, more than 70 percent of workers in India’s non-agricultural economy work in construction, commerce, transport and communication, hotels, restaurants and personal services, as well as administration, public and defense. The problem is that each of these is called a medium-productivity service sector, with limited potential to increase productivity. Since these will continue to be the largest employers in the Indian economy in the future, it is essential to find ways to improve employee productivity.
Many companies now encourage and facilitate healthy lifestyles for their employees. It is no longer a favor to the people. Instead, it is a core business imperative.