A new report released today shows that hay fever could be costing British businesses as much as £7.1 billion a year in lost productivity and concentration amongst employees.*
The Hay Fever Health Report commissioned by Kleenex® shows that 39% of working hay fever sufferers say that having the condition reduces their concentration throughout the working day and that when their symptoms are at their worst they can only operate at an average of 63% of their normal productivity rate.
Based on the assumption that sufferers will work a five day week, this means that the 20-25% of the population who have the condition will on average only be working as normal for less than three days when their symptoms are most severe.
Overall, 9 in 10 (87%) said they could not operate at maximum capacity** during peak season and as much 13,277 employees across the UK (2% of sufferers) state they cannot operate at all.
The Report also shows that sufferers’ most severe symptoms last for an average of over three working weeks (based on a five day working week). Given that hay fever seasons are getting longer and the condition more prominent each year, this will clearly be having a huge impact on businesses’ bottom lines.
Kleenex hay fever consultant Professor Jean Emberlin, director of the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit, said: “With almost a quarter of our entire workforce being affected by hay fever these figures give us real cause for concern – particularly as businesses struggle to achieve maximum efficiency in the recession.”
Interestingly, those in the banking and financial services sector seem to be amongst the most affected as those polled in this sector say they can only operate at just over half (52%) of their normal productivity rate when they have hay fever.
And the credit crunch appears not to be the only thing they have to worry about as employers in this sector were shown to be the most unsympathetic to their staff’s suffering: even if an employee was to phone in sick just once because of their hay fever, 7% of middle managers and above would hand over the P45 (a figure that fell to just 1% for the rest of the population).
The research shows that employers are generally unsympathetic to their workers’ suffering outside of the financial services, however. If, for example, a member of staff was to take time off work on a regular basis because of their symptoms, a third (32%) of bosses said they would question the individual’s commitment to the job, nearly one in three (29%) say they would frown upon the behaviour and as much as 3% would sack the employee.
Three quarters (75%) of employers said they had not even noticed any loss of productivity amongst employees as a result of hay fever, despite the clear linkage shown in the research responses.
Employers also admit that they do not go out of their way to help their suffering staff through the season: as much as 30% said they had never even thought about it. But one in four (24%) do actively encourage their staff to drink more water and one in five (21%) provide employees with tissues on their desks.
Professor Emberlin continued: “Times are particularly pressured at the moment and clearly people need to continue going in to work if at all possible, despite their symptoms. But clearly employers are not doing enough to ensure they have the most productive workforce possible in the first place.
“I continue to be amazed at how little sufferers – and those around them – do to help prepare for the season. Having a few essential aids with you at all times will reduce the impact of hay fever on productivity in the workplace and will avoid you being caught out with clients or in meetings as well.”
Professor Emberlin’s top tips for preparing for the hay fever season in the workplace:
• Always carry tissues, a bottle of water and your medication or treatment with you
• Know your enemy: 86% of us don’t know which type of pollen we’re allergic to so try keeping a diary of your symptoms and match it against a pollen calendar
• Remember to check the pollen forecast (TV, radio or webs sites) before you leave to help you plan your day and avoid high pollen counts
• If possible avoid going out at peak pollen times of the day. On high and very high grass pollen count days the worse times are usually in the early morning (7 to 10 am) and late afternoon (4 to 7pm)
• Keep windows closed in the office. Very proactive employers can fit a pollen filter to the air conditioning system or provide small air filters on desks to give workers a pollen free airflow
• Wear sunglasses and a broad-rimmed hat to keep pollen off your face
• Change your clothes, wash your hair and rinse your eyes after being outside to get rid of any pollen
• Consult your GP or pharmacist about the best medication or treatments to help to control your symptoms
Biography for Professor Jean Emberlin
Professor Jean Emberlin is the Director of the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit (NPARU), and has expertise in allergens and allergies, (especially hay fever) and the environmental aspects of air quality and allergy. Currently she conducts research and consultancy on topics related to aerobiology, allergy and health (including asthma and hay fever). This includes conducting studies on remedies and treatments to relieve symptoms of allergy, epidemiology and environmental factors.
Professor Emberlin is the director of PollenUK, which runs the pollen monitoring network in the UK, and she is also one of four Directors of European Pollen Information (EPI), a consortium of National Pollen monitoring Networks in 29 countries. This keeps a central data base of pollen records for Europe. She is also a Council Member of the British Aerobiology Federation and the International Association for Aerobiology.
About the NPARU
NPARU conducts research and consultancy on topics related to organic matter in the air. Its work spans a wide range of academic and commercial aspects including air quality and health, pollen monitoring and forecasts, respiratory allergies, forensic palynology and testing appliances for allergen removal/reduction. The unit is a designated research centre of the University of Worcester and is part of the Institute of Health. It has earned a national and international reputation for expertise, innovation and excellence in Aerobiology. The NPARU is unique in the UK for its combination of expertise in allergens, aerobiology, indoor air quality and medical knowledge. NPARU works in collaboration with a wide range of organisations (including Universities and Hospitals,) both in the UK and Europe. The unit is funded by income from grants (e.g. EU for research and demonstration projects, NERC), consultancy and commercial activities such as testing products and clinical trials.
About the research
The research was carried out by Opinion Matters on behalf of Kleenex in February 2009 with:
• 1,983 UK adults
• 928 hay fever sufferers
• 674 working hay fever sufferers
• 401 middle managers and above
*The £7.1 billion figure has been calculated as follows:
A. GPD for hay fever peak season in 2008 (Q2) = £321,160,000,000 = £321.16bn (source: Office of National Statistics)
B. We divided this by the number of hay fever sufferers which is the medically accepted figure of 20-25% = 22.5% = £72,261,000,000 (£72.261bn)
C. Taking this GDP and seeing it’s daily worth (£72.261bn / 13 weeks * 7 days). Therefore one day’s GDP is £794,076,923.08
D. If the mean average number of days a hay fever sufferer suffers is 15.39 then the amount of GDP impacted over 15.39 days is £12,220,843,846.20 (15.39 * £794,076,923.08)
E. However the hay fever sufferers are only working to productivity levels of 63.2% on those days, underperforming by 36.8% during that time and so could have generated £19,336,778,237.66 had they not been incapacitated.
F. As a result the lost GDP is £19,336,778,237.66 (100% productivity) - £12,220,843,846.20 (63.2% achieved productivity) = £7,115,934,391.46 (£7.1bn)
** Working population of the UK April-June 2008 was 29,505,000 (source: Office of National Statistics, Labour Market Statistics)
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